“…she would abandon her body to flow into a vaster body than her own, as it was at the beginning, and return with many other lives to be unfolded…” - Anaïs Nin
My baking is largely dictated by cravings and those come and go, just like the changing seasons. Unpredictable, that’s the word. Lately, my cravings have been drawn towards middle eastern flavours and spices. Ras el Hanout, plenty of it - in ice-cream, buttercream, brownies and on-top of my morning breakfast bowls. Tahini and Halva feature plenty. So too does Dukkah (the dessert kind), Figs and Honey.
Spiced, and salted sweet, it’s a theme occurring in this kitchen lately. There’s something quite special about these ingredients. Something I can’t quite figure out. Comforting, most likely. Warmth, like nothing else. They possess a heat that makes me ever so slightly pull away from classic French flavours, and lean towards the heart of the Middle East. Though, just for the moment.
More, and more, these flavours, are featuring in my cooking, baking - Persian Meringue Nests, Pistachio Petal Shortbread, Halvah and Walnut Brownie Torte, Naked Carrot Cake with Tahini Cream Cheese Frosting. I’m still trying to make a Ras el Hanout créme anglaise happen, and an ice-cream too. I do hope I can explore these flavours through my travels next year, a long trip on the Orient Express through Paris to Istanbul is in the works.
And here’s today’s recipe, a Toasted Sesame and Chocolate Cookie Cake with Tahini Halva Buttercream - featuring some of my new favourite flavours. It’s impressive. A towering cookie cake, stacked with an ever-so-sweet but nutty buttercream. And just going by looks alone, it gives me the most immense satisfaction.
But what about that taste! It’s rich, decadent and incredibly moorish. Big cookies, spiked by the flavour of toasted sesame, and studded with chunks of milk chocolate, sandwich thick layers of a nutty tahini buttercream that’s flecked with sweet pieces of halva. A flourish of smoked flaky salt finishes this cookie cake off, a delicious textural crunch that unites all the rich and complex flavours going on in the cake.
This Toasted Sesame and Chocolate Cookie Cake with Tahini Halva Buttercream is the kind of recipe that makes me very happy. I could take a bite, and relish in a feeling of accomplishment, savouring each decadent mouthful. It’s the perfect size too, enough to share between a few.
I can’t wait to explore different reiterations and flavour combinations with my new obsession with Middle Eastern spices, combining them with my love for traditional French baking and flavours. Though this Toasted Sesame and Chocolate Cookie Cake with Tahini Halva Buttercream might be hard to beat.
Toasted Sesame and Chocolate Cookie Cake with Tahini Halva Buttercream
For the cookies:
25 grams (0.9 ounces) sesame seeds, 250 grams (8.8 ounces) plain flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, 230 grams (8.1 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature, 250 grams (8.8 ounces) caster sugar. 100 grams (3.5 ounces) dark brown sugar, 1 large egg, at room temperature, 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract, 30 ml (1 fluid ounce) toasted sesame oil, 100 grams (3.5 ounces) milk chocolate chunks, flaked sea salt
Pre-heat the oven to 170 C (350 F). Line three baking trays with parchment paper.
Place the sesame seeds on one of the baking trays. Toast in the oven until golden brown and fragrant. Remove from the oven and let cool.
In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Add in the egg, vanilla and sesame oil and beat until combined. Pause mixing to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl.
Set the mixer speed to low then add in the flour mixture. Beat until just combined.
Add in the chocolate and sesame seeds and mix until evenly distributed.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until firm, 30 minutes to an hour.
Once chilled, use an ice-cream scoop to scoop the cookie dough into balls and onto the prepared baking trays, about 70 grams (2.5 ounces) per cookie dough ball and 4 cookies per sheet. Sprinkle the tops with the flaked salt then place the trays in the fridge, or freezer until the dough is firm.
Bake for 10 to 13 minutes, or until golden brown and the edges are crisp but the middles are still slightly soft.
Let cool on the baking trays for 10 minutes before moving out onto a wire rack to cool completely before filling with the buttercream and stacking.
For the buttercream:
213 grams (7.5 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature, 100 grams (3.5 ounces) smooth tahini, 2 tablespoons heavy cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract, 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, 180 grams confectioners’ sugar, sifted, 115 grams (4 ounces) halva, broken into chunks
Place the butter and tahini in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.
Add in the cream, vanilla and salt then beat until smooth.
Lower the mixer speed and beat in the confectioners’ sugar until just combined.
Pause mixing to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl then increase the speed back to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 4 minutes.
Beat in the halva chunks until evenly distributed.
When you are ready to assemble the cake, set aside 10 of the best looking, and evenly shaped cookies. Place the first cookie on a cake stand or serving plate.
Spread a generous tablespoon of the buttercream over the face then top with another cookie, pressingly gently down to sandwich. Repeat this filling, stacking and pressing process until all of the cookies and buttercream have been used up.
Move the cookie cake to the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes or until the buttercream has firmly set before slicing and serving.
Cookies adapted from The Vanilla Bean Baking Blog