While sesame is not a traditional Thanksgiving ingredient, I will always associate this particular cookie recipe with Thanksgiving, gratitude, and transformation. Two years ago, which feels like so much longer, during the pandemic holiday season of 2020 when I was holed up in my quarantine cocoon (and not mad about it), I discovered, rather late in the game of baking trends, the now-famous “pan-banging cookies”. So many social media baking trends feel silly or gimmicky to me, so I admit that when I first heard about this, the idea elicited a hefty eye-roll. It seemed fussy, the cookies are gigantic, and just… why? In the event that you are not yet familiar, this is a technique developed by Sarah Kieffer of The Vanilla Bean Blog, in which you open the oven during baking and bang the pan a few times on the oven rack, which creates crisp, rippled edges by purposely collapsing the cookie centers as they puff up. It was all the rage, and I was all… MEH. The edges looked too thin and crisp for my taste– I’m a thick, chewy, toothsome cookie kind of girl, after all! So I thumbed my nose at Sarah’s brilliance for more months than I’d care to admit; I was happy baking my lil’ banana bread loaves, Bundt cakes, and whatever else I was doing during the quarantine haze. But how very wrong I was! I did buy her 100 Cookies book when it came out and looooved the Apricot Rosemary and Raspberry-Rye Cookies that I immediately baked. These delicious and creative recipes inspired me to finally roll my sleeves up and see what all the hype was about. The first recipe I tried from the Pan-Banging chapter was for these Toasted Sesame Pan-Banging Cookies because if presented with yummy things to eat that contain sesame, the answer for me is always an unequivocal YES. Unfortunately I missed way too much time of my life not making and eating pan-banging cookies, and while I can’t get those tragic lost months back, I made a conscious decision at that moment to live my life moving forward surrounded by as many pan-banging cookies as possible.
The other reason this particular recipe is special to me is that it reminds me of the tradition that I started on Black Friday that year. I was living about 30 minutes south of San Francisco at the time in a quiet, boring, bedroom-community suburb, in an apartment with popcorn ceilings and stinky hallways. I decided for whatever reason to drive up to Ocean Beach in San Francisco that day, which opens onto the wide-open Pacific. (This was during the second lockdown when most places were closed again as Covid surged in the fall.) With blanket, journal, jacket, sunglasses, and my trusty bag of Toasted Sesame Pan-Banging Cookies in tow, I spent the loveliest, most peaceful afternoon soaking in the quiet November beachscape and the California sunshine, while enjoying these toasty-warm, chewy, caramelized disks of sesame perfection. They weren’t “too crisp” or “too thin” or any such nonsense at all; they were full of complex flavors and textures that helped make that day so memorable. And given how large they are, one cookie was quite the snack. (Not a complaint in any way, I assure you.)
Sitting on that beach was also the very first time that the idea of moving into the city seriously crossed my mind. I remember thinking, “I am so happy in this moment and I wish really badly that I could live in the city so I could come here any time.” That was me putting my wish out into the universe… and then I actually started looking into it. Because of the mass exodus from SF during the early part of the pandemic, the rents dropped drastically for a short while, and I was able to manifest this dream that I’ve been harboring for some years, but never seriously entertained because it would be preposterous. A few months later, I found myself moving into a beautiful condo in a fun, emerging neighborhood; even now, another year and a half after that, I still pinch myself once in a while. I get to wake up every single day in the city and spend every weekend doing fun city things (and OMG, eating all the delicious city things).
I’d like to say that I’ve been back to that beach spot often… but I’d be lying to you. I did, however, return last November on the same day, and I’ll be doing that this Black Friday as well, so I’m happy to call this my new annual tradition, which I daresay is leaps and bounds better than fighting my way through the mall or watching football. I fully plan to bring a stash of my very favorite pan-banging cookies with me; the beach feels extra special with a few of those tucked into my bag.
Toasted Sesame Pan-Banging Cookies
Adapted from 100 Cookies by Sarah Kieffer
Yields about 12 large cookies
Sarah suggests adding some (optional– bahaha!) chopped chocolate to the batter. I decided to try blonde (caramelized white) chocolate, and it gave these cookies otherworldly layer of deep caramelized sweetness in the best possible way, bringing out the best of the other flavors. I highly recommend this if you have some on hand, or you can make your own. Or bittersweet/semisweet is also great.
One more thing: Do not try to make these smaller. I generally go for smaller cookies (another reason I wasn’t enthralled to try the pan-bangers at first), but you will only get the gorgeous rippled edges with larger pieces of dough.
- 1¾ cups (250) grams all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt (or ¾ teaspoon table salt)
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks or 170 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- ½ cup (100 grams) light brown sugar
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- 3 ounces (85 grams) blonde, bittersweet, or semisweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces of varying sizes (roughly like chocolate chips), optional
- Black and white sesame seeds, for rolling
Preheat an oven to 350°F and set a rack in the center position. Line three cookie sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil (dull-side up).
Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the granulated and brown sugars and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the egg, toasted sesame oil, water, and vanilla, then mix on low speed to combine. Sprinkle the flour mixture into the bowl and mix on low speed just until combined and there are no more flour streaks. Add the chopped chocolate and mix on low just until combined.
Form the dough into 3-ounce (85g) balls, about ¼ cup. Roll each one gently in the bowl of sesame seeds, and place 4 cookies several inches apart on each cookie sheet, baking one batch at a time. Bake until the dough balls have spread flat (a few inches across) and are puffed slightly in the middle, 9 minutes.
Open the oven door and carefully lift up the sheet pan about 4 inches and gently bang it down against the oven rack. This helps the edges of the cookies set while the centers collapse a bit. Bake the cookies for another 2 minutes so the centers puff again, then repeat lifting and gently banging the pan. Bake the cookies for 15-16 minutes total, repeating the lifting/banging 2-3 more times (every couple of minutes) to create ripples around the cookie edges; each time you bang the pan, the ridges will get more defined. When the cookies are done, they will have spread out quite a bit and the edges will be golden brown while the centers are much lighter and appear not fully cooked. The cookies will still be fairly thick even though they’ve spread out.
Transfer the pan to a metal cooling rack. Let the cookies cool untouched for 10 minutes, then slide the pan out from under the parchment, leaving the cookies to finish cooling on the rack. Repeat with the remaining two cookie sheets.
Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days (or refrigerate for up to 3 days).
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2022.