Sesame Florentine Cookies

My January trip to Hawaii is the gift that won't stop, at least for food inspiration! 

Sesame Florentines

One of the last stops I made on Oahu was to Liliha Bakery for coco puffs, which sounds like a snack run to cure the munchies but was actually a trip to pick up some of the bakery’s famous choux puffs filled with chocolate cream. On my way up to the counter I also impulsively grabbed a bag of sesame cookies, thinking they looked interesting but not really expecting anything out of the ordinary from them. 

Well, no disrespect to the coco puffs, which are rightly famous, but they got nothin’ on those sesame cookies. I ate about three after my first bite, and then rationed them out for a week until I finally ate the last one, sadly wishing for my next Hawaiian vacation. I knew I had to try to make them myself. 

After scouring the internet for any mention of these sesame cookies, I came up sadly short. The bakery, (I assume) knowing what they are famous for and what the people want, doesn’t even mention sesame cookies on it’s website. Assuming that the cookies were created as a spin on almond florentines, based on the fact that they seemed to mostly be made up of sesame seeds and caramel, I searched for “sesame florentines” and still couldn’t find anything close to what I was hoping to recreate. So I found a florentine cookie recipe and remade it in the image of Liliha Bakery’s sesame cookies.

And it took me three tries, but I got pretty close in the end!

The first time, I got too fancy right off the bat and swapped a tablespoon of the butter for tahini, thinking it might enhance the sesame flavor in these. The result was a super crumbly dough that was extremely difficult to form into balls, and with no notable boost in sesame flavor. I shouldn’t have been surprised, because these cookies are composed almost entirely of sesame seeds, why did I think they would be lacking flavor? They were still delicious though, and all disappeared from a party I brought them to, but I wanted to try again.

The next version was meant to be a reversion back to the original recipe, but I forgot to add back the missing tablespoon of butter, so my cookies were even lacier and more fragile than I guessed they should be. I brought this batch into work and they again disappeared, but I couldn’t let it go yet. 

So I had to try again, adding in the missing butter and baking a batch with all the correct components. And they were almost identical to the second batch! They were not quite as fragile but otherwise I hardly noticed a difference, so if you find you are a half tablespoon or so short of butter, don’t freak out about it. I will suggest you don’t leave out the lemon zest, because while I didn’t notice a huge difference in flavor in the second batch, which I left it out of after neglecting to buy lemons, it does really add something nice when it’s there, and you don’t want to miss the gorgeous aroma that rises out of the mixing bowl when you add the hot sugar and butter.  

The end result of my labors is a disc of caramel coated, nutty and toasted sesame seeds that is ostensibly a cookie but is also like a less tooth-shattering version of a nut brittle, meant to be crunched and savored or broken up as a decadent topping on desserts, perhaps as a perfect partner in sesame heaven for this ice cream. However you choose to enjoy them, I promise you’ll be sneaking back into the kitchen for just one more, long after you’ve told yourself that last one was the last one.

scooping florentines
rolled sesame florentines
baked sesame florentines
Sesame Florentine Cookies

Sesame Florentines

Adapted from Food Network Kitchen

  • 5 oz sesame seeds (about 1 cup)
  • 3 tbs flour
  • 1 tbs lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbs heavy cream
  • 2 tbs light corn syrup
  • 5 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. 
  2. Combine sesame seeds, flour, zest and salt in a bowl and set aside.
  3. In a small sauce pan, heat the sugar, cream, corn syrup and butter. Bring to a boil and then cook for 1 minute more, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  4. Pour the hot sugar mixture over the sesame and flour mixture and stir to combine. Set aside to cool 30 minutes.
  5. When ready to bake, scoop the dough with either a tablespoon measure or a cookie scoop and roll into balls. Place on the baking sheets about 3-4 inches apart (I fit 5 cookies on my large baking sheets), then bake until thin and golden, about 9-10 minutes, rotating halfway through. WATCH THESE LIKE A HAWK as they can go from golden to burnt and ruined in about a second.
  6. Cool cookies on baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.