Sunday, May 18, 2014

Halvah cake with chocolate tahini glaze

This cake is for sesame lovers.  I call it halvah cake since it tastes like halvah, which should not be surprising given that they share their principal ingredients: sesame, eggs and sweetener.

 It is simple and pareve (dairy-free).  It contains no pareve margarine. (Nancy Sinkoff has finally convinced me that this is an abomination.)  It is so good that you should not save it for occasions when you don't want to serve dairy. It is adapted from a cake in Jennifer Abadi's wonderful book of Syrian-Jewish cooking, A Fistful of Lentils.  However, I found her  cake too dry, almost like a cookie or mandelbrot, but not quite.  My version is much moister, but equally simple.  I also love the combination of chocolate and sesame, so I added this glaze.

I am a cook much more than a baker, in part because I like to tinker and improvise and cooking allows much more latitude than baking.  My other attempts to improvise with baked goods have been less than successful. (I have been working on a chocolate-ancho chili cake for years, to no avail.) This experiment came together easily and I was surprised at how good the results were.  I am tempted to tinker further, and add some spices like cardamom or cinnamon, but the purity of the sesame flavor is really nice.  Sometimes it is best to leave well enough alone.

Halvah cake with chocolate tahini glaze:


For the cake:
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup honey (a lighter honey is better here, not a dark one like buckwheat which is usually my go-to honey for bread and apples)
  • 2/3 cup tahini
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil (I used canola, but a light-- not oriental style -- sesame oil would be good too)
  • 1 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch salt

For the glaze:
  • 4 ounces chocolate (I use Scharfenberger 70%)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoons sesame seeds (approximately -- hulled raw will be prettier, but roasted with the hull will be tastier)
  1. Preheat oven to 350. 
  2. Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Nothing fancy here, a fork is ok.  Beat in the honey, tahini, oil, and vanilla.  
  3. In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt with a fork.  Stir into the wet ingredients until you have a smooth batter.  It will be fairly thick and stiff.
  4. Oil a 9-inch springform pan. (Or, even better, spray with baking spray, which is emulsified oil and flour  -- your cakes will jump out of the pan. I owe this life-changing tip to Navah Frost.)
  5. Pour the batter into the pan, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.   It won't be perfect since the batter is somewhat stiff, but if you oil the spatula lightly it be easier to spread.
  6. Bake for 25-35 minutes.  The exact time will depend on the precise heat of your oven and the temperature of your ingredients.  Test for doneness by inserting a skewer, which should come out clean.  I find that 30 minutes is about right in my oven. The cake will not be smooth on top, but you can even this out whey you glaze it later. 
  7. Leave the cake to cool on a rack and let cool for about 30 minutes, than remove it from the pan and let stand until cool. 
  8. To make the glaze, combine all of the ingredients in a small pot, and whisk over low heat until smooth, about 5 minutes.  
  9. Let the glaze cool for about 5 minutes, and then spread on the top of the cake with a rubber spatula.  Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and leave for a few hours until the glaze is set.  This cake keeps well at room temperature, do not refrigerate.