It all started when ladyfriend Sarah had an amazing lavender shortbread cookie at Trails Cafe in Griffith Park. Yes! A lavender cookie! It must be duplicated (and veganized)! After some research, we decided to do a combination of two recipes from When Harry Met Salad and Have Cake, Will Travel. But first, to find lavender... I did some internet sleuthing and some facebook-status-asking and got some good answers. For future reference, I compile them here, in approimate order of geographic closeness to the East side:
- some smaller hispanic market (under the name of alucema)
- Nature Mart Bulk Bin store (Los Feliz)
- Home Depot or other nursery (in plant form)
- large LA farmers markets
- Whole Foods (?) or Gelson's
- Sur La Table (Grove or Glendale)
- Erewhon (Beverly at Fairfax)
- Surfa's (Culver City -- this place sounds awesome)
- Cost Plus World Market (Westwood)
- Penzey's (Santa Monica)
In retrospect, I think Home Depot would actually have been the best bet. They have a huge selection of inexpensive herb plants in their nursery, and it would be way cheaper than a little tin of old dried stuff from Sur La Table or something.
Update 6/26: Jon's had dried alucema all along (on a low endcap in the produce section?!), and Home Depot appeared to be a bust (although I wasn't looking too hard there).
Update 7/10: Read about Lemon Lavender cookies.
So, while we're on the subject of relative prices of spices, living in a predominantly Latino/Armenian/Thai neighborhood has made me realize how arbitrary a lot of spice pricing is. For example: Jon's has spices in at least three aisles: the standard McCormick etc. spices are in a baking/spices/staples aisle, but the "International" (i.e., Middle Eastern and Eastern European) aisle has several other imported brands of herbs and spices, AND there are at least two endcaps of aisles with Latino brands. Now, I totally understand that there are varying qualities of spices, and that the nice herbs you buy at Whole Foods or the farmers market will probably give you much more bang for your buck. But we're talking about McCormick and its peers. Surely this stuff is not worth FOUR TO TEN TIMES AS MUCH? A typical spice jar holds about 0.5-1.7 oz. of stuff, depending on what it is. But these shaker containers clock in at 7-8 oz. and THE SAME PRICE ($3-4).
Sesame seeds are one of the worst: they are often sold in even smaller containers at larger prices, while at Jon's, or Asian food stores, or even Whole Foods's bulk bins, you can get a shaker's worth for $2 or less.
I guess the bottom line is demand. If you only use sesame seeds once a year in a "special recipe," you're going to be more willing to pay top dollar than if you use it daily. And, if all the other matching spices and herbs in the display are also $4-5, it perhaps makes some sort of sense that the sesame seeds should be, too.
All of which is to say, this recipe uses a lot of sesame seeds. Don't buy like 5 little jars from the supermarket for it.
And it's so good! It's very lemony (we subbed the juice and zest of a whole lemon for 2 tsp lemon extract) and not too sweet (or at least, the lemon and sesame make it seem less sweet). The sesame seeds are crunchy, the outside of the cookie is chewy, and the inside is soft and almost fluffy (because of the cornstarch?). We made them quite small and could not stop eating them!! Sarah and I also decided that they might be even more delicious with a bit more salt, to play up the savory leanings of the sesame.
Update 6/24: Made these again with twice as much salt, and they taste great. Next, I'd like to try them with less sugar and more butter--a step closer, perhaps, to these Savory Sesame Herb Shortbread Cookies.
Lemon Sesame Cookies
(adapted from Have Cake, Will Travel)
1/2 cup nondairy butter
3/4 cup raw sugar
zest and juice of one lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp sea salt (perhaps more for the adventurous?)
2 TB nondairy milk, as needed
about 1/2 c sesame seeds
Instructions1. Preheat oven to 350*. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Pour sesame seeds onto a small plate.
2. Cream together butter and sugar. Stir in lemon juice and zest, and vanilla.
3. In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, cornstarch, and salt.
4. Fold dry ingredients into wet. Add milk, as needed.
5. Scoop up 1 1/2 to 2 TB worth of dough. Roll into balls, then gently roll in sesame seeds before placing on baking sheet. Flatten a little, as the cookies don’t spread a lot while baking.
6. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are golden brown. If you want chewier cookies, aim for 12 minutes. Wait 2 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 4 dozen small cookies.