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.
Black 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.
In 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.
- 2 mangos
- 50 g caster sugar
- 25 ml water
- 55 g flour
- pinch of salt
- 3 egg whites
- 30 g butter
Combine 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.
- 100g almonds
- 150 ml water
- 250 g butter, softened
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- at least 200 g of icing sugar, more if necessary
I 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.
Let the tuiles cool on parcement paper*** and then place atop the cupcakes.
***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.