Sesame seed cookies were always my favorite on my poppop's cookie platter. No one else ever seems to make these little guys! I don't know why. In my opinion they are the perfect holiday cookie. They are just a little sweet and have a nice crumbly texture--great with a cup of coffee or tea. I was really surprised when I saw them on the round-up of Gourmet magazines favorite cookies from 1941-2008. They were Miss 1955, although they were disguised as Biscotti di Regina (Queen's Biscuits). Even Gourmet says, "You may have forgotten about this Italian take on sesame seed cookies, but their cakelike texture and sweetness will remind you why they're an old favorite." Cakelike is kind of a stretch in my opinion, unless you make some really dry cake, but they are too good to be forgotten.
When I was in high school, I tried to make them from a copy of the recipe Poppop wrote on the back of an envelope for me. Thank goodness he lived five minutes away, because about half way through the recipe I had to call him for help. He came over and fixed the mess I made. This time around Poppop was 200+ miles away so I was on my own. Luckily, I have had a little more baking experience. Unluckily, I couldn't find my envelope with the recipe on it. I thought about calling Poppop for the recipe, but it was late, so I decided to use the Gourmet recipe for the ingredient proportions ::hanging my head in shame::
I started to follow the technique in the Gourmet recipe, and about one hand-made cookie ball in, I said to myself, "This is the most tedious way I could do this. Clearly the 1950s-era baker had a thing or two to learn about efficiency. I'm making them Poppop's way." So the technique is family tradition. And the ingredients are Gourmet.
I have to say, to me they tasted a little bit different than what I am used to, but I find I never like anything as much when I make it myself as I do when someone makes it for me! Convenient, I know. By the time they got to California, however, my aunt said they were great. She was probably just being nice. Either way, this is a 9/10 for a sesame seed cookie recipe. And when I get back to good-old PA next week, I will get you guys the original. Hopefully on an envelope again.
Sesame Seed Cookies
Adapted from Gourmet
Makes about 5 dozen cookies
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 tbs. vanilla extract
5 cups flour
3/4 tsp. salt
2 tbs. baking powder
1/2 lb. sesame seeds
-In the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand held mizer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, then gradually add the milk and the vanilla.
-In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
-Make a hollow in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Gradually incorporate the dry ingredients from the edges into the wet ingredients in the center. If the dough it too dry to shape into a loose ball, add a small amount of milk.
-Shape the dought into a ball and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
-Wash, drain, and dry the sesame seeds and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
-Take a baseball size chunk of the dough and gently roll into a log shape about 1 inch across. The dough may start to separate as you roll it. Use your hands to press it into the shape. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 1 inch long pieces, at a bias. Roll the pieces in the sesame seeds and place them on the parchment paper. (Do this immediately after finishing cutting each roll. The seeds stick better right after the dough has been handled.)
-Repeat with the rest of the dough.
-Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.