(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

While most of my childhood friends probably made a beeline for chocolate chip cookies, I went straight for the peanut butter instead. Unfortunately I can't make classic peanut butter cookies for my daughter's lunchbox since she goes to a nut-free school, but luckily these tahini ones are a tasty, nut-free substitute.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

Tahini, a Mediterranean sesame paste, has a great nutty flavor that makes it a perfect alternative for peanut butter. It's folded into an easy butter dough that's sweetened with both regular and dark brown sugar for some caramel flavors. The dough balls get rolled in coarse-grain sugar for some sparkle and crunch, but you can skip this part if you don't have any on hand.

The fun part of making these cookies is pressing the distinctive pattern into them with the back of a fork; it's a great activity for any little helpers you may have hanging around the kitchen. Make a batch of these when the next craving for chewy cookies hits!

Tahini Cookies

Makes 36 (2 1/2-inch) cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup coarse-grain sugar, such as demerara

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a small bowl; set aside. Cream the butter, tahini, and brown and granulated sugars together in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg, return the mixer to medium speed, and mix until completely incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and the paddle.

Return the mixer to low speed and slowly add the flour. Stop the mixer when almost all the flour is incorporated, then use a rubber spatula to incorporate the last of it by hand. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until starting to firm up, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. (If you don't have 3, you can reuse baking sheets and parchment, just let the baking sheet cool completely between uses). Place the coarse sugar in a shallow, wide bowl or pie plate.

Scoop the dough by level tablespoons and roll into balls. Roll each ball in the sugar to lightly coat. Place the dough balls on the baking sheets 2 inches apart, 12 per baking sheet. Using the back of a fork, flatten each cookie to about 1/2-inch thick with a criss-cross pattern.

Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies are a light golden-brown around the edges and on the bottoms, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

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