Meet the Crinkle Cookie Inspired by a Cantonese Black Sesame Dessert Soup

Subtle Asian Baking creator and author of ‘Modern Asian Baking at Home,’ Kat Lieu shares a holiday-ready cookie inspired by her mother’s recipe.

Kat Lieu, black sesame crinkle cookies
Kat Lieu and her Black Sesame Crinkle Cookies. | Art by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist, (photos courtesy Kat Lieu).
Kat Lieu and her Black Sesame Crinkle Cookies. | Art by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist, (photos courtesy Kat Lieu).

At the beginning of the pandemic, like many of us, Kat Lieu had a craving for her favorite comfort foods. With a darth of Asian bakeries in her Seattle neighborhood and no chance of traveling to her beloved food hub—Tokyo, of course—Lieu took to the internet. Her first stop: the Subtle Asian Treats Facebook page.

But Lieu noticed the lack of Asian baking banter. As she dove deeper into comfort baking, she was inspired to create the Subtle Asian Baking (SAB) Facebook group. She began sharing recipes on her blog inspired by everything from her February 2020 trip to Tokyo to her mother’s Cantonese Black Sesame soup.

“A huge part of our family is food and flavors. It’s our love language as cliche as that sounds,” says Lieu, who learned how to crack an egg, season food, frost a cake and pick the perfect longan during summers visiting her Vietnamese grandmother, who lived in Montreal. Combining the city’s French influence with their traditional Asian cooking style, Lieu’s grandmother made exquisite chiffon cakes, durian ice cream, pig-shaped mooncakes and the perfect meringue.

Lieu credits her ah ma for exposing her to so many flavors. “I had matcha when I was probably six years old,” she remembers. “It really intrigued me and so I’ve always loved those subtle leafy flavors.”

Lieu’s SAB page organically grew to have over 60,000 members by December 2020. (With recipes like Korean Fried Chicken Macarons, we’re not surprised!) Not too long after, Lieu was propositioned to make a cookbook: Modern Asian Baking at Home. “I asked if they’d rather see a Japanese Curry Bread or a Taiwanese Pineapple Bun, so that all the members felt that they’re a part of this. It’s not just one cuisine that we’re focused on,” stresses Lieu.

“People are realizing that there’s more than just matcha and boba,” Lieu posits. Flavors such as pandan, which some people have dubbed “the vanilla of Asia,” are becoming more familiar. Still, Lieu would like to see folks move away from calling it that “because pandan on its own tastes like more than just vanilla, it has all these leafy flavors and subtle notes of young coconut.”

There’s many and more Asian flavors to highlight in her book, but Lieu’s favorite, and perhaps most nostalgic flavor profile, is black sesame. It’s why she decided to recreate her mother’s famous dish into a baked good.

“People are realizing that there’s more than just matcha and boba.”

“For me it has always been this magical ingredient,” reminisces Lieu. Her mom made the sesame from scratch, mixing it with rice powder and boiled water for an evening treat. “Imagine having ice cream after dinner, but instead of that we had a sweet soup,” explained Lieu. “It’s not too sweet, it just has this buttery, nutty, toasty, delicious flavor.”

While the soup can be served hot or cold, Lieu’s passion for baking and love for cookies called her to make it altogether her own. “It lets my mom see, ‘Hey look, your favorite recipe gave me so much comfort and it has inspired me to make a cookie that has a similar flavor that now my husband and son can enjoy.’”

Chock full of pistachios and cranberries, resembling a ball of snow, Lieu’s Thick Black Sesame and Miso Crinkle Cookies are sure to be a star on every holiday table. She feels it captures the black sesame flavor perfectly, with a bit of added sweetness and in a form that people who don’t like sweet soups will enjoy. She even suggests dipping your cookie into the soup.

“To me it’s not just a cookie. I think it really represents me as an Asian American. It’s not 100% Asian but it’s not 100% all-American. It’s like my duality living in America,” says Lieu. “It’s subtly Asian just like me.”

Black Sesame Miso Crinkle Cookies

Yields: 12 to 16 cookies

• 1/4 cup (55 g) butter, softened• 1/3 cup (67 g) brown sugar, packed
• 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
•1/2 to 1 tablespoon miso
• 1 teaspoon lemon zest, optional
• A generous handful of dried cranberries, chopped
• A generous handful of deshelled pistachios, chopped
• 1 large egg*, about 50 g
• 3 to 4 tablespoons black sesame paste
• 170 g all-purpose flour, sifted
• 1 teaspoon baking powder

Dough Balls Coating:
• 1/2 cup (60 g) confectioners’ sugar, in a bowl
• 1/4 cup granulated sugar, in a bowl

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugars, miso, and optional lemon zest until paler in color and fluffy, a few minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.
3. Add the egg and black sesame paste. Mix until incorporated.
4. Tip in flour and baking powder and mix until just combined.
5. Fold in the chopped pistachios and cranberries.
6. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.If you’re in a rush, you can make these cookies without chilling the dough.

Assemble the cookies:
1. Scoop 1 1/2 tbsp (~30 g) of cookie dough. Shape the dough into a smooth, firm ball. Toss into the bowl of granulated sugar, coating with a thin layer of sugar before tossing into the bowl of confectioners’ sugar to coat thoroughly.
2. Transfer to a prepared baking sheet. Leave space between each dough ball. Repeat until you have 12 to 16 cookie balls.
3. Bake for 15 min or until the edges have set and browned slightly. The cookie centers should be soft but not runny.
4. Cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

Cooking notes:

*To make them vegan, use 50g of ripe banana instead of the egg and substitute dairy butter with vegan butter. Lieu suggests Rooted Fare’s Black Sesame Crunchy Butter if you don’t have a favorite of your own.

Instead of crinkle cookies, you can use this cookie dough and shape it into any other cookie shape, like shortbread, or use your cookie cutters of choice. And don’t be shy about dropping in cranberries and pistachios; add more than a heaping handful if you’d like.

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