In Hong Kong, December is all about celebrating with festive Christmas décor—and much of it is over the top. The indoor trees can be stories high, Santa doesn’t just have a throne but a full-size house. For the month, that white grand piano that’s usually in the mall performance space is switched for a bright red one as reflective as a disco ball. Cheery translated holiday tunes froth from everywhere. America is sedate by comparison.
We’ve spent the last several Christmas and New Year holidays with my family in Hong Kong—and as much as I love the bustling energy back home and our adventures in Asia—we’re actually looking forward to a different kind of celebration in New York this year. We’re having a small Christmas Eve dinner with friends where we’ll cook together and toast all the fun times we’ve shared.
Naturally, this month’s posts will all be about celebrations large and small. This cake is inspired by last year’s trip to Japan, and perhaps even the regular visits to my family in Hong Kong. We were lucky to be guided by a dear friend who grew up in Tokyo. The trip to that city and Kyoto was filled with intriguing sights and amazing food. Here are a few examples of the trip: travels: travels: first glimpse of tokyo & travels: tokyo – meiji jingu.
Black & White Cake
yield: one very tall 8-inch cake
Black & White Cake
2-1/2 cups (12-1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup black sesame seeds, toasted
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup black sesame paste
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups (10-1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1-1/4 cups whole milk, room temperature
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350℉. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans, line bottom with parchment, grease parchment round, dust cake pan with flour, and tap out excess.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, sesame seeds, baking powder, and salt together, set aside. Combine sesame paste, egg and vanilla in a measuring cup, stir to combine, set aside.
3. In the bowl of standing mixer, fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium-low speed until sugar is moistened, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, add sesame mixture in two additions, beat until combined.
4. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with whole milk (in 2 additions), beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Beat in each addition until barely combined. Remove bowl from mixer, stir batter by hand with rubber spatula to ensure there are no streaks of flour left on the bottom of the bowl. Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans; spread batter to edges of pans with small off-set spatula and smooth surfaces.
5. Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 25-35 minutes. Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then invert cakes onto greased wire rack; peel off and discard paper rounds. Cool cakes to room temperature, about 1 hour. (Cakes can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 day.)
Recipe Note: Repeat the recipe by using white sesame seeds and sesame paste or tahini.
3 cups (21 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (2-1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 cups whole milk
24 slices fresh ginger
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
48 tablespoons (24 ounces/6 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 48 pieces
1. Combined sugar, flour, cornstarch and slat in a medium bowl. Purée milk and ginger in a blender, slowly pour into dry mixture, whisk constantly until smooth. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisk constantly, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, pour milk mixture into a medium bowl and place bowl in an ice bath. Cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
2. Add cool milk mixture and vanilla to the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat mixture on low speed until combined. Add butter, one piece at a time, until full incorporated. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until frosting is fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Black Sesame Cakes
White Sesame Cakes
Back sesame seeds, toasted (optional)
Black Sugar Pearls, various sizes (optional)
1. Trim tops of cake to level. Divide/slice one black sesame cake horizontally into one-thirds and two-thirds. Repeat with one white sesame cake.
2. Place the large black sesame cake on a serving platter or cake stand, spread a generous even layer of frosting on top. Place the 1/3-portion of white sesame cake on top and spread another even layer of frosting onto cake. Add the 2/3-portion of black sesame cake and to with frosting. Continue with 2/3 portion of white cake, 1/3-portion of black cake and finish with the full-size white cake. Spread remaining frosting on top and side of cake.
3. Decorate with sesame seeds and sugar pearls (if use). Refrigerate cake for 30 minutes before serving.