Coming from a heritage stemming from the southern part of Russia, the cultural traditions set on my family’s table have always been similar to the foods of the Middle East – especially Israeli and Persian food. Halvah was one of them; my favorite Middle Eastern confection. My late grandmother would keep plenty of halvah, individually wrapped Russian chocolates, sesame seed candies, and sweet meringues in a big crystal bowl ready for the picking. That and hot mint tea was the final part of most family meal gatherings.
And it didn’t matter if it was winter or summer — the tea was always hot! I remember running back downstairs when I would hear the tea glasses clinking, knowing it was time for tea and sweets to anxiously dig into the bowl searching for the Russian chocolate with the pretty squirrel wrapper and of course, the marbled halvah – as if someone might take them all. But as much as I loved the marbled combination of chocolate with the heavily sweetened sesame I could never handle more than a few bites. I was quite heavy eaten as-is, but gosh did I love the stuff.
When I came across Yotam Ottolenghi’s Tahini Chocolate Brownies the thoughts of my halvah eating days came back with a surge, inspiring me to bake these tahini chocolate chip cookies. All the flavors of marbled halvah without the dense heaviness this sweet is famous for…come to mama.
After a couple of batches to make sure it is tried and true I must tell you that it is so much like the halvah flavors I remember but richer given the use of bittersweet chocolate and a touch of brown sugar. They come out crisp around the edges yet soft in the center with gobs of chocolate chunks – some melted and some holding on to their texture – that had me close my eyes as I ate in sheer bliss.
I baked them two ways, actually three ways – using egg, applesauce, and peanut butter (instead of sesame, a whole other flavor profile for my younger boys). The difference is slight: the egg gives more structure and a slightly softer cookie. The applesauce gives a crispier cookie with more crumb. Both have the halvah flavor with an appropriately obscene amount of chocolate (I think) worth the mess. For the best flavor seek out a high-quality tahini that only contains sesame seeds.
But hey, if tahini flavor is not your thing (it isn’t my youngest boys either) try swapping it for peanut butter or sunflower butter. I surprised my twin boys with a peanut butter version of this cookie for their first day of camp back in July, it comes out chunkier than the tahini due to the thick texture of peanut butter and has become my three younger boys new favorite cookie. But they say that with every new cookie hit. They are the sweetest.
My husband, oldest son and me, polished these off. The next time I make these I’m freezing half of the scooped balls of dough to bake when the craving strikes because I ate them way too fast and they forced me to share. I hate when that happens. 😉
Here are the peanut butter ones… As much as I believe life without sweets is not living, I did freeze half of the batch for later otherwise, my boys would eat them all, and that would be a little TOO much sweet living!
- 4 ounces (8 tablespoons) non-dairy soy free butter, room temperature
- ½ cup tahini
- ½ cup cane sugar
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg yolk
- EGG SUBSTITUTE:
- 3 tablespoons chunky applesauce, strained
- 1 teaspoon pure gluten free vanilla extract
- ½ cup tapioca starch
- ½ cup PLUS 2 tablespoons sweet rice flour
- ½ cup PLUS 2 tablespoons certified gluten free oat flour (Bob’s Red Mill)
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
- 1½ teaspoons ground psyllium husk
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 10 ounces semisweet non-dairy dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (Theo or Guittard brand are soy free)
- Optional: Maldon sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (162 C)
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a stand mixer fitter with a paddle attachment, cream the non-dairy butter, tahini, cane and light brown sugars together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, sift the flours, baking soda, baking powder, psyllium husk, and kosher salt into a large bowl and set aside.
- Add whole egg and yolk (or applesauce) and vanilla and continue mixing on medium speed for additional 4-5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Fold in the chopped chocolate by hand using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
- Using a large 2-ounce ice cream scooper, scoop out 11 dough balls and place them on the baking sheet spaced at least 3” apart to allow spreading. Using the back of a dry measuring cup, gently flatten the cookie balls halfway. If the dough is too warm at this point, refrigerate for 10-15 minutes before baking.
- Note: If you prefer to just bake one or two now and save the rest for later: simply scoop out dough balls and freeze for 2 hours. Then transfer into a freezer-safe bag for up to six months. keep the cookie dough balls in zip-top bags in the freezer for up to 6 months.
- Bake for 13-15 minutes until just golden brown around the edges. They will still look somewhat unbaked in the middle, which is perfect. Immediately sprinkle each with Maldon salt, if desired. Allow to cool for 20 minutes on the baking sheet or cooling rack before eating.
- Note on chocolate: Chocolate chips do not contain as much cacao butter as solid chocolate does, which is why they don’t melt as quickly. Use good quality solid dark chocolate in order to get the melted gooey chocolate you see pictured. Also, the higher the percentage of chocolate, the less it will melt. Try not to exceed 72% chocolate for best results.
- For PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES: simply swap out tahini for creamy unsalted peanut butter, if salted, omit kosher salt. For these, I used a small ice-cream scooper. It will 24-26 smaller yet chunkier cookies.
- Want to bake both? Simply make the dough without the addition of tahini or peanut butter then add it in by hand along with the chocolate chunks, scoop, and bake.
- Note on psyllium husk: I use organic, non-GMO, pharmaceutical-grade whole psyllium husk that I grind in my spice grinder instead of xanthan or guar gum. It is high in fiber, containing both soluble and insoluble fiber and acts as a binder when baking with gluten free flours.
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