1: Molly on the Range — Chocolate Tahini Cake with Tahini Frosting
I’ve got a bad 4th of July habit.
Granted, as far as habits go, I’ve got worse.
(And people do far dumber things on the 4th of July, myself included.)
But I’ve got a habit of assigning myself complicated food items to cook the morning of the 4th that must be completed and suitable to present to a large group of friends and strangers alike.
Generally, it’s some manner of pie. One year, I made the wild error of getting hideously drunk at a friend’s birthday on the 3rd, completely forgetting — as I shuffled home in the dead of night with a broken flip-flop — that I’d planned to wake up bright and early to make a pie I’d never attempted (and was not really making from an established recipe) to bring to the party of a new friend I very much wanted to impress. Smash cut to me the next morning, squinting through my hangover headache as I peeled apples. The pie turned out fine, and it’s a miracle I still have the tops of all my fingers.
That there is the Chocolate Tahini Cake with Tahini Frosting. I’m friggin’ wild about sesame desserts. Sweet sesame items are goddamn magic. They’re like the cool, world-traveling sister of peanut butter desserts, hence the tahini was obviously gonna be glorious with the chocolate. Heck, what I really wanted to do was make the layer cake version of this recipe and integrate Molly’s Coffee Halvah (MORE TAHINI!) recipe from the book into the layers… but since I knew I was gonna be making all of this before noon on the 4th, I figured I should streamline.
The fact that I was also bringing it to a party caused a few hitches too.
NEWSFLASH: Nobody wants to tangle with a tall and gorgeous layer cake at a potluck. In fact, fuck you if you bring a layer cake to a potluck. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, ya big showoff? Yeah, it looks cool now, but the second someone attempts to slice a petite and reasonable portion from the thing, that piece is gonna flop in half, possibly end up on the ground, and it’s not gonna get easier with subsequent slices. Unless you want to spend the party posted up by the cake and slicing pieces for the other guests, don’t bring a layer cake.*
That said, sheet cakes are ugly. It’s REALLY hard to make them cute without really going all out and using the surface as your own sugary canvas. That ain’t me. I once made a sheet cake for a theatre fundraiser — I got the company logo printed on an edible transfer, tried to do a cool thing with black and white fondant, and I’ll be damned if that thing didn’t turn out looking like a really nice gravestone.
That leaves cupcakes. I am NOT talking about the cut-outs you see above because — Molly, I have massive respect for you and love your work so much — WHAT KIND OF MONSTER LEAVES THAT MUCH SCRAP CAKE BEHIND? The cakelets look beautiful, sure, but COME ON. I need all available cake to be fully presentable.
Cupcakes it was, and as I’ve alluded that cake decor is not exactly my area of expertise, artfully decorating cupcakes is a thing I just plain don’t do much. But since I have a piping bag and a bunch of nozzle tips, I was equipped to give it a solid try.
Chocolate Tahini Cake with Tahini Frosting
by Molly Yeh, from Molly on the Range
Let me please say right off the bat that this recipe is great, and the only problems I encountered along the way were circumstantial.
- The first thing I realized as I hit step fucking ONE… is that I only have one 12-cup muffin tin. And while I could try to work in batches, I’d be risking losing the reactivity in the baking powder by the time the other batch was done. I was afraid of ending up with low-rise cupcakes, so I did the only reasonable thing. I ran to Target. Crisis averted AND I grabbed myself some coffee while I was there.
*Sidenote: Because I had freshly brewed hot coffee in my presence and the cake batter calls for hot water, I could not in good conscience NOT instead add coffee to a chocolate cake given the opportunity. So I did make that tweak.
- I really should have seen this one coming. I know — I KNOW — that my own private enemy number one when it comes to baking in the summer is the heat. I live in the San Fernando Valley, there’s only one air-conditioned room in my apartment, and it sure as hell ain’t the kitchen. I’m trying to stay on top of the room temp, with fans going and windows open while it’s not oppressively warm out. But the day marches on, the heat from the oven just won’t leave the kitchen entirely… and now it’s time to frost my cupcakes. The other source of problematic heat, at this juncture, is myself. (HEY-O, HIGH FIVE, UP TOP!) For whatever reason, I run warm at all times, especially my hands. When I’m making pastry, I frequently take breaks to run my hands under cold water or press them against the walls of the freezer. As I type this in my hot (WHY IS IT SO HOT?) living room, my hands feel like they should have cartoon sizzle lines coming off them. All this to say that those hands holding a bag of frosting as my unskilled ass tries her damnedest to make the pretty in an overheated kitchen… it was an upward battle to be sure. I kept having to take breaks and put the piping bag in the fridge for a couple minutes, because my hands were warming up the frosting so badly, it wouldn’t hold a pretty shape after a while.
Since I didn’t make the halvah (SIGH), I’d been trying to figure out how else to gild my cupcake lilies, since god knows I can’t just do exactly what the recipe says and leave it at that. I’d considered mini Reese’s peanut butter cups, and had even bought a bag. But upon tasting the frosting, I knew a) adding the cups would be too sweet, b) they would be unstable toppers, and c) the flavors were JUST not the right fit. I looked at what I had in the pantry, and decided to finish them with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds — my bougie ass was bemoaning that I didn’t have any black sesame seeds — and super coarse grey sea salt.**
And you guys…
LOOK AT HOW CUTE THEY ARE! Look at those little poofs of frosting! I FOUGHT FOR THOSE SUCKERS AND I WON.
How did they taste? Pretty great! The batter rose really nicely (but would have come out smoother had I sifted the dry goods first, oops), the texture and flavor were awesome, and UNFFF that frosting. This is a really great recipe that will make people think “Ohh, I’m eating something wild adventurous, I don’t know about this…” And then they taste it and the hell chill out, because it’s just some really good chocolate cake with a li’l extra thang going on.
Would I make this again? Hell yes I would… as a layer cake with some coffee halvah. (And grey salt.)
Do I recommend this cookbook? Hell yes I do.
What is the next recipe you want to make from this book? Hmmm, other than that friggin’ Coffee Halvah that haunts my waking hours, I think I’m going for My Everymorning Breakfast for the Summer — an Israeli-style spread that 100% has my attention right now, since it’s hot as balls and I have a major foodboner for Israeli breakfast.
Oh damn, that’s my first one down! 29 more books to go… This is how I’ve decided to store all the books on my list for this project until I get through them –>
Yes, it looks like that obnoxious thing where dumdums on the internet were like “shelve your books backward for a monochromatic look that also will slowly drive you insane looking for That One Book!”, but this is how I’m gonna track my progress. In addition to, you know, this blog.
And if you look closer, you’ll see…
*I made myself a layer cake for my birthday party one year. It looked fucking stellar, it tasted divine, and I had to serve pretty much every slice myself because it was awkward as all holy hell. That’s only acceptable at your own party, though.
**Yup, I’m the pretentious ass that has a big bag of French grey salt AND I LOVE IT.