My grandmother would have turned 91 last Saturday. Since I couldn’t bring her a cake or call her and sing, I decided on a small act in her honor. I bought some halvah – the sweet treat she always had in her fridge – and I heartily savored a few too many slices of it. Dense with sesame sweetness, each bite brought me back to the kitchen of grandma’s house, where my sister and I spent many summer afternoons sipping iced tea, snacking on brie cheese, and nibbling on halvah: one of grandma’s most favorite indulgences.
Made and spelled in various ways, halvah has ties to numerous regions. For my grandma, halvah came through her Jewish background and was always the sesame kind, preferably marbled with chocolate. The day after her birthday this year, I found myself with plenty of extra halvah and a yearning to bake. I remembered a scrumptious recent post on a favorite blog of mine, where halvah had been imbedded into a nutty loaf cake — an utterly mouthwatering idea! Inspired, I created my own halvah-laden treat: thumbprint-style cookies with a chunk of halvah as their filling. Here is the recipe.
- 1.5 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 cup flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)
- ½ cup butter, softened to warm room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 ounces sesame halvah, cut into ½” cubes (about 20 cubes)
- 3 ounces chopped dark chocolate or ½ cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment. Toast sesame seeds on the baking sheet for about 15-20 minutes or until fragrant and golden brown. Transfer seeds to a bowl to cool. Whisk the flour, sugar and salt together. Add the butter and mix until an even dough forms (using damp, warm hands can be easiest). Add the vanilla and knead until just incorporated.
Form dough into balls a little over 2 teaspoons each (about .6 ounce a piece), placing them at least 1.5” apart from one another on prepared baking sheet. Push a cube of halvah firmly into the center of each cookie, bracing sides of dough and squeezing gently to hold the halvah in place. Freeze cookie sheet for 10 to 15 minutes (they will still spread a bit when baked, but this will help them hold their shape).
Bake cookies for 20 minutes at 325 F. They’ll be about 2″ in diameter with toasty edges. Remove from oven and let cool completely, setting in fridge or freezer to hasten cooling if desired. Carefully melt the chocolate (a few 20 second stints in the microwave, stirring after each until just smooth will do). Transfer chocolate to a pastry bag or plastic bag with its corner snipped. Drizzle over cooled cookies a few at a time, immediately following with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. Let chocolate harden before eating (if you can wait).
Surrounded with buttery shortbread dough and topped with rich chocolate, the decadence of halvah is truly celebrated in these one of a kind cookies. A sprinkle of fragrant sesame matches perfectly with the sweet paste within, just as the crisp adornment pairs nicely with the crumble of the cookie. With their marvelous flavors inside and out, sesame halvah cookies would make grandma proud. I only wish I could share them with her right now.
Maybe next time… Though I haven’t tried it myself, I trust that these cookies would work well with almost any kind of halvah in their centers. Moreover, the dough would taste great with a dash of ground spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or the like), and some fresh citrus zest such as orange could also be yummy. For a more chocolatey cookie, replace ¼ cup flour with cocoa powder, and consider dunking the cookies in melted chocolate instead of drizzling them with it. Candy in a cookie — can it get any better?