I love cookies. Which is funny for a girl who doesn't eat sugar. But I have to admit, there is just something fantastic about those chewy treats that fit so neatly in the palm of your hand. And yes, I am a chewy cookie girl, not a crunch-loving one. "What about cupcakes?", you ask. Nope, never been a fan. I'm not a cake fan either. Too light and airy. In fact, had my mother make giant chocolate and butterscotch chip ice cream balls for my 8th birthday as a protest against cake. (Disclaimer: This statement does not include cheesecake or flourless chocolate cakes.) And yet for all my cookie love, I didn't actually have a real chocolate chip cookie until I was a preteen. And let me tell you...when I finally bit into the rich, buttery goodness, noticed the sharp zing of sugar and coating of fat on my tongue, I immediately plopped it down on the table and thought,“What the heck is this and what have I been eating all these years!?!”
As with all things, it began with my mother. My mom loves to bake and couldn't wait to have a little girl with whom she could share her baking joy. She got the daughter she wanted but everything else was a no-go. I am not a baker, never have never will be, and though to this day I'm happy to talk her ear off in the kitchen, she knows not to ask me to measure or whisk. My mother's baking also comes with a single caveat: she’s a hippie baker. As a kid, butter substitutes, fructose and carob lined our pantry and glared at me from their “better-than-thou” perches. By everyday standards I don’t think I’m even allowed to call her baked round experiments "cookies", though they were certainly cookies to me and my siblings. Each baked treat harbored whole rolled oats and a good dose of the wheat germ that lived in the refrigerator side door. As I am now learning more about baked goods, I keep hearing this term “crumb”. Like “the cake had a nice light crumb” or “the scone with its richly textured crumb.” Yet, I know nothing about “crumbs” for the simple fact that my mother’s baking didn’t have any! God bless that sweet hippie baker, with her whole wheat dense-as-a-door edibles. Everything that came out of her kitchen weighed about 5 pounds, packed with walnuts, dried fruit and an extreme colon-cleansing amount of fiber. Her cookies were toughly-textured things that broke off in large chunks rather than crumbling under the pressure of one’s teeth. And I loved them. I still do actually. I have to admit that because of my earliest experiences with what I thought were "real" cookies, I’m still a major fan of the healthy hippie stuff and am repelled by sickeningly sweet cakes and muffins that leave your teeth aching and your mouth begging for a scrapper to remove the shellac of sugar and fat. And yes, my sugar queen sister thinks I'm annoying but my dentist loves me.
Sugar is such a popular topic, especially during the holidays. In fact, it is safe to say that almost every day in December a client asks for healthy dessert recipes. I've only posted a few which include my delicious chocolate truffles, brown rice crispy treats and date walnut tea biscuits. So here is a new cookie I just made for my friend's annual cookie party. It is gluten-free (a nice healthy buzz word) and is sweetened with real maple syrup. The great thing about bringing healthier desserts to a party is you can eat your own stuff without getting sucked into all the other junk. Here is a quick rundown on exactly what makes a dessert healthy. And no, it does not mean low fat. Healthy, in my book anyway, means high quality fat, unrefined sweeteners, and whole grain (or no grain) flours. Here is a list for you to use to make your holiday desserts a little more healthy.
Fats: Use organic butter or extra virgin coconut oil rather than refined vegetable oils
Sweeteners: Substitute honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup or unrefined/unbleached cane sugar for white and brown sugar (Here is a handy conversion sheet)
Flours: Use whole wheat pastry flour or almond flour instead of enriched white flour
Be warned: These cookies are dangerously good. They are reminiscent of halvah, a rich Middle Eastern sesame confection that my father often brought home when he wanted to be bad. Yes, halvah and salami were his go-to treats and there was an ongoing debate as to which version, the traditional or the chocolate dipped halvah, was best. (I was a flip-flopper myself.) The star anise was a last minute addition and I think it gives a nice warming sensation to the cookies.
The sesame cookie dough has a similar texture to peanut butter cookie dough. Though it may seem dry, it is not. That is how it is supposed to be. I adapted this recipe from the blog Elana's Pantry, which is a great resource for gluten-free goodies.
Gluten Free Sesame and Anise Cookies
Makes 24 cookies
2 1/2 cup almond flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground star anise
1/2 cup maple syrup
2/3 cup roasted organic tahini (Sesame seed paste. I used Arrowhead Mills.)
1 tablespoon organic butter (You can also use coconut oil here to make the cookies vegan.)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds, in a small bowl
In a large mixing bowl combine the almond flour, sea salt, baking soda and star anise. In a smaller bowl mix together the maple syrup, tahini, butter, and vanilla extract. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet and combine thoroughly. Make 1 inch balls with the dough and roll each in the sesame seeds. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and flatten a bit. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, until the cookies are golden. Cool and enjoy!