I love butter and sugar.

Sesame Seed Cake

Posted on: April 22, 2009

Sesame Seed Cake

I love sweets and have been known in my family to make all the cookies, cupcakes, and pies at our gatherings, but I’ve never been great at making cakes. The traditional cheesecake that my family always had around the holidays, one made with cottage cheese in place of cream cheese, was something that I made often during high school and college, but somehow, the center of the cake would always crack. Yes, it would taste great, but I wanted aethetics, too. So when I found out that professional bakers actually use a bain marie, or a water bath, I tried doing the same… which resulted in a complete mess; despite the three to four layers of aluminum foil I’d have wrapped around my springform pan, somehow water always managed to leak into my cake, resulting in the potential beauty dissolving into a big puddle once the spring was released.

I’ve also attempted to make flour-based cakes, like Dorie Greenspan’s tiramisu cake and a good handful of chocolate cakes, but the crumb would always turn out dry and dense. When I’d prepare these failed cakes for gatherings, my relatives would always smile and down large glasses of water or milk with their cake, smiling at me and insisting that “the frosting is delicious!” Well, at least I got one part right.

Eggs and vanilla extract in a yin-yang pattern

So when I saw this recipe for a sesame seed cake in Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert, I was a it hesitant to actually face my cake-making fear. Since my failed tiramisu and cheesecakes, I’ve only managed to get a steamed Chinese sponge cake right (that’s almost full proof for me. A recipe will follow in the near future). But I couldn’t resist trying out this cake. For one thing, I’d never heard of a cake that used sesame seeds (poppy seeds, yes, but sesame seeds? Nope). The more peculiar thing about this recipe is that it uses toasted sesame oil. I’ve always had sesame oil in my pantry for savory Asian dishes I’ve made, but this new use in cake had me intrigued.

Bottles of vanilla extract, sesame oil, and sesame seeds

I am a huge fan of sesame oil; my favorite brand is Kadoya. Whether it’s for savory dishes or for this sesame seed cake, stay away from the cheaper sesame/soybean oil blends, and be sure to buy a pure sesame oil. It should be a deep brown color. They’re most easily found at Asian supermarkets, where the oil will almost definitely be toasted. The nutty, sweet smell is almost unmistakable. Sesame seeds can also be purchased easily at Asian markets. Stay away from the containers that are imported from China, as those tend to have twigs and other foreign things in them. The ones from Korea, Japan, or right here in the U.S. are the ones you want to get, as these almost always have already been sorted.

Mixing initial ingredients for sesame seed cake

As with almost all other baked good recipes you will see, always remember to start out with all ingredients at room temperature. With liquids like milk or buttermilk, take them out of the refrigerator about an hour beforehand. With eggs, you can either take them out about an hour or two before you plan to beat them, or you can prepare a bowl of warm water and place the eggs in the bowl to sit. Once you pick up the eggs and they are no longer cold to the touch, you will know that they are ready. Eggs need to be at room temperature, especially for cake baking, because warmer eggs will whisk to higher volumes and will also ensure that the cake rises properly during baking.

Incorporating the dry with the wet

In this recipe, when folding the dry ingredients into the wet, only fold until just incorporated. Overbeating is one of the worst things you can do with a cake batter because it will inevitably result in a drier and potentially denser cake. I’ve always feared taking a bite into a cake I’ve made and tasting flour in my mouth, so that’s probably resulted in my unconsciously overbeating the batter.

Beaters covered in batter and sesame seeds

If I had followed the suggestions I listed above, perhaps I wouldn’t have had such terrible cake making experiences before. Luckily this time, the sesame seed cake turned out perfectly — evenly browned, well-flavored with a strong background of toasted sesame oil, and most importantly (at least, for me and my cake fears), moist! It’s a beautiful cake, flecked with black sesame seeds on the inside. The sesame seeds also add a pleasant crunch to each bite.

Maybe there will be more cakes in my kitchen since this one came out so well. I served it with a small scoop of Haagan Daaz ginger ice cream, but Medrich suggests that you serve it with her honeyed ice cream. Either way, it is yummy and something you should try if you need a change from the typical chocolate or yellow cake.

Sesame seed cake, cut

Sesame Seed Cake
from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert
makes one 8-inch round cake

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup toasted black sesame seeds
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom and sides of a cake pan or a springform pan – I find the springform works really well. Make sure the pan has high enough sides as the cake really rises in the oven!

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl and set aside.

Beat the eggs together in a bowl with a whisk. Add the sesame oil and vanilla and thoroughly combine.

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on medium for a few minutes to soften it up. Add the sugar and beat for several more minutes until it is light-colored and fluffy.

Add in the egg mixture a little at a time while the mixer is still running, letting it slowly combine over a couple of minutes.

Stop the mixer and pour in a third of the flour mixture, and beat just until combined. Scrape down the sides as necessary.

Add half the buttermilk and beat until combined.

Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture, the rest of the buttermilk, and finally the rest of the flour mixture with the sesame seeds. With each addition, beat it only until it is just incorporated.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool on the rack for a few minutes before unmolding. If you baked the cake in a regular cake pan, invert it onto the rack, and turn it right side up to finish cooling. Before serving, dust with powdered sugar.

This cake will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days.


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  • itsgrant: I want to goooo! Me next vacation, hopefully
  • Jesslyn: Thank you so much for posting this! My husband (who spent several years in Korea) and I have been searching for a good recipe that will produce Ho Duc
  • Didi: I have been searching everywhere for a recipe for this dish and this was spot on!! Thanks for making me and my boyfriend VERY happy :)


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