Recipe: Black Sesame-Espresso Pinwheel Shortbread Cookies

updated Apr 30, 2019
Black Sesame-Espresso Pinwheel Shortbread Cookies

An easy slice-and-bake shortbread cookie flavored with black sesame.

Makes48 cookies

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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Although I could eat tahini with a spoon and have a heavy hand with sesame seeds, I’d always dismissed black sesame as a fleeting Instagram-fueled trend. But when I tried the flavor firsthand (in a cookie, no less) I immediately understood the hype — and gained a newfound interest in the black sesame treats that had taken over my feed. Its deep, nutty flavor adds a slight savoriness to baked goods, making these pinwheel cookies suitable for brunch or a mid-morning snack.

Think of these shortbread cookies as the love child between the iconic peppermint pinwheels that pop up every year at Christmastime and the trendiest black sesame dessert you’ve seen on your feed. They’re buttery and tender and not too sweet, and are way easier to make than they look. And thanks to the addition of espresso powder, they’re delightful with coffee.

What Is Black Sesame?

Black sesame seeds boast a stronger, earthier, nuttier flavor than their white sesame counterparts (although they’re similar enough that they can be used interchangeably). Look for them next to the white sesame seeds in the spice aisle of your grocery store (McCormick now sells them), at Whole Foods, or a Japanese market. You can also can buy them online.

While you can sprinkle the black seeds directly onto salads, noodle bowls, or roasted vegetables for a striking garnish, you’ll need to grind them first (in a spice grinder or food processor) for most baking applications. Similar to making homemade nut butters, the seeds will begin to release their natural oils, forming a very thick paste. For these cookies, I thinned out the paste with a small splash of water to allow the mixture to more seamlessly incorporate into the dough.

A Mesmerizing Cookie Absolutely Anyone Can Make

A swirled cookie is one of the best ways to show off black sesame’s bold color. Plus, they’re easier to make than they look: You’ll whip up a simple four-ingredient shortbread dough, add flavoring to half (in this case, black sesame and espresso powder), stack the two doughs on top of one another, roll them into a log, slice into rounds, and bake. For a little extra sparkle, you can roll the log in a mixture of turbinado sugar and espresso powder before baking.

(Image credit: The Kitchn)

Black Sesame-Espresso Pinwheel Shortbread Cookies

An easy slice-and-bake shortbread cookie flavored with black sesame.

Makes 48 cookies

Nutritional Info


  • 1/4 cup

    black sesame seeds

  • 16 tablespoons

    (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1/2 cup

    powdered sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • 2 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon

    warm water

  • 4 teaspoons

    finely ground espresso beans or espresso powder, divided

  • 1

    large egg, beaten

  • 1/4 cup

    turbinado sugar


  1. Grind the sesame seeds in a spice grinder until they form a thick paste, about 2 minutes. (Alternatively, use a clean coffee grinder or food processor.) Set aside.

  2. Place the butter, powdered sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.) Beat on low speed until just combined, then increase the speed to medium and beat until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low again and beat in the vanilla. With the mixer running, gradually beat in the flour and continue beating until a dough forms. Transfer half the dough to a piece of parchment paper and shape it into a rough rectangle.

  3. Stir together the ground sesame seeds, water, and 2 teaspoons of the espresso powder in a small bowl until combined. Add to the dough in the mixer and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Transfer to a piece of parchment and shape into a rough rectangle like you the vanilla dough. Cover both doughs with a second piece of parchment.

  4. Roll each dough (still sandwiched in the parchment) into a 12x9-inch rectangle that's about 1/4-inch thick. Stack the doughs (still in parchment) on a baking sheet. Refrigerate until the doughs are firm but still pliable enough to roll out, 30 to 40 minutes.

  5. Remove both doughs from the refrigerator and remove the top piece of parchment from each (reserve the parchments). Stack the doughs on top of each other, lining them up as precisely as possible and trimming the edges so that you’re left with a clean rectangle. (Keep in mind that whichever dough is on the bottom of the stack will be the outside of the pinwheel). Starting from a long end, tightly roll the rectangle of dough up into a log.

  6. Wrap the pinwheel log in parchment paper. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

  7. Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with the reserved parchment paper.

  8. Remove the dough log from the refrigerator, unwrap, and brush all over with beaten egg. Cut in half crosswise. Combine the turbinado sugar and remaining 2 teaspoons espresso powder on a large plate. Roll each log in the mixture, patting it to adhere. Slice each log into 1/4-inch-thick rounds (you should get about 24 cookies from each log). Turn the log a quarter turn every three or four cuts to prevent a flat side. Place 12 rounds on each baking sheet.

  9. Bake the cookies for 7 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking until the cookies are just set in the center (the undersides will brown, but the tops will not), 5 to 6 minutes more. Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining dough slices (no need to cool baking sheets or use new parchment).

Recipe Notes

Storage: The baked cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Freezing the dough: Wrap the parchment-wrapped log of cookie dough in plastic wrap and freeze until solid, about 3 hours. Be sure to label and date the cookies with their baking temperature and time. Remove the cookie logs from the freezer for 15 minutes before slicing and baking.