The truest test of a chocolate chip cookie is what it tastes like sans chips. I learned this very important piece of wisdom when I was in elementary school. My family lived on a very small military base in Puerto Rico, and sometimes our commissary ran out of items before the supply transport came to restock our little corner of the island. So, there were often no chocolate chips available.

But we still made chip-less cookies. And after the first bite it was painfully evident whether each particular cookie recipe was a dud or a stud. A tiny morsel of chocolate should not be forced to redeem a mediocre cookie. It’s like having a kid to prop up a failing marriage; it’s not fair, it won’t work, and it ain’t right. That’s a whole lot of pressure to put on a shard of chocolate (or a small human, for that matter).

This particular tastes-really-good-without-chips cookie recipe came from a People magazine interview with the caterer of Seinfeld. It called for mocha chips, but they were impossible to find in a pre-Amazon world, so I used any other add-ins that struck my sweet tooth. The original recipe also called for too much butter and not enough flour, and consequently the dough ran all over the baking sheet. I tinkered until the ratio was right.

When I began keeping vanilla beans in my pantry and discovered the unexpectedly nutty flavor of brown butter, I added both to my cookie recipe. One summer, I sent some studded with milk chocolate chips and dipped in caramel to my child at sleep away camp.    

Once the cookies had been eaten, the campers requested another batch, but this time with no chips or caramel dip. They were a huge hit. The kids named them vanilla explosion cookies, and I’ve been making them naked (the cookies, not me) ever since.

The last time I made them I substituted roasted tahini for half of the brown butter. It gives them a deeply toasted complexity that borders on umami.

Roasted Tahini Vanilla Explosion Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen large cookies


1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

1 stick (½ cup) butter

½ cup vanilla-roasted tahini, cold (ingredients and recipe follows)

2 eggs

1 vanilla bean

3 ¼ cups cake flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon Kosher salt

Maldon salt or other large flaky sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)

For the vanilla-roasted tahini

½ cup tahini

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

Pinch of salt


For the roasted tahini:

1. Preheat oven to 250. Pour tahini into small, shallow, oven-safe dish. Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. 

2. Uncover, stir, and bake for 1 more hour, then mix in vanilla extract, sugar, and salt and bake 1 additional hour.

3. Refrigerate until completely cooled. You can make this up to three days in advance and store it in the refrigerator.

For the cookies:

1. Split the vanilla bean in half, scrape out the insides, and set scrapings aside. Put butter and empty vanilla pod into a small skillet and melt, then brown the butter, watching carefully so that it doesn’t burn. (The final color of the butter should be similar to that of caramel sauce.)

2. Once browned, pour butter into a small bowl and place in fridge to cool and harden, stirring occasionally to suspend the solids. (This step can also be done a few days in advance.) A couple hours before making cookies, set brown butter on the counter to soften. 

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a stand or hand mixer, mix sugar, butter, roasted tahini, and vanilla bean scrapings. Add eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly combined. 

4. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Mix together wet and dry ingredients. Put dough in fridge for one hour to stiffen.

5. Once you’re ready to bake, portion dough and place on parchment covered baking sheets, leaving plenty of room for them to spread out (6 to 8 cookies per sheet for large cookies, and 10 to 12 cookies per sheet for smaller cookies). Flatten dough with a small plate to ¼ inch thickness and sprinkle each with a little flaky salt, if desired.

6. Make sure that the oven is fully pre-heated, and bake all like-size cookies together until golden brown. A large cookie will take 10 to 12 minutes, a bite-size cookie may only need 7 to 8 minutes. The longer they cook, the crispier they’ll be. 

Serving suggestion: These cookies have a terrific texture that holds up well for ice cream sandwiches. Using banana ice cream makes for a tasty frozen take on banana pudding.