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Black Sesame and Pear Tea Cake

This recipe is not for everyone. It is definitely not a classic flavor profile, but it is lovely.

It is the second recipe I have tried from a spread on coffee house baked goods in this month’s Bon Appétit. The other recipe was the Parmesan shortbread, which I didn’t care about. They weren’t bad, I just didn’t know when I would want to eat them (certainly not with coffee!). But I want to eat this cake all of the time. The sesame flavor is so dark and deep that the first bite is a little shocking. Your palate quickly adjusts and then you enjoy the contrast between the sesame and the pears. The cake is completely gorgeous and grey and sweet.

Here is the thing, I think the recipe is wrong (another one!!!?!). It is a 9×4 loaf cake and the recipe says to bake it for 1 hour and 40 minutes, which defies everything I know about baking and chemistry. Mine was done at just shy of 50 minutes. The recipe below reflects what I think are the correct baking times and is different from what is printed in the magazine and online. I contacted BA a couple of weeks ago and am hoping they adjust the recipe.

The black sesame seeds used in the recipe need to be ground into a paste in a spice grinder. My spice grinder was on the fritz, and so we used a mortar and pestle. It made the process incredibly arduous, but it can be done. Take it slow and work with about a tablespoon of the seeds at a time. Or, buy an inexpensive spice grinder and save yourself some time and energy. One more thing about the sesame seeds: I bought a small (2.01oz) spice jar full of black sesame seeds from a local grocery store. The contents of the jar were about a tablespoon less than what the recipe calls for. That is okay! Do not go buying two jars of the sesame seeds just for this recipe. And before you start asking about substitutions, stop. You need to find black sesame seeds. You need a pear. You need almond flour.

All of that said, if you are the least bit curious about this, give it a try. You might just love it, I sure did.

Black Sesame and Pear Tea Cake (adapted from the March issue of Bon Appétit [1])

Preheat your oven to 325°. Butter one 9x5x3-inch loaf pan or six 4x2x2-inch paper or metal loaf pans. Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds in a medium bowl. Grind the remaining 1/2 cup of sesame seeds in a spice mill to form a thick paste, this might take a couple of minutes.

Using an electric mixer, beat 1/2 cup butter and 1 1/4 cups sugar in a large bowl until well combined, 2–3 minutes. Add the sesame paste and beat, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until blended, 1–2 minutes. Add the egg and egg yolk. Beat until pale and fluffy, 3–4 minutes. On low speed, beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Toss the pear with remaining 2 Tbsp. flour in a small bowl; gently fold into the batter.

Spoon batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar.

Bake until a tester comes out clean when inserted into center, about 45-55 minutes for large loaf and 35-40 minutes for small loaves. Let cool in pans on a wire rack.

UPDATE: It seems like there have been a wide range of experiences with the baking time on this recipe. Others have confirmed that their cake only baked for 45-55 minutes, a couple of people baked as long as 1 hour and 30 minutes. I’m not sure what is happening. My suggestion is to start checking at 45 minutes and bake for as long as you need to get the tester to come out clean.