About a year ago I was thumbing through my latest copy of Bon Appetite Magazine when I came across a recipe for Black Sesame and Pear Tea Cake. I don’t recall the description exactly, but the writer suggested that with its deep, rich flavours, this wasn’t a cake for everyone. I was intrigued.
A couple of months later, I still had that cake on my mind. I searched it out, the page still dog-eared and the rest of magazine a litte worn for all of its generous inspiration over the months. I can’t say why, but you know how you sometimes just remember things that seem, for no apparent reason, to stand out? I remember, with great joy, the baking and eating of this cake. Perhaps because L & I did it together on a cold snowy Sunday. She ground the black sesame seeds and cut the pear into small chunks. I whipped the butter and whisked the flours together. I remember having dinner and waiting, rather impatiently, for it to finish baking. The cake took almost 2 hours to bake! The house grew warm and the smell of sugar and spice helped to build the anticipation.
When the cake was finally done, we sat down at the table together to take our first bite. “Wow! This is amazing!” I said. L closed her eyes and smiled and nodded her head as she often does to communicate her deep love of something. It was too much for words in that moment, I think. She was trying to take the bite in through her every sense.
Sometimes things come in cycles. Maybe it was the recent snowfall we had, perhaps it was simply because L & I hadn’t baked together in awhile, but when I saw pears at the market last week, I knew we had to make it again. Since cake feels more like a special occasion treat, it’s not something we make in the house often. So I set my sights on creating an every day version—one that could still match the flavour, stand up to a warm cup of Sunday afternoon tea, and be tucked into a lunch bag for daytime travels. Just as important, though, was creating something healthier so that our afternoon snack didn’t leave us feeling sleepy from the sugar crash. I tinkered around with the recipe a couple of times, switched up the flours and the sweetener, and subbed half the butter for applesauce. I think you’ll find that this makes for some pretty darn good tea cakes (or muffins). It really isn’t a cake for everyone. Its crumb is grainy, its flavour bold, and it has depth, not to mention its deeply hued colour. But if you like black sesame, I think you’ll love it.
I really must insist though, if you’re in the mood for a special treat, you should go all out with the original.
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
- 1 cup + 2 tbsp oat flour
- 1 cup almond flour or almond meal
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup black sesame seeds, divided
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp honey
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1 large firm, but ripe Bosc pear, cored & cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- Preheat oven to 325°. Place paper liners in a muffin tin & set aside.
- Grind 1/3 cup sesame seeds in spice mill until finely ground and starts to clump together, about 1 minute.
- Whisk together 1 cup of flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of whole sesame seeds in a medium bowl.
- Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and honey in a large bowl until well combined, 2–3 minutes. Add applesauace and beat until blended, scraping down sides if necessary. Add sesame paste and beat again, continuing to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until blended, 1–2 minutes. Add egg and egg yolk. Beat until the batter is pale and fluffy, 1-2 minutes.
- On low speed, beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.
- Toss pear with remaining 2 tablespoons of flour in a small bowl; fold into batter.
- Evenly spoon batter into muffin tins; smooth top.
- Bake until a tester comes out clean when inserted into center, about 35-45 minutes. Let cool in muffin tin on a wire rack.