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The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap raises money for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer with the help of sponsors Dixie Crystals, Land O’Lakes and OXO. The chance to be part of that campaign was a huge part of why I signed up to participate for the third year. Sweetening the deal, literally and figuratively, were the three dozen cookies I knew I would receive in the mail from other participating food bloggers. I received Candy Bar Cookies from Cydnee at Tampa Cake Girl, Toffee White Chocolate Chunk cookies from Alyssa at What’s Cooking, Love?, and Nutella Brownie Batter cookies from Nicole at For the Love of Food. I couldn’t choose a favorite; each kind of cookie was delicious, perfectly baked, and beautifully presented. You will have to join me in looking for the recipes when the round-up is posted for the Cookie Swap entries, because all three recipes are keepers!

For my part, I was asked to chose a new-to-me recipe, one I had never blogged before, to bake and send to my three matches. At the time I was planning my selection, I was reading the Zahav cookbook, excitedly marking recipes to try and making notes of ingredients to buy in preparation. A page I returned to over and over had tehina shortbread cookies. At cookie swaps I hosted in the past, I was taken by some tahini (the spelling of tehina I am more used to, and will continue with) cookies made by my friend D. They appeared simple, but the flavor was so different from anything I had tried before, and they were perfect with a cup of tea. Years later, I remember how good those cookies tasted to me, and how curious it was that I had never thought to use tahini, an ingredient that’s a staple in my savory dishes, in a sweet way. Tahini is innately bitter, and though bitterness is often perceived as a negative in food, I am quite drawn to it: coffee, escarole, arugula, citrus peel, fenugreek and turnips come to mind as bitter ingredients I enjoy. Though I am not sure you will find me making escarole cookies anytime soon… the balance of tahini with butter and sugar is genius. I chose to add a twist to Solomonov’s base recipe to make it my own, and used blackberry and cherry-rhubarb-vanilla jams I made last summer to transform the shortbread into thumbprints.

In my version, the well-balanced tahini shortbread is gussied up as an homage to another beloved cookie, the peanut butter and jelly thumbprint. I know that almond thumbprints with jam are also holiday favorites, and for a good reason. Another benefit to using tahini in place of peanut butter or almonds in your cookies: it is made from sesame seeds, so may be a wise replacement if you are gifting to friends who deal with nut allergies or sensitivity in their families. As for the jam, blackberry was chosen because it is my favorite jam to use in a peanut butter sandwich, cherry because I think of it when I think of fruit flavors that might be common in Israeli sweets. With that reasoning, apricot jam would also be delicious. Really, you could use any jam for the filling; strawberry or raspberry would have also worked nicely.

If you have more holiday baking to do, consider these thumbprints a fun twist on classic holiday treats. Children can help scoop the batter onto the sheets or press the “thumbprint” with the end of a mixing spoon. Don’t make the mistake of relegating them to the holiday-only recipe file, as these are destined to be a year-round option when I need a batch of cookies for the break room at work, a quick hostess gift or casual gathering. I hope my matches enjoyed the tahini shortbread thumbprints I sent, and I look forward to participating in The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap again next year! Watch for the cookie recipe round up from all participating bloggers in the next few days; I’ll post links on my Facebook page. Happy baking!

tahini shortbread thumbprints

Tahini Shortbread Thumbprints (adapted from Zahav)

  • 14 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 c. + 1 T. sugar (I used organic evaporated cane juice)
  • 1 c. tahini (I like the store brand from Whole Foods, or the Once Again brand)
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 4 oz. jam of your choice (I used blackberry and cherry)

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar well, for at least 3 mins. Add the tahini and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Sift together the dry ingredients and add to the wet ingredients, mixing just until combined. Cover the bowl and chill the dough for at least one hour before proceeding. The dough can be made several days in advance if desired. I also had excellent results freezing a batch of dough, taking it out to thaw in the refrigerator for about 8 hours, and then baking as usual.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a few cookie sheets with parchment paper, for optimal results. I like to use a 1 T. cookie scoop for these, but you can portion the same amount of dough and roll it into balls if that is easier. Space the dough balls about 2″ apart to allow for spreading, about 16-20 cookies per sheet. Bake for 12 mins.

As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, use your thumb (if you’re quick! and not heat sensitive) or the rounded end of a silicone or wooden, etc. mixing spoon to press an indentation into each cookie. Cool for 10-15 mins. on the pan and then carefully remove the parchment paper to a cooling rack. Dollop a small amount of jam into each center indentation. I believe 1/4 tsp. to 1/2 tsp. was right, depending on the depth of your mark, but found it was much easier to eyeball the amount than measure.

After filling your tahini thumbprints, cool them completely on the rack and then transfer to containers for storage. These cookies keep, tightly covered, at room temperature for about 5 days. I think they are better the day after than right out of the oven.