Fashioned after the traditional Sicilian Biscotti Regina, Black Sesame Citrus Cookies are tart and sweet with a crunchy exterior and a melt-in-your-mouth center. Unique and different, these cookies not only taste great, but are made to impress and spark conversation!
The first time I tasted these cookies, I was sitting at a long table in an Italian restaurant here in Toronto, with about a dozen Italian and a few Portuguese friends. This would have been in 2012 or 2013. I was the only Canadian born-and-raised person at the table. My reaction, upon seeing the cookies being delivered to our table, was caught by one of my Italian friends. He explained that in his family home back in Italy, his grandmother would always make sure these cookies were made fresh every few days. He and his siblings loved them and used to eat them for breakfast every day before heading off to school.
He explained that back home in Palermo, sesame cookies are readily available in every bakery and pastry shop. He was never allowed to buy them from the shops though, because his grandmother told him they were fake and that homemade was best. I can’t blame her there. I think homemade is best too most of the time.
He told me that even though they were a common breakfast item in his family, they were extra special at Christmastime. His grandmother would take more care when making them and form them into circular cookies rather than rectangular cookies, because she thought it made them look fancier. I’ve never met his grandmother, but because this recipe reminds me of my friend lovingly sharing stories of his grandmother, I’m making my version circular in her honour.
At Christmastime, he explained, they were served with big mugs of hot chocolate, and to him and his siblings, the cookies never tasted better. He said it was best to enjoy them with an espresso, but since we were in Canada, coffee or tea would be fine. (He’s a true Italian who’s convinced that espresso is only made properly in Italy.) His mom would also serve them to guests after a big meal with a dessert wine. I love how Italians love to eat!
So, not one to turn down the opportunity to try new food, I bit into the rectangular shaped cookie that had been crusted with white sesame seeds. My mouth was instantly flooded with bright lemony flavour and strangely, at the same time, I tasted a nutty, smokey flavour from the baked sesame seeds. The two flavour combinations worked so well together that the cookie quickly became the highlight of that entire Italian meal!
I had no idea what these cookies were called and I had no idea how to locate the recipe. I had lost touch with that particular friend by the time I had thought about preparing the recipe for Lord Byron’s Kitchen. Recently though, I found a version of the recipe online and I had to make it. I wanted to change it up a bit, so I opted for black sesame seeds rather than white, because I’m just really into black sesame seeds right now. Besides, I had purchased a large bag of organic black sesame seeds a while back, and I’ve been slowly using them up every chance I get.
I also decided – with the help of John.e – to change the name to Black Sesame Citrus Cookies rather than leaving the name as Biscotti Regina. Neriz, at Food and Journeys, where I found the recipe, calls them Sicilian Sesame Seed Cookies, and I didn’t want to steal the name of her recipe. I also wanted to tell the reader right up front that these cookies would have a citrus flavour. And, even though I used lemon in this particular version, you can use lime, orange, or even grapefruit!
The sesame seeds are absolutely the star of this cookie. It’s odd really, because the sesame seeds are only used to coat the cookie before baking, but the flavour and the texture that they take on is difficult to describe. Sesame seeds have a very distinct nutty flavour to begin with, but when you roast them or cook them, that nuttiness intensifies and becomes much more prevalent. I felt that the cookie tasted like it had a bit of smoke flavour too. It sounds odd and weird, but the combination of that slight smokiness and the tartness of the citrus was a match made in heaven. I cannot wait to make these again with grapefruit, because I absolutely love grapefruit!
Not too sweet, not too heavy, and not too difficult or expensive, Black Sesame Citrus Cookies are prefect for any occasion, a great finish to any meal, and a perfect cookie to package and give to friends. I can’t wait to hear from you, Dear Reader. Let me know what you think in the comments section below. Enjoy!
To assist with this recipe, consider using the following tools:
- Metal Slotted Spatula – these are great! You can easily lift the sprouts off of the baking sheet without tearing them or leaving behind all of that browned, charred flavour! I love my Pioneer Woman slotted spatula; the price is great and I use it regularly in my cooking.
- Baking Sheet – most home cooks have a selection of baking sheets and half baking sheets. I use this one so much I have two just in case!
- Silpat Silicone Baking Mats – I love these and use them every single time I bake cookies. No waste, easy to clean, and nothing ever sticks – like ever!
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Black Sesame Citrus Cookies
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 3 large eggs, yolks separated from the whites (keep both!)
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon citrus zest, lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 cup white or black sesame seeds
- 4 tablespoons water
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with a silicone liner or parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, use a hand-held mixer to blend together the flour, sugar, and butter until the mixture comes together and resembles the look and feel of wet sand.
- Add the salt, honey, milk, zest, and egg yolks. Mix well to combine.
- Knead/gather the cookie dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
- Use a small ice-cream scoop to evenly portion the dough. Roll into balls and set aside.
- Whisk the egg whites with the water. Set aside. Pour the sesame seeds into a shallow bowl with room enough to get your hand into the bowl to coat the cookies.
- Take one of the rolled dough balls and flatten it into a circular shape in the palm of your hand. Dip it into the egg whites. Gently shake off the excess egg and roll the cookie into the sesame seeds. Place the cookie onto the baking sheet. Repeat this until all dough balls have been flattened and coated with sesame seeds.
- Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a full 10 minutes on the baking sheet before attempting to remove the cookies.
- Use a flat metal spatula to transfer the cookie from the baking sheet to a cooling rack. Allow the cookie to fully cool. Enjoy!
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