Dense with sesame sweetness, the taste of halvah always brings me back to the kitchen of my grandmother’s house, where a wedge of the nutty candy was one of her favorite after-dinner indulgences.
Made and spelled in various ways, halvah has ties to numerous regions. For me, halvah came through grandma’s bygone Jewish upbringing, and was always the sesame kind, preferably vanilla marbled with chocolate.
I can’t help thinking of my grandma when Hanukkah comes each year. As a way to both commemorate her and celebrate the holidays, I created a new treat for the season. After encircling a chunk of sweet halvah in buttery dough, I baked them into hearty cookie perfection and topped them with chocolate and sesame seeds.
Sesame Halvah Cookies
(makes about 20 cookies)
– 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 minutes or until fragrant and golden brown. Transfer seeds to a bowl to cool; leave lined baking sheet to cool and reuse.
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 (weighing about .6 ounce a piece), placing them at least 1.5” apart from one another on the lined 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 (this will help them hold their shape, though they will still spread a bit when baked).
Bake cookies at 325 F for about 20 minutes. When done, each should be about 2″ in diameter with toasty edges. Remove from oven and let cool completely on baking sheet, setting in fridge or freezer to hasten cooling if desired. Carefully melt the chocolate (try a few 20 second stints in the microwave, stirring after each until just smooth).
Transfer melted chocolate to a pastry bag or plastic bag with its corner snipped off. Drizzle over cooled cookies a few at a time, immediately following with a generous sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. Let chocolate harden before packaging or serving. Store in a container with lid, kept cool.
Surrounded with buttery 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 seeds matches perfectly with the nutty candy within, just as the crisp adornments pair nicely with the crumble of the cookie. With their marvelous flavors inside and out, sesame halvah cookies are a lovely way to rejoice in the season, whether given as a gift or devoured immediately.
Note: This dough also tastes great with a dash of ground spice such as cinnamon or nutmeg, and/or some finely grated orange zest. 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.
Want to keep up-to-date on all the food, drink and restaurant news in the East Bay? Subscribe to NOSH Weekly, the free weekly email packed with delicious news. Simply sign up here.