Sweet Sesame Cookies: Vegan & Honey Free. Sweetening Options for Everyone!

by Gena on May 24, 2012

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On the list of childhood recipes I’ve always intended to veganize are festive Greek cookies called, koulourakia. These are made simply with flour, honey or sugar, and butter or olive oil (depending on the recipe). This year, I finally tackled vegan avgolemono; now, I’m trying my hand at my favorite Greek confections. As you probably know, most Greek desserts—including the famous baklava with which we’re all familiar—are honey-sweetened. So in light of yesterday’s excellent conversation about honey, this is the perfect time to bring sesame cookies to life with a variety of non-honey sweeteners. In the recipe below, you’ll find options for using agave, date paste, or palm sugar, which are three of my favorite plant-based sweetening options.

I love these cookies because they’re quick, they’re easy, they don’t demand the use of a mixer, they don’t require flax eggs or Ener-G egg replacer, and because they include some of my very favorite things: dates and tahini. I love that they capture the flavor of the koulourakia I remember without involving any butter or eggs, and that—in keeping with my recent vow to focus on gluten free baking options here on my blog—they are easily made gluten free (yes, I tested them with an all purpose GF flour mix as well as whole wheat pastry flour…more cookies for me and my Mom to polish off, you see).

My favorite sweetener here is probably the date paste, which has an incredibly special, caramel-like flavor. That said, the date paste also results in the softest cookies, and the koulourakia I remember are actually quite crunchy. The agave and the coconut crystal varieties were more traditional in terms of texture. You should simply use whichever sweetener is 1) in line with your dietary needs (some of you can tolerate dates, but can’t really tolerate agave), 2) cost-effective (agave is probably cheaper than date paste or coconut crystals, unless you order your dates in bulk, 3) pleasing to your palate. Special nods for this recipe go to Elana and to Agnieszka, who each have wonderful sesame cookie recipes on their blogs, as well as to the zillions of koulourakia recipes that I found (much to my surprise), when I Googled.

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Sweet Sesame Cookies (vegan, GF with appropriate flour, soy free)

Makes 16-18 cookies

1 1/2 cups all purpose gluten free four mix or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup olive oil (or coconut oil)
2/3 cup date paste OR 1/2 cup agave nectar OR 2/3 cup coconut crystals
1/3 cup sesame seeds

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Combine the flour, baking soda, and sea salt in a large mixing bowl.

3. If you’re using date paste/agave: Whisk together the date paste or agave, the tahini, and the olive oil. If you’re using coconut crystals: use a fork to combine the tahini, olive oil, and the sugar. If you have a sticky paste, you may need to add a few extra tablespoons of oil to make this mixture wet enough to mix with the dry ingredients. 

4. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones. The mixture will be thick and sticky, but keep in mind that you’re about to form it into balls, so it should be pretty dense. If it’s too sticky, thin it out with a tablespoon or two of almond milk.

5. Stick the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes or an hour so that it can firm up a bit. Roll mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls between palms of hands, and then roll it in the sesame seeds so that it’s well coated. Press the dough ball onto a parchment lined baking sheet, so that it’s flat. Repeat with all the dough, and then bake the cookies for 10 minutes, or until they’re golden brown.

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I should add that, in lieu of coconut crystals, you may absolutely use demerara sugar or palm sugar, both of which are considerably cheaper than coconut crystals. I love coconut crystals myself (just discovered them), but I consider them to be an occasional financial luxury. It makes more sense for me to order dates in bulk and use date paste (which I basically prefer to the crystals) than to use coconut crystals on a regular basis. That said, some recipes really do demand crystallized sweetener, and for those occasions, it’s lovely!

As for the cookies, they may be my favorite recent baking invention. Like many of my baked goods, they’re sweet, but not too sweet, and they’re brimming with the taste of sesame, which I love. Best of all, they transport me back to my Grandmother’s home at Easter and Christmastime, when sesame cookies arrived from all of our family friends in decorative tins. Having always had dramatically different food tastes and inclinations from the rest of my family, I don’t have too many recipes nowadays than tie me to my childhood traditions, so it’s always nice when that happens.

I hope you enjoy these scrumptious and simple vegan treats. And I hope that this single recipe gives you a good sense of how many sweetening options exist for vegan dessert-making; I didn’t even get into some of the non-sugar options (like stevia or xylitol), nor did I touch on brown rice syrup or maple sugar. Needless to say, if honey is not a part of your diet, you are not without options!

Have a wonderful day, all.

xo

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Mina May 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm

I’m going to make these this weekend! Now can you find a way to make vegan galatombouriko?????? That’s my favorite greek pastry. These koulourakia look like they might hold a candle to yiayia’s.

Mina

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Lea May 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm

These cookies look delicious and unique! I’ve never had a cookie with sesame seeds before, but it sounds like an awesome combination, and I’m loving the short ingredient. I’ll definitely be making these sometime!

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Averie @ Averie Cooks May 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Gena these look so good! I swear I’ve seen sesame cookies made with agave and tahini in a cookbook recently..maybe Heidi/101cookbooks book, can’t remember. Now I know I can just come here and grab the recipe…awesome job on the photos! Beautiful!

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Lexi @ You, Me, & A World to See May 24, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Mmmm I made similar sesame cookies awhile back!

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Minerva May 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Look soo yummy! My grandma has cookies like this that are stuffed with date paste!

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LizAshlee May 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm

These look fabulous…I love date paste too! :)

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Emily May 24, 2012 at 4:40 pm

These look tasty! Where do you order your bulk dates from?

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bitt May 24, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Yum. cooooookies. (channeling inner cookie monster) Please send me a batch. Thank you.

I am still working out how to bake with stevia instead, it would seem to need some additional sticky stuff if the recipe didn’t have that. If I make these with just that I will let you know how it goes.

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Rusty May 24, 2012 at 4:55 pm

These look good! If using GF flour mix, do you need to add xantham gum for these?

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Gena December 15, 2013 at 7:34 am

Rusty,

I don’t think you do. They ought to work well with just the flour. Good luck!

G

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Genevieve May 24, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Oooh girl, your baking skills are off the charts! It seems like you’re broadening your focus in the kitchen (or maybe you’re just sharing different things with us). Either way, I can’t wait to make these. I can just picture them in the bakery case at Stumptown or Ritual Roasters.

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Kristy May 24, 2012 at 6:00 pm

My husband and I went to Greece on our husband and were quiet taken with these little treats (we were vegetarian at the time), and I wondered if we would ever have them again. I see now that we can! Thank you for this, as well as the different sweetener options! :-)

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Hannah May 25, 2012 at 4:41 am

I’m on a complete and utter sesame-in-all-the-things bender right now, and I too adore sweets that aren’t too sweet. In other words…. perfect.

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Laura@keepinghealthygettingstylish May 25, 2012 at 5:33 am

Wow, these cookies look fantastic! I’m a huge lover of tahini and dates, must try them!

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Ricki May 25, 2012 at 11:26 am

These look great! I’ve never had the “authentic” version, so nothing with which to compare–but I already know from the ingredient list that I’ll enjoy these. And so pretty!

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Aurélia May 25, 2012 at 11:38 am

These look delicious! So much, in fact, that I rushed to make them and pre-heated the oven before I realized I had to let the dough sit in the fridge… You may want to change the order of the recipe’s steps.

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Aurélia May 26, 2012 at 5:18 am

Also, now that the cookies are out of the oven: they look and *taste* delicious! I don’t care much for tahini alone, but am now sold on sweetened tahini. Mmm. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

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marissa May 25, 2012 at 11:41 am

These are the perfect treat to bring along on my family vacation! Never had these cookies before, but you can never go wrong with tahini. I’m going to use coconut sugar instead of the dates for a little crunch.

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alyce May 25, 2012 at 12:21 pm

I’ve never heard of coconut crystals. It’s a wonder all of the coconut products available today! I just introduced my mom to coconut oil. She was a claimed hater of coconut, but I maintain that’s because she’d only had the sugary shredded stuff from childhood! And on that front, I agree. I think a lot of people are realizing that fruit has a lot more delicious things to offer

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Jami May 25, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Mmm I just tried sesame cookies for the first time last weekend and they are my new favorite. So glad you posted this recipe so I can make them at home ;)

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Teniel May 26, 2012 at 1:10 am

I might see if I can convert these cookies into raw ones done in the dehydrator. I know the flavor and texture will be a little different though.

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Natalie May 26, 2012 at 6:34 am

Such yum recipes and pics! I nominated you for One Lovely Blog Award:) -Natalie, rawfitnesstv.com

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Lia May 26, 2012 at 9:59 am

These look delightful! We have a fair amount of sesame based sweets in our traditional middle eastern foods, so I love reading about others. Nomm nomm!

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Anastasia @Healthy Mama Info May 28, 2012 at 8:12 am

What a great recipe! I like how your cookies look well-formed, not like they are too mushy, which happens with cookies based on nut butters and tahini a lot. I made tahini cookies a while ago with a bit of quinoa flour, but other than that I just used a lot of tahini and some agave. Can’t wait to try yours, as I am a serous tahini addict! I put it in salad dressings and even in smoothies.

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Jen May 29, 2012 at 10:35 am

These look so yummy! Where do you order your dates in bulk? I recently switched to a vegan diet and I’m trying to lower the weekly grocery costs. Do you also order raw nuts and seeds in bulk from anywhere? Thanks for your help!!

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Gena December 15, 2013 at 7:34 am

I get them on amazon, Jen! Also, The Date People is a great company where you can order in bulk.

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Donna December 15, 2013 at 12:24 am

Hi,
WE love these since my husband must be gluten free. But we like the honey, and I can’t figure out just how much to use. I have agave but in my area even that is hard to find..and we would prefer the honey. Hoping to hear soon because my grown married children are all hoping for them for xmas.

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Gena December 15, 2013 at 7:36 am

Donna,

I’m not 100% sure, but I’d try using the same amount of honey (so equivalent proportions). I hope this is helpful!

G

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