Tahini and Chocolate Pudding with Coconut Whipped Cream

So I've been on a bit of a sesame rampage. My bad. 

This recipe was inspired by the tahini hot cocoa that I made over the course of the blizzard weekend here in Northern Virginia. I haven't gone all America's-Test-Kitchen on it with dozens of trials and modifications. This recipe is fresh out the gate with fingers crossed and bated breath.

What can I tell you about it?

Well. Gloria hallelujah it's tasty.  The base is lite coconut milk lightly heated on the stove with maple syrup, tahini, semi-sweet chocolate chips, a pinch of salt, drop of vanilla extract, and cornstarch*. The pudding is silky smooth and intriguing. You can tell it's not chocolate pudding and there's that nutty aftertaste that I so love about sesame. The best part is, you control how much tahini goes in so you can go hard in the paint for those that love it or be more demure for those who want to stay in the comfort zone.

The topping is coconut cream with confectioners sugar and vanilla extract again. Super easy to make but requires a little planning to be safe. Pro tip: let the can of heavy coconut milk or coconut cream sit in the fridge over night to make sure it gets nice and solid. 

Just like the pudding, you have power over the flavor. I honestly didn't measure the amount of confectioners sugar and added it a tablespoon at a time to meet my preference. Coconut has it's own sweetness, why bury it?

Top with the optional toasted black sesames - these have a potent flavor so base it on your audience.

This batch got crushed. The smooth, mild flavor of the pudding goes beautifully with the sweetness of the coconut whipped cream. 

When I make this again, the only adjustment I would consider is swapping the chocolate chips for unsweetened cocoa. Just to see what would happen. Pure curiosity. 

*On the use of cornstarch, I know some avoid it because the corn can be genetically modified or think that it has a slight aftertaste. It is possible to substitute with arrowroot but you would need to heat the coconut milk very low and slow - just keep an eye until it thickens. Another option is to skip the thickeners all together and the heat coconut milk (before adding the rest of the ingredients) till it is condensed. You'll have a slightly smaller serving because it's reduced.

You can easily make this vegan if you use the right chocolate chips! I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did!

Tahini and Chocolate Pudding with Coconut Whipped Cream

Tahini and Chocolate Pudding
13.5 can of light coconut milk
3 tablespoons maple syrup (add more if you want it sweeter)
2 tablespoons cornstarch* (see not from above post)
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 ounces chopped, semi-sweet chocolate chops
1/4 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
sprinkle of toasted black cinnamon (optional)

Coconut Whipped Cream
13.5 can of full-fat or coconut cream, chilled over night in the fridge
1/2 cup - 3/4 cup confectioner sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour the coconut milk into a small pan and cook until warm, not boiling (unless you plan on reducing coconut milk rather than using cornstarch). Pour 1/4 cup of the warm milk into a small bowl and add cornstarch. Stir until completed dissolved and then return to the pan with the rest of the coconut milk.
Add tahini, maple syrup, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk thoroughly. Let the  mix cook on low heat for about 5 to 10 minutes, the mixture will being to thicken.  Add the chocolate. Continue whisking just a few more minutes, until the pudding is smooth, thick, and all the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. 
Optional: for mega smoothness, pour into blender and pulse. 
Pour directly into a serving cups. I use a cup measure with a spot to reduce mess. Place in fridge. Ready to serve in 30 minutes!
While the pudding is resting, spoon the solid coconut from the can into medium bowl. Whisk with hand mixer until smooth. Gradually add confectioners sugar, 1/4 cup at a time to your desired level of sweetness. Finish with vanilla extract. Dollop on top of solid pudding or get fancy with a piping bag and tip. 

Bakery Style Chocolate Chip Cookies with Tahini Hot Cocoa

With blizzard Jonas billowing towards Virginia, we knew that meant one thing for certain: cookies and cocoa. Our grocery list was a meticulous itinerary for tasty treats to get through a long weekend. If we were going to be holed in, we needed something to look forward to after shoveling snow for hours on end.  

The husband loves cookies. It started off as an Oreo obsession but that has slowly waned as he has experienced more home-made flavors. He was shocked when he started to notice the difference between manufactured goods versus oven-fresh. His new go-to cookie is homemade chocolate chip. For such a standard recipe, it amazes me how even the slightest variation can cause a drastic change. 

I would give these Bakery Style Chocolate Chip Cookies a B+. They're mighty good but lacked that something special. Yes, they are soft and chewy; you would never regret making them. It's just that this house has met other cookies that have caused us to pause in adoration on the first bite.

For the husband, his favorite chocolate chip cookie remains the recipe from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. For me, I love my go-to Bread Flour Cookies because they hold such a nice shape and do not require refrigeration before baking. The downside is that they are a little more cakey so I find a night in an air-tight container works wonders. On the total opposite end of the spectrum, I adore this recipe from Williams Sonoma. The one itty bitty detail that frustrates me is how the cookie can cling to the parchment because of the chocolate chunks. Your have to be careful with the bake time but aside from that, they're gold.

Snow is not complete without hot cocoa. My usual crowd pleaser is from Smitten Kitchen and we recently discovered tthe magic that is a touch of Mary Hite Bowman Carmel Cream liqueur (sorry folks, you have to visit the distillery in the Fredericksburg, VA to get a bottle).

Then out of left field, an entirely radical hot cocoa came into my tiny world: tahini hot cocoa. It sounds like madness... sesame in a cup... but I absolutely had to give it a try. I love the nutty flavor of black sesame and if this concoction held even a thimble of that magic, it would be my new best friend. Plus, it's vegan!

I definitely held back on telling Mike what was in his cup to avoid any bias. It's like no other cocoa I have ever tasted which is not a bad thing! Instead of regular milk, this calls for low-fat coconut milk - yummy! There's a little unsweetened cocoa power for the chocolate effect, a splash of vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Instead of honey as a sweetener, I used maple syrup. Our organic, raw honey is not the sweetest and wouldn't contribute in terms of flavor.

This recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of tahini but a word of caution - start slow. Add one tablespoon at a time and taste test. I enjoyed the full glory of the sesame but the hubs needed a little more milk to thin it out. The overall flavor is subtle, mature, and not overly sweet. Serve with a dollop of coconut whip cream and cinnamon stick to stir.

One last observation for this recipe! Because it's coconut milk, only heat to the point of serving because the longer it's on the stove, the more the milk reduces making it thicker and thicker. If you should, oh I don't know, accidentally let it boil for an extended period of time because you're distracted by the super cute foster cat.... your hot cocoa is going to have a consistency akin to pudding. On the plus side, I now have a new recipe in the works!

Keep cozy and warm with some Bakery Style Chocolate Chip Cookies (from, "Stuck on Sweet) and a cup of Tahini Hot Chocolate (from, "My Name is Yeh")!

Black Sesame Cupcakes

One of my favorite flavors in the whole wide world is black sesame. Call me crazy, but it actually reminds me of peanut butter. The only other person I've met that feels the same way is my brother so maybe it's in the genes. Regardless, I love its aromatic fragrance when it's being toasted and how it adds a subtle, nutty flavor.

From my limited knowledge, the difference between black and white sesame seeds (aside from the color of the shell) is that the dark variety has a slightly stronger flavor. The rest is a mystery to me. Whatever the voo doo, it tastes amazing in desserts because it's so demure. It's ideal for people that do not like super sweet desserts - like my friend Young. 

My buddy Young doesn't do sweet. He has a more refined palette, which is shocking as I've seen this guy drink hot sauce and eat dog kibble as punishment for losing in competitions. Games were never fun for him in college if there wasn't something at stake. He and our friend Johnny came up with some cruel consequences for losing in Cranium or a hand of cards.  Such sweethearts. We love him all the same!

For his birthday, I made these lovely Black Sesame Cupcakes. It's not as simple as adding toasted black sesames to some vanilla cake- this recipe actually has tahini (sesame paste) in the batter. How exciting is that? There is a kiss of unsweetened cocoa to mellow out the flavors and vanilla extract to bring it all together. The result is a heavenly smelling, slightly brown, and moist cupcake.  These cupcakes get a gold star. My husband, whose not a fanatic like me, enjoyed them as did other non-sesame devotees. 

Where I struggled was the frosting. What goes with black sesame? Recommendations included matcha or vanilla buttercream; I even saw people pair it with lemon curd. The idea of citrus with sesame offended me at a fundamental level. The notion of a cream cheese base or meringue rattled in my brain but ultimately derailed.

In the end, I decided to play it safe. Sesame on sesame. It's a basic buttercream with a little ground black sesame added. You do not need a lot of frosting on top, I preferred only a smear because the cake can hold its own. Remember, this isn't supposed to give a toothache with sugar!

If you really wanted to lose your mind and add to the sesame extravaganza, you could core a little space in the middle of your cupcake and add a sesame rice ball (jian dui) or store-bought sesame mochi, then cover it with frosting. But that's just madness.

Note: to grind the sesames, I used a coffee grinder because I knew this was out of my food processor's league. If you don't have a fancy piece of equipment, do not lose hope. Go for the good old pestle and morter method like you're making guacamole. They don't need to be powder perfect.

Black Sesame Cupcakes
Recipe from My Name is Yeh
These don't rise terribly high in the oven so feel free to fill them past the 3/4 mark in the cupcake tin. 

Black Sesame Buttercream Frosting
lightly frosts 24 cupcakes

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups confectioners sugar
3 tablespoons ground black sesame seeds + 1 teaspoon water
3-4 tablespoons milk of your choice (almond, soy, coconut, etc.)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a food processor or coffee bean grinder, pulverize the black sesames. Place in a small bowl and add water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you create a paste. Set aside.

Beat the butter until smooth; add the confections sugar, 1 cup at a time, and the salt. Add the black sesame paste and vanilla extract. Add the milk 1 tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency. You can always add more confectioners sugar if it's too thin.

Excursions: Spain

This past September, we fulfilled our friend's dream to visit Spain. Brandon fell in love with the country back in high school and its had a hold on his heart ever since, specifically, the Sagrada Familia. And so! With some shoddy planning and straight Airbnb hospitality, we banded together and made the journey across the Atlantic.

Our trip was not one of leisure because we needed to pack as much action into nine days as possible. That's right. Only nine days. We flew into Barcelona, drove to Valencia (my favorite), enjoyed a day trip to Ibiza, and then rushed off to Madrid. It was a whirlwind but we had a blast!

Shout outs to La Pequeña Pastelería de Mamá in Valencia for their sweet hospitality, delicious tea, and excellent chocolate croissant. Taberna Mas Al Sur  in Madrid bestowed us with the best meal of the entire trip and hooked it up with the tiramisu. Not too far,  La Infinito Cafe-Libros-Arte of Madrid had fantastic espresso and was bumping Calle 13 - can never go wrong there. 

For all our enjoyment, it was a unique time to be in Europe with the economy and refugee situation. The homeless in DC are generally associated with mental illness while it was clear Spain's situation was people down on their luck. Dumpster diving was common practice and it was heart breaking to witness such an act as a commonality. Hopefully things will improve soon.

All the same, we are grateful for the opportunity to travel and experience new worlds. Till the next adventure. 

PS. Portuguese paella > Spanish paella


Gingerbread Biscotti

Run for your lives! The holidays are upon us! I took a package to the post office this past Saturday morning and instantly regretted the decision. Rookie mistake going anywhere near mail carriers on a holiday weekend but it had to get done. That's why I prefer to hand deliver gifts as much as possible. Abiding that it's not rush hour here in Northern Virginia of course. It's more personal and you get the satisfaction of seeing a reaction. 

These gingerbread biscotti were made as part of a gift basket for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. They are a kick ass animal shelter that helps all walks of life, from birds to doggies and even the occasional rooster. As a volunteer, my appreciation for helping those less fortunate has only grown. They take in any animal that needs help. It's a mission that takes a lot of commitment.

These biscotti are kissed with cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. I wouldn't say that the flavor necessarily screams gingerbread but more of a fall spice. It's a hard line to walk. For me, the recipe has to have some molasses incorporated to qualify as gingerbread (see this recipe). 

Regardless. It's a solid cookie that you can roll in a dusting of cinnamon/sugar or smear on a little white chocolate with a pinch of cinnamon. They're easy to make and are great stocking stuffers. I wrapped each biscotti in saran wrap and tied a little bow with bakers twine so that the Animal Control officers could easily grab one when on the go.

Pull up a chair.  Have a cup of coffee (or tea) and relax. Pause. Find what you are grateful for. Hold onto it. And have yourself a merry little Christmas.

The recipe for these Gingerbread Biscotti are from Smitten Kitchen.