I bake to tame my inner, sometimes irrepressibly volatile beast. When I’m on the edge of an emotional decline, like when I start stalking an ex on Instagram or trolling the net for Robert Pattinson/FKA Twigs pics, I turn to baking for comfort. It’s like keeping a zen garden, only with more delicious results.
Neither my mom nor my Po-Po baked. The oven was for storing clean pots and dishes. It was as foreign to me as the hand mixer, which I’d use as a pretend space gun.
In the 4th grade, word had spread that the Costco frozen section had pre-made cookie dough. Inspired by bestie’s description of this magical product, my mom and I headed to the grocery store where I mistakenly bought a tub of cookie dough ice cream instead. After opening the lid, my mom said matter-of-factly, “This is ice cream.” Stubborn and eager to prove her wrong, I convinced her to let me proceed.
We got the oven started. I spooned the ice cream/cookie dough on a sheet tray and it went into the oven. Both of us perched on the kitchen counter impatiently, eager to settle our dispute. We waited about 15 minutes and as mom carefully took the "cookies" out of the oven, my shit-eating-grin turned into a perma-pout. These supposed cookies looked more like pools of burnt cream lava with tiny bits of dough floating on top.
Since that first humbling experience, you can say I've gotten better at baking - and smarter, hopefully. From pound cake to opera cake to cream puffs, I’ve tried ‘em all. I started infusing my baked goods with unexpected spices and ingredients like cardamom or rose water.
After watching my Po-Po make tang yuan one evening, I decided I'd play around with black sesame in my baked goods. Tang yuan is a traditional Chinese dessert eaten during Lantern festival, best described as pillowy rice flour balls filled with a black sesame-lard paste. Po-Po adds a little dried orange peel to hers, which helps brighten the sesame mixture’s thick gumminess.
For my recent pop-up dinner, my friend Amanda suggested an awesome Tartine flourless peanut butter cookie recipe to me for our dessert. We decided to make it with black sesame instead. The cookie itself is already dreamy, but taking a cue from Po-Po, I decided to zest some kumquats into the batter. What resulted was a beautifully adult dessert that can easily be crumbled over ice cream (which we did at the pop-up) or eaten with a spot of tea.
Zesty Black Sesame Cookies 黑芝麻 餅乾
Adapted from Tartine’s Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes a dozen 2.5- inch disks or two dozen 1 inch little cookies
⅔ cup ground black sesame
1 cup oat flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ cup tahini
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon kumquat or orange zest
Sugar Matcha Powder[optional]
2 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon matcha powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine ground sesame, oat flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix well.
In a separate medium bowl, beat butter and sugar with using an electric mixer on medium-high, until fluffy and combined. Beat in tahini until combined. Add vanilla.
Add flour-nut mixture to butter-sugar mixture. Add citrus zest. Mix until combined.
To use a cookie cutter, gather dough into ball and sandwich between two pieces of parchment paper. Roll out with rolling pin on a flat, hard surface until ¼ to ½-inch thick. Cut with cookie cutter - using any shape you prefer. On a parchment lined baking sheet, gently place cookies and bake in the oven about 15-17 minutes.
You can also roll and flatten dough into tiny discs for a more rustic look. Remove cookies from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Dust powdered sugar-matcha mixture over cookies with a sieve.