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.
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- 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)
- 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.
- Stir in the flour until completely absorbed, without overworking the dough.
- 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.)
- Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.