I actually made these shortbread sandwiches a while ago for my mom when she was visiting earlier this summer, but am just getting around to sharing them. My parents are some of my favorite people to bake for because they are just the best, and since baking is not a big part of Chinese home cooking (growing up, the oven was a repository of miscellaneous, low-rotation kitchen gadgets that I'd have to remove whenever I wanted to bake something), they are always genuinely impressed and totally dazzled.
The flavor combination for these little shortbread sandwiches comes from this recipe from The Tart Tart! for black sesame macarons with Nutter Butter filling. The Tart Tart! explains that black sesame and peanut are often found together in Chinese desserts, which is totally right, and happens to be a pairing that my mom loves.
The black sesame shortbreads involved a more than usual share of trial and error. In order to give the cookies a distinct and strong black sesame taste, I knew I'd have to add a significant amount of ground sesame seed to the cookie dough. However, almost all the recipes I was able to find use only whole sesame seeds, which seems kind of pointless flavor-wise. I figured I’d also have to use less flour than usual, otherwise the cookies would be too dry. The first couple of times I reduced the flour too much, and the cookies spread, were greasy, super ugly and entirely unfitting to gift to a super adorable mom. These failures are now hanging out in the back of my freezer, waiting for the day they get freezer-burned and “have” to be thrown away. Reluctant to waste any more ingredients, I consulted the big guns and used for the first time the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Hotline.
Lucky we are that such a thing exists in the world! A King Arthur baker expertly informed me that one cannot simply swap out flour for ground sesame seeds in a 1:1 ratio because ground sesame adds fat and no gluten (which in hindsight seems so obvious!), and then nudged me toward the correct proportion and saved these shortbread sandwiches.
For the filling, it is best to use a commercial brand of peanut butter. I used a natural variety and found the filling difficult to work with when it got warm. Also also, this past summer (I am still reluctant to see it go) marked my Skippy peanut butter renaissance; Skippy is the best, I don’t know how I ever got conned into eating natural peanut butter and doing that whole preliminary stirring-the-grease-back-into-the-nut-mixture dance.
Black Sesame Shortbread Sandwiches with Nutter Butter Filling
For the Black Sesame Shortbreads
Yield depends on size of cookie cutter. I used a tiny flower-shaped cookie cutter that is 1-1/2 inches in diameter and got 56 cookies.
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup ground black sesame seed*
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
* Ground black sesame seed is available in Asian markets, or you can grind up some of your own in a food processor.
In a medium bowl stir together butter and sugar until the mixture takes on a paler color and is slightly fluffy. Then mix in the ground sesame and sesame seeds until incorporated.
Add the flour and salt to the bowl and stir until the dough comes together. The dough will be crumbly, then begin to form as you continue to stir.
Transfer the dough to a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. Then, on a flat surface and with the bag open, roll the dough out to about a quarter of an inch. Press out all the air you can, seal the bag, and place it in the fridge to chill for the at least 30 minutes.
While dough is in the fridge, line cookie sheets with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Remove the dough from the fridge and slit the bag open. Cut the rolled-out dough into any shapes you like. Bake cookies for 11 to 13 minutes. Remove from oven. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes then move to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies last in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.
For the Nutter Butter Filling
Adapted very slightly from Bouchon Bakery in The New York Times. I mostly just scaled down the recipe and reduced the confectioner’s sugar for a less sweet filling.
1/2 stick butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup creamy unsalted peanut butter
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
Cream together the butter, peanut butter and confectioners’ sugar until very smooth, with either an electric mixer or a wooden spoon. You will likely have extra, which you can put on everything.
Sandwich filling between two shortbreads. I found it easier and neater to distribute the filling with a piping bag rather than a butter knife or spoon. Since there is no need for especially pretty piping in this case, you can create your own makeshift and disposable piping bag by cutting off a bit of a corner of a small Ziploc bag.