cupcake © 2010 . All rights reserved.

Once you go black, you never go back.

When I moved to Hong Kong, I expected to be impressed by the food. I knew there would be lots of opportunities for a noodle, a bowl of stock, or a succulent bit of roast goose to give me goose bumps.  What I didn’t expect, is to be enamoured by the desserts.

The first Asian pudding I had in Hong Kong was a cold black sesame soup with almond milk and lotus seeds. It was a revelation. The subtle nuttiness of the sesame paired with the light sweetness of almond was perfect. And it couldn’t be sexier. A cold, black dessert!  Why weren’t chefs snapping up this idea back home?

Since that day, I can’t get enough of black desserts. The other night I ordered black glutinous rice balls with coconut soup and mango. I ask for my fro-yo to be topped with black sesame powder instead of blueberries. I love the look of glistening, black cubes of grass jelly.

sesame seeds 1Black rice balls? Grass Jelly? Sesame seed powder? At first bite, Chinese sweets and puddings can be quite different from their western counterparts. Dairy is replaced with rich pastes made from beans, seeds, or nuts. There’s crunchiness or chewiness mixed with velvety smoothness. The sweet is sometimes balanced with a hint of something savoury.

Tom was first introduced to Chinese mooncakes a few weeks ago. My mom has been making me try them since I was a kid. I hated them then.  But now I’ve grown to love the complex balance of flavours and textures that Asian cakes and desserts have to offer.

This week I decided to experiment with merging some of those flavours with the most hackneyed western-style cake out there -the cupcake. Yes, it’s very late 90′s of me, but since this was all about experimenting, I needed to have a constant and cupcakes are something that I can actually bake with some success.  I don’t want to sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but for an experiment these turned out to be damn good!

Black Sesame Cupcakes with Almond Icing and Mango Tuile

For the cupcakes:

  • 150g black sesame seeds
  • 200 ml water
  • 425 g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 250 g butter
  • 260 g flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

sesame seedsPlace the sesame seeds in a food processor with 100ml of water. Process and slowly pour the rest of the water in. Let the machine work the seeds and water into a fine paste.

sesame pasteIn a metal bowl, combine the eggs with the sugar and “sabayon”. This refers to a technique of beating together eggs and sugar until the mix is fluffy and very light yellow. Sometimes it is done over a water bath depending on what you are making, but in this case, it’s just an old fashioned mix up.

eggs and sugar

sabayonneMelt the butter in a small pan and gently fold into the sabayon mix.

melted butterCombine the flour, baking powder, and salt and sift into the mix. Continue to gently fold in the dry ingredients.

sifting flourFold in 150 g of black sesame paste. Once combined, the mix should be grey.

mix in sesameScoop 80ml or 1/3 cup into individual paper cups.

papers filledBake at 180C/350F for 20-25 minutes or until the cake comes clean when tested with a toothpick. Set aside on a rack to cool.

cupcakes in the ovenFor the mango tuile:

  • 2 mangos
  • 50 g caster sugar
  • 25 ml water
  • 55 g flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 egg whites
  • 30 g butter

mango cutChop the mango and blend with the sugar and water to form a mango puree.

mango beforeCombine 125 g of the mango puree with the egg whites and set aside. Melt the butter in a saucepan and set aside. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl, add the puree mixture and the butter and whisk until smooth. Place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes or more.

mango tuileFor the almond icing:

  • 100g almonds
  • 150 ml water
  • 250 g butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • at least 200 g of icing sugar, more if necessary

almondsCombine the water and the almonds in the food processor and blend until smooth.

almond pasteIn a separate bowl, beat the butter until smooth. Add in the almond paste, almond extract, and continue beating until well combined.

butter and almond pasteSprinkle in the icing sugar a bit at a time. I don’t like icing that’s too sweet, so I don’t tend to have a heavy hand with it. Taste as you go and adjust to your liking.

icing sugarI didn’t have official piping bags on hand, but I find plastic zip-lock bags work just as well. Add the icing to the bag and squeeze out as much air as possible. Clip the end with a pair of scissors. Keep the hole on the small side at first. If the hole is too big to begin with, you have to start all over. Snip a little more if you feel the opening is too small.

piping bag

piped icingRemove the tuile from refrigerator and fill another plastic bag. Turn the oven down to 160C/320F, and place a silpat on a baking tray.

silpat

tuile piping bagPipe the tuile into whatever design you like. I went for haphazard diamonds.  Sprinkle with black sesame seeds and bake for 9-13 minutes or until they are a bit golden brown on top.

piped tuileLet the tuiles cool on parcement paper*** and then place atop the cupcakes.

cupcake row***Quick update: I highly recommend NOT storing the cupcakes in the refrigerator with the tuiles. I did this and the tuiles go chewy. Less than Ideal. Instead either store in an airtight container at room temperature OR store in the fridge  without the tuile. Keep your tuile in an airtight container at room temp and then apply right before serving.

22 Comments

  1. Jen – great recipe, black sesame is one of my favourites. If you can, you must try and track down ginger milk curd, it’s something I’ve had in Guangzhou but I’m sure you can get it in HK.

    PS: I’m bad Chinese in that I don’t particularly like mooncakes.

  2. This is a fantastic melange of flavours and ingredients. Thank god for the Magimix that makes this sort of think so much easier. I intend to try these out sooner rather than later, they sound fabulous. I like your use of sandwich bags too – necessity, mothers, inventions and all that :)

    • Magimix is really an amazing tool. A must have in the kitchen, I think. I actually think it would be handy to also have a coffee grinder for the sesame seeds. Grind them to a fine powder first, then blend with water to form a paste. The seeds were almost a bit too small for the Magimix and it took quite awhile for them to mash down.

  3. Jen, that is a fantastic recipe! the cupcakes look fantastic… damn it – why didnt bake these when i was still in HK?!?!?!?!

  4. Why do you only make these when I am in another country.

  5. Wow, love the new look of your blog, and the pictures are better than ever. The cupcakes are so yummy Jen, and black sesame seeds buns/cakes are some of my favourite (like matcha).

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

    • Thanks, Luiz! I have never been more inspired from Asian desserts. The ingredients really lends themselves to alot of experimentation. I am just surprised more western chefs aren’t doing something similar.

  6. One of the best ice creams I’ve ever had was a Black Sesame ice cream from Bombay Indian Creamery on Valencia (and I don’t even really like sesame seeds). The color was a gorgeous purpley- grey & it was so incredibly nutty & rich- like peanut butter ice cream dressed to the nines. Grey cakes!

    • That is the thing that floors me about black sesame. It has the same nuttiness as peanut butter, but there’s a delicateness to it too. It’s like peanut butter for grown ups. I can’t get enough.

  7. P.S. Leah (who I bake with) is itchin’ to steal your mango tuille idea…

  8. YUM. One of my favourite flavoured ice-creams (discovered in Tokyo last year) is black sesame – gorgeous!

  9. I love the way your site looks, and I love making western-style baked goods with black sesame! Such richness and depth of flavor. And the black sesame soup is one of my favorite things to eat on a cold winter’s night.

    • Thanks! Tom has put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into making sure all the formatting looks good, and it seems to be paying off. I also can’t wait to test out more black sesame recipes.

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