Black Sesame Sablés (Shortbread) Recipe

After last week’s events in Paris, it’s not so easy to break the silence here. Writing about news and politics isn’t what I do, and I suspect it’s not what brings you here either, yet I can’t not acknowledge what has happened.

In the wake of these senseless, horrifying acts, which only reinforce the great concerns I have about the world we’re building and the society I live in, I choose to see the silver lining: how French men and women came together in historic numbers in the immediate aftermath, and how much international support has poured in. I am too much of a realist to believe that this tremendous reaction will have any lasting effect on the underlying issues at play, but at least for these few days, (most of) the French get to walk and talk and cry as one, and we can never have too much of that.

These cookies have a rather arresting look, the distinctive, toasty flavor of black sesame, and the delightful texture I look for in all my sablés, delicate and shatter-prone.

Of course I found it impossible to write while all this was unfolding — it suddenly seemed absurd to care about the tiny things I normally care about — but as a friend kindly said to me, writing about food and culture and travel helps bring people of different horizons to understand and respect each other, and that is nothing to sneeze at.

In any case, I thought it fitting to start the year off on a note both dark and sweet with these black sesame sablés. It is a recipe I developed for ELLE à table, a French cooking magazine in which I write a bimonthly column, and sang the luscious, nutty glories of black sesame paste in the holiday issue. This seed butter, made from roasted and ground black sesame, is a dramatic, shiny black and I keep a jar of it in my fridge to slip into all sorts of sweet preparations, or simply spread it on my morning toast of sourdough.

These shortbread cookies have a rather arresting look, the distinctive, toasty flavor of black sesame with a hint of salt, and the delightful texture I look for in all my sablés, delicate and shatter-prone. I understand these qualities won’t do much toward world peace, but if you can share them and make someone’s day sweeter, it’s a step in the right direction.

PS: Black sesame panna cotta, Yves Camdeborde’s perfect sablés, and the galette des rois you have until the end of the month to make, perhaps with your own shortcut puff pastry.

Black Sesame Sablés

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Black Sesame Sablés (Shortbread) Recipe

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Makes about 50 small cookies.

Black Sesame Sablés (Shortbread) Recipe


  • 100 grams (1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons) black sesame butter/paste (look for it in natural food stores and Japanese markets; substitute any other natural nut butter)
  • 100 grams (7 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 80 grams (6 tablespoons) unrefined blond cane sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 150 grams (5 1/3 ounces, about 1 cup + 2 tablespoons) all-purpose wheat flour
  • 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces, about 3/4 cup) rice flour (see note)


  1. In a mixing bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the sesame paste and butter. Add the sugar and salt and mix well.
  2. Stir in the flour until completely absorbed, without overworking the dough.
  3. Gather the dough into a ball without kneading. Divide it into 4 pieces and roll each into a log, about 3 cm (1 1/4") in diameter. Wrap in parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (You can freeze one or several of the logs; let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before using.)
  4. Black Sesame Sablé Dough
  5. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
  6. Using a sharp knife, cut each roll into round slices about 1 cm (1/3") thick. Arrange the slices on the baking sheet, giving them a little room to expand.
  7. Black Sesame Sablés (pre-baking)
  8. Bake for 30 minutes, until set but not browned. Let stand for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  9. The cookies will keep for a week in an airtight container at room temperature.


The rice flour, in combination with the wheat flour, gives the cookies a particularly successful, crumbly texture. If unavailable, use all wheat flour.

Black Sesame Shortbread

  • Kayenne So

    Gotta try this soon! The black sesame butter is more like paste, or a jam, right? Just ground seeds, maybe a bit of sugar, salt and oil? Will try to grind my own. I got half a kilo of that black gold stashed. I love mixing toasted black sesame seeds with green tea shortbread.

    • Yes, sesame butter is the same as sesame paste — the two terms are used interchangeably. The one I use is just sesame seeds, nothing else, like tahini or natural almond butter. You can definitely grind your own, here’s a post about it. Let me know if you try it!

  • Annabel Smyth

    I have never heard of black sesame butter – you say to substitute another nut butter, but would tahini work, do you think?

    I thought, when I first saw the photo, you were posting a picture of black pudding (boudin noir), fried slices of which sometimes form part of the Great British Breakfast.

    • Ha! Funny about the blood sausage. That would have been a fitting reference, too, but probably not in very good taste. :S

      Re: substitutions, tahini should work well too, though it is distinctly more bitter than the black sesame butter/paste, so perhaps you could up the sugar a little bit to counteract.

      • Katie Lilley

        I’ve just made up a batch of the dough using tahini and goat’s butter (because my husband is lactose intolerant). The logs are still chilling in the fridge, but I licked the beaters and have to say I thought the mixture was delicious! Much like halva only not so sweet. I’m going to take them tomorrow night for our weekly games night, so I’ll let you know what my friends think.

        • Katie Lilley

          They were amazing! My friends were dead impressed, and I have to say I was too. They came out incredibly crumbly and short and the flavour was heavenly. I am definitely going to be making these again.

          • Oh that is lovely to hear, thank you Katie! (Missed your second comment earlier, disregard my question :))

        • How did you like them in the end?

  • Wow this looks so cool! Love the creativity here :)

  • labontegami

    I Love black sesame paste… It is a big part of my favorite Japanese sweets. Unfortunately, I seemed to have done something really wrong here. The dough never came together, too dry. I added more butter and paste too! My paste was homemade, with some hazelnut oil added, so I don’t think I lacked wetness in my ingredients. I tried baking a couple, thinking they’d magically adhere. No. Oh well… I will try sprinkling it on yogurt for breakfast. The dough crumbles taste good! Is there something missing? An egg?

    • Sorry to hear this. The truth is, it’s may have more to do with the flour than the sesame paste, since different flours have different absorption rates. If you want to try this again, try just adding a little ice-cold water to the dough until it reaches the consistency shown in the pictures, i.e. rollable without being tacky.

      • labontegami

        Yes, I think you’re right. The next day I made buttermilk biscuits, which I’ve maded tons of times successfully. Same
        problem. Not sure if it’s the dryness of winter… never had this
        problem before. Thanks!

        • You’re right — we talk more about the effects of humidity on baking, but dryness naturally does the exact opposite. These recipes probably require a little added moisture until you can feel the dough is just right.

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