IMG_20131212_224635When the tree goes up and the baking begins, that’s when I really get into the Christmas spirit. Around this time last year, I posted my mom’s recipes for two of my favorite holiday cookies from childhood. This year, I’ve added two new cookies to my repertoire. Neither screams of Christmas, so they would actually be great recipes year-round.

I must confess that the inspiration for both was to use up ingredients that had been in my pantry for a while and I wanted to use up. I was having a chocolate craving one day and didn’t have any actual chocolate in the house, but I did have a full tin of cocoa powder. I looked up cocoa powder cookies and chose this quick and easy recipe at

To make them a bit “healthier” (i.e. to justify eating more than I otherwise would), I substituted half of the butter with coconut oil and added cayenne pepper. Plus, I love both flavors in chocolate. I also added a ton of walnuts because I love them in cookies and they’re a great source of monounsaturated fats and omega-3s.

photo by wannabe runway model

Spicy Chocolate Cookies (makes about 2 dozen)

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, depending on your heat tolerance
1/2 cup ground walnuts (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Make sure that the butter is at room temperature, or put the butter in the microwave for about 15 seconds just to soften it up.
  3. Using a mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix until combined.
  5. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and cayenne.
  6. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until everything is incorporated and you’re left with a luscious chocolate dough. Stir in walnuts if using.
  7. Make truffle-sized balls and place them on a lined baking sheet.
  8. Bake for 8 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!

After finding a successful recipe for our unused cocoa powder, I began searching for other barely touched ingredients taking up space in our cupboards. That’s when I found not one, but two full jars of sesame seeds – one white and one black.

There are actually a lot of desserts made with both, especially in Asian cuisine. I was salivating over photos of black sesame mochi and ice cream in my recipe search, but, in the end, chose to stick with what I know best — cookies.

I was excited to find this recipe for a Chinese sesame seed cookie on the San Diego Chinese Women’s Association website, so I knew it was legit.  However, when I went to make them I only had cake flour at home. I went with it, adding 2 tablespoons to the 2 cups the recipe calls for, and they turned out perfectly light and delicate.

photo from SDCWA

Chinese Sesame Seed Cookie (makes 3 dozen)

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 2 cups + 2 tablespoons cake flour)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 – 1 cup white sesame seeds, toasted

  1. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl.
  2. Using mixer, beat butter, shortening, white and brown sugars.  Add the egg and almond extract, and beat until blended.  Add the flour mixture (in 2 or 3 portions) and mix well.  The dough is moist.
  3. Using your hands form the dough into 4 rolls or logs approximately 6-7 inches long.  Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate for 4 hours or longer (preferably overnight).
  4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  5. Pour some toasted sesame seeds into a small bowl (e.g. rice bowl).
  6. Take one log at a time from refrigerator and slice into 20-24 slices.  Roll each slice into a small ball and roll ball in sesame seeds to cover.  I used a small spoon rather than my fingers.  Place on lightly greased cookie sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart.
  7. Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until a fork inserted in the middle comes out clean and they easily lift from the baking sheet.  Let cool for a couple of minutes before placing on cookie racks to cool completely.  Cool thoroughly before storing in a container.