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)

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 cup almond flour or almond meal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup black sesame seeds, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 (medium) firm but ripe Bosc pear, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

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.


63 comments to “Black Sesame and Pear Tea Cake”

  1. I can’t stop looking at the slice photo. What a color!

  2. Yes! And honestly, the cake is so much prettier than these photos.

  3. Oh, that looks lovely. When I lived in Japan, I would eat black sesame all the time. There was a fantastic spread that made a nice sandwich–and not just when I had run out of peanut butter! Can’t wait to try it!

  4. Wow, that is an interesting flavor profile. Without any text I’d have guessed squid ink fell into your batter :) I’ve only ever used black sesame seeds as a garnish for contrast. I wonder what other firmer fruits could work here…apple perhaps?

  5. ahhhh! I had my eye on this cake! I was WONDERING what the inside of the cake looked like. I just made the bacon oatmeal raisin cookies from that issue and they turned out phenom.

    How does it taste? What’s the most prominent flavor and what’s the consistency like?

  6. Ooooh. Almond flour? I’ve had a bunch leftover, not knowing how to use it. Check. Black sesame? Love it in rice cakes. Check. Pear? Delicious. Check.

    I can’t wait to make this cake!

  7. Hey Tracy- the cake is pretty soft with a loose crumb (from almond flour) with a nice top crust. It is weird, the first bite hits you really strong with a sesame flavor but it quickly makes more sense to your mouth and is more balanced after that (sesame/butter/pear). The pear is nicely bright and sweet. It is great.

  8. This looks fantastic! I had my eye on this one in Bon Appetit, so glad to see the adjustment on the baking time so I don’t mess it up when I try it! Glad to see it’s delicious – certainly looks like a really interesting treat! :)

  9. This sounds so different. And that dark grey with the pearly grey of the pears…I’m intrigued. Also: by hand, with a mortar and pestle? Kudos.

  10. I was going to guess ground-up poppyseeds, but black sesame sounds even more intriguing and I look forward to baking it! I imagine it keeps well too.

  11. Sarah- Uh….by “we” I really meant Bryan. He is the hero who mashed the seeds into a paste.

    Kristina- It does keep well, at least 3 days. (we’d finished it all and so don’t know what happens after that)

  12. What an interesting recipe! Seems like Bon Appétit has some issues with recipes lately, as a friend of mine overcooked a pork roast recipe from the magazine recently (they did end up correcting the time). Not good.

  13. I’m so very intrigued by this combo! I’m accustomed to having black sesame paste in Chinese pastries but baked into a loaf like this with pear? Hmmm…must try soon!

  14. I saw this in Bon Appetit and was fascinated by it.

    Perhaps with an Asian pear?

  15. You’re a champion. This is beautiful. Annnnnd, I recently made something where the recipe was totes wrong, TOO. what’s up with that? Maybe you should be in charge of proofreading recipes? huh?

  16. I was also intrigued with this recipe and had bookmarked it to try one day. I will definitely give if a go now. Thanks for all the suggestions!

  17. Amelia- I should be in charge of everything.

  18. Wow this sounds amazing and unusual at the same time, a must try!

  19. Tim, as to your last comment, I love a man who does not lack self esteem!!! You should be in charge of everything.

    My whole opinion of BA has been in the balance since Adam Rapoport took over last year. The earlier issues could have been title “Cooking for Kindergardeners.” Every now and then something cool will come along lately, keeping me attached to my 20-year subscription, but in general I’m not digging it. That said, the stuffed pork loin on the Oct. 11 cover was devine.

  20. Wow this looks so neat! I can’t even imagine what it tastes like since these are certainly two flavors I wouldn’t have thought to combine. Looks great though!

  21. I love how contrasting these two flavours are and I especially love the surprise you get when you bite into something expecting it to taste one way but it is completely different to what you thought…it’s what keeps food interesting I think.

  22. soon as i have my new kitchen up and running I’m making this…love the contrasts…thank you

  23. I made this too and people loved it! I’m a little bit of a weirdo about chunks of things (like fruit and nuts) mixed in with batter. Separately, as garnish or fillings, I’m crazy about them. But I digress, I pureed the pear and that worked out just as well, although some of the pear flavor may have been lost. Still good though!

  24. Ohhh this looks delicious & right up my alley. I LOVE black sesame seeds. The flavor must be amazing, so deep & dark & earthy with the bright pear to perk it up. Thanks for posting.

  25. Jan Canyon says:

    March 15th, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    I saw that recipe and since I had a big bag of black sesame seeds, I had to try it. You are dead on about the baking time. Mine was done in about 45 minutes. I used cake flour (no almond flour to be had here in the boonies) and it was delicious. That black sesame flavor is so compelling with the slight sweetness of the pear. Love it! I’ve always tended to love weird colored food. Must be a hangover from my childhood food coloring experiments. LOL

  26. This was the recipe that caught my attention, too! With your enthusiastic recommendation and cook-time correction, I really will have to try it now. And, after all, I DO love a good top crust. I was wary of grinding the seeds in my coffee-grinder-turned-spice-grinder, knowing that they would turn into a paste. Do you think that would turn out well?

  27. I made this cake last week (making some substitutions) and despite the fact that the cook time was totally wrong, and my pan overflowed, it was so darn delicious I pretty much ate it in two days. I really loved the crust, as well as the nutty flavor from the black sesame seeds. And that color! To die for.

  28. I’ll be talking about those parmesan shortbreads (well, Manchego, rather) over my way in a week or so, and i LOVED them. made them as part of our Iron Chef cooking group and plated them with fennel ice cream and orange-fennel caramel sauce. I won :).

  29. I’m really excited about this flavor profile. I wouldn’t go around asking people to try my grey sesame paste cake but I would definitely tell them to try my exotic pear cake with sesame seeds. I’m game.

  30. This looks incredible, and I’m not surprised: The recipe comes from one of my favorite Manhattan cafes—Abraço— and is baked by an absolute genius in a kitchen.

    Heck, if you think this cake is delicious on its own, you should stop by that coffeeshop for a slice of it with a perfect shot of espresso. Heavenly.

  31. Oh this looks so good that it makes me giddy! I will have to make it gluten-free though. You have such excellent taste. I love your blog.

  32. Meister- agreed. The olive cookies!
    Erin- Thank you so much, that is really kind.

  33. I adore sesame in sweet things, so I don’t think I’m going to have a minute of shock with this one. It looks just so beautiful. It is quite annoying when you pay for a recipe and it is totally wrong! It happens so often. I have a book of Laduree recipes, full of gorgeous ideas, but I had to adjust every single one of them. I’m not even mentioning magazines, 99% of them have wrong recipes with cakes (and probably with savoury stuff too, but savoury recipes are usually much more forgiving).

    Parmesan shortbread sound like something I’d have with a glass of wine as an aperitif, maybe?

  34. Caffe- Yes, they would be nice with wine. It just isn’t how I roll. Those shortbread are starting to pop up on blogs, so I am sure my lack of enthusiasm is more about personal preferences than the recipe. In any case, yes- boo to bad recipes!

  35. A little strange to see a cake that color, but once I read “black sesame” I was hooked. Here’s a question: a couple of years ago I bought a jar of black sesame paste. It’s the consistency of molasses. Do you think it could take the place of the 1/2 cup of seeds that are ground up? Maybe I will just try it an let you know. It’s been sitting on my shelf all this time!

  36. Who needs classic flavors? I need black sesame and pear. This would go lovely with the litchi gelato at the Asian shop near my house!

  37. I can’t get enough of that color. Seems so wonderfully smutty.

  38. CHN- if there are no other ingredients in the paste, give it a try! Let us know how it works…
    Jay- smutty is right!

  39. I was so curious to see what the true recipe resulted in. I made this loaf last weekend, but I couldn’t find black sesame seeds in Zürich (i didn’t look that hard) so I substituted some caraway seeds and made a pear-almond-seed cake. It was delicious and I recommend it if you ever find yourself without sesame seeds but with jar of caraway seeds. I had the same issue with the baking time – mine was done at 45 minutes. Looking forward to tracking down some sesame seeds after reading your description – beautiful!

  40. If I weren’t just about out of sesame seeds, I would be making this. Love sesame in desserts! Hmm, maybe I’ll get some more just to make this. I love how you always find more unusual recipes to feature.
    If you have a Japanese specialty market nearby, you can find black sesame paste since they use it in chiffon cakes, ice creams, and other desserts.
    And do go to Indian and other ethnic markets for sesame seeds, especially black ones. You can find them in bags, from 4-8 ounces, very fresh and much cheaper than supermarkets!
    Almond meal can be easily made in a spice grinder or food processor for anyone who can’t get it.

  41. this is such a crazy looking cake that I know i will love it! actually quite like the colour, makes a refreshing change. Must get some black sesame seeds, saw them used on VK Rees blog and thought they looked like a winner! x

  42. Tim, do you make your own almond flour or do you buy it?

  43. This looks amazing. I’m always pulled into the recipes that seem weird and off putting at first. Sesame is one of my favorite flavors. I always get the black sesame bubble tea, suck it down with gusto and then forget to check my teeth. :)

  44. I tried the recipe– totally awesome, but it took a good hour and a half to bake through at 325F.

  45. Hi Teresa- that is good to hear. ? Getting closer to the bake time…I guess the lesson here is to start checking the cake at 45-50 minutes and see where you are.

  46. hi tim!

    this cake was perfection, the color is so elegant. mine definitely took a full 90 minutes to bake. i like the use of almond meal. have you come across other cakey things that use it?

  47. Jam! Glad you enjoyed the cake. I wonder if anyone makes it to the 1 hour and 40 minute mark with this recipe? There are lots of great cake recipes that have almond meal. I’ll try to track some down online and email you. xo

  48. I wish I had read this before buying 2 jars of black sesame seeds! I’ve been garnishing lots of things with sesame seeds lately… I agree with you on the time, mine clocked in under an hour. I wasn’t a big fan of the taste though, but that’s just me!

    Just wanted to say hi and love the pictures!

  49. black sesame is something I’ve never used. There are a couple of seeds out there with the name black sesame. One is nigella, the other is an actual sesame seed with a black hull. Do you know which one you used? I have a big bag of nigella seeds labeled as black sesame but I think you’ve used the other one.

  50. Hi Bana- Not nigella seeds, I don’t know why they are sometimes labeled as black sesame seeds- they shouldn’t be. These are just sesame seeds that are black.

  51. This looks fantastic. I just picked up black sesame seeds. Thanks for posting this recipe.
    Greetings from north of the Arctic Circle.

  52. If I am ever lost in space I hope this cake is floating close to me.

  53. amazing amazing cake, this was a hit at out casual high tea that we put on. thank you!

  54. fifth time I’ve made this cake and everyone loves it

  55. Shaun! You are addicted. Be careful.

  56. Tim, I don’t know if anyone already asked you this because I didn’t get the chance to go through all the comments. But is there a way to prevent the pears from sinking to the bottom of the cake?

  57. The texture on this is so light and fluffy! I love black sesame anything–we have black sesame ice cream and other sweets in Japan, and sesame oil or seeds is in a lot of savory dishes as well. The pear is a nice compliment to the sesame. Thanks for posting this!

    I baked mine in small two loaf pans for 35 minutes, but I have a (Japanese) oven range — think of a large microwave with oven functions–so my data might not be helpful for your statistics.

    Finally, I wonder if you can find ground sesame in the States? I used organic black surigoma (ground sesame). Maybe an Asian import grocer would have it. It’s lovely in miso soup, too!

  58. I had bookmarked this recipe for a while and finally tried it tonight….So delicious, and got rave reviews from my husband and my kids (4 yr old and 2 yr old) – Thanks for sharing, love the flavour, texture and moisture in the cake.

  59. I must try this! I don’t want to sound rude but I was literally salivating while reading your words on the cake description!!!and I’m not easily salivating! :D

  60. Black sesame seeds I never see. Can I substitute ordinary straw-colored sesame seeds without affecting the flavor?

  61. Hi TJ- Black sesame seeds should not be too hard to track down, look in the “Asian” aisle of you grocery store. I wouldn’t substitute the other.

  62. hey, i was wondering if i could use black sesame powder instead of grinding the seeds to a paste? I don’t have the raw seeds at hand (I can easily buy them in the supermarket but, you know, I already have the powder at home), but i’m kinda worried about what the powder will do to the consistency of the cake.

  63. Made it, loved it. A little wet – I wish I had floure the pan and let it bake a smidgelonger. MIne went 65 minutes

What do you think?