Let’s Talk About Tahini

Tahini is one of those miracle ingredients that makes tons of dishes better. It plays a starring role in the best hummuses around, lending nuttiness and depth. But it’s also great in cookie dough, on ice cream, on cauliflower–you name it. I’ve found so many ways to use tahini that I always keep a jar around my house.

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Tahini topped soft serve, with a side of sesame candy for good measure

What is tahini, exactly? It’s made up of ground, toasted sesame seeds. The flavor varies quite a bit by brand, so you might need to shop around for the brand you like. I’ve noticed that certain brands are smoother and more pleasant to eat with a spoon, but other brands can be a bit thick and bitter. I’ve had good luck with both Joya and Whole Foods 365.

Tahini has a slightly earthier flavor than peanuts, but most people really can’t tell the difference once it’s in baked goods. The flavor is more pronounced if you use it as a dressing or drizzle–like the amazing soft serve with tahini sauce that I tried at Seed + Mill last year.

Here’s a look at some of my favorite tahini dishes so far–and what I want to try next.

My favorite tahini recipes:

Tahini swirled brownies: This is a pretty simple way to dip your toe into the tahini dessert waters. Just make your favorite brownie recipe, and swirl a layer of tahini in the top before you throw the pan in the oven. I also topped mine with sesame seeds for extra texture. You could put a swirl in the middle too–just pour in half the batter, add a tahini swirl, and top with the rest of your batter.

Tahini Cupcakes with Chocolate Tahini Frosting: This was my first foray into baking with tahini. They taste sort of nutty, with a lovely texture.

Tahini Peanut Butter Chip Cookies: These use tahini in the base dough and peanut butter chips as a flavor accent. I’d omit the pumpkin seeds if I made them again–they just didn’t seem necessary!IMG_1448.jpg

Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies:These are easy and pretty incredible. Sesame gives the dough a unique flavor, and you can’t go wrong with salted chocolate.

Tahini recipes I want to try: 

Tahini Dirty Blondies: I keep meaning to make these! They look delightfully chewy.

Zahav’s hummus: My favorite hummus so far was at Dizengoff in NYC. It’s so rich, pillowy and satisfying.  I’ve read that the trick is lots of high-quality tahini, and several prep steps that enhance each ingredient’s flavor.

Tahini French Toast: I first had tahini french toast at a place called Bar Bolonat in NYC. I immediately looked for recipes to try at home–but sadly, haven’t actually made it yet!

Carrot Tahini Muffins: I can’t quite imagine what these would taste like–which is usually my cue to try a recipe! They look scrumptious and satisfying in the photos, and I bet you it’s a unique flavor.

Carrot Lentil Cakes: I bake more than I cook, but these lentil cakes sure look good.

Roasted Butternut Squash: This recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi is the king of vegetables with tahini sauces. This one looks great, and I also tried  one of his cauliflower recipes recently at a friend’s house.

Black Tahini Morning Buns: Black sesame is richer than white sesame. I can’t stop thinking about a black sesame kougin aman that I tried a couple months ago, so this recipe is a must-try for me.

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Tahini Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

You know when a recipe catches your eye, and you just can’t stop wondering about it until you finally get to make it? This cupcake recipe has been on my mind ever since I saved it last year. It’s from one of my favorite blogs, My Name is Yeh. Blogger Molly Yeh posts compelling recipes accompanied by gorgeous photos and engaging writing. She posts many great, creative recipes but I am particularly fascinated by her cakes. I always want to make layer cakes and rarely do, largely because I simply don’t want to schlep a cake across town to share it with coworkers or friends. Cupcakes, on the other hand, are a conveniently portable treat. So when Molly posted a recipe for Tahini Cupcakes, I knew I had to make them.

Tahini Cupcakes may not be something you’ve seen before, but trust me, you’re going to want to try them. Tahini is made from sesame that’s ground into a peanut butter-like consistency. It adds a nutty flavor to both the cake batter and chocolate frosting in this recipe. If you don’t tell anyone what’s in the cupcake, they probably won’t be able to guess offhand. One of my friends figured it out because the taste reminded her of halva, a dense confection that’s often made with sesame paste. The rest of my tasters couldn’t pinpoint the star ingredient: they just noticed a nutty taste and a slightly different texture than other cupcakes. Regardless, they liked what they tasted and asked for more.

Cupcakes are one of my ultimate comfort foods- the combination of cake and frosting is so fulfilling in both texture and flavor. Yet, these cupcakes are comforting in a different way than most. It’s less about being a sugarbomb, more about culinary adventure. Tahini adds a depth to the treat that you just don’t usually get, and the sweetness is a bit more subdued than you’d find in a more classic flavor combination. The winning texture play of cake/frosting is still there, and the frosting is chocolatey enough that it can satisfy a chocolate craving.

My boyfriend declared this his favorite cupcake ever for both its texture and its taste, so I suppose I should make another batch soon. I also want to try out some of the other tahini recipes Molly has shared, like these tahini chocolate chip cookies she just posted this week. She also has a recipe for chocolate tahini cake with rosemary buttercream– clearly I’ll need to try that one, too.

Tahini Cupcakes with Chocolate Tahini Frosting 

Source: My Name is Yeh

Yield: 24 cupcakes

Suggested equipment: a mixer is helpful for the frosting

Total Time: ~1 hour

Cook Time: ~15 minutes 

I broke the original recipe into a few more detailed steps and wrote my own commentary below.

Ingredients

Cupcakes

  • 2 c sugar
  • 2 1/4 c flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 c liquid buttermilk OR dried buttermilk (you’ll have to follow the instructions for measurements on your specific brand’s packaging, see note below)
  • 1 tbs vanilla extract
  • 2 tbs flavorless oil, like canola or vegetable oil
  • 6 tbs pure tahini (see note below)  
  • 3/4 c water (if you’re using dried buttermilk, you will need to add additional water beyond this ¾ cups. Your buttermilk’s packaging should provide instructions for how much water to add)

 Frosting 

  • 1 c unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 c tahini
  • 3/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 c powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • A pinch or two of salt
  • A pinch of cinnamon

Ingredient Notes 

  • Tahini:  Make sure you buy pure tahini. You might also find 20151219_170330tahini sauce, tahini dip, etc. You want to buy tahini that lists sesame as the sole ingredient. Trader Joe’s, for example, sells a tahini sauce that has garlic in it too- great for hummus, not so great for cupcakes. I got my tahini via Smart & Final from a brand called Roland. Specialty groceries may have it, and Whole Foods usually sells it. I’ve read it’s wise to aim for the freshest tahini you can find, as sometimes tahini gets rancid on-shelf. (If you accidentally buy tahini sauce, I implore you to bake the cupcakes anyway and let me know what happens- experiments can net surprisingly delicious results!)
  • Buttermilk: I tend to use dried buttermilk so I don’t have to buy new cartons of liquid buttermilk every time I need it. It’s cheaper and easier, though I’m sure some bakers would tell me the results aren’t as good. I haven’t had an issue with taste in the past, so I used dried buttermilk here too. If you sub in dried buttermilk for liquid buttermilk, follow the extra notes in both the ingredients and recipe. You’ll add the dried buttermilk when you’re mixing dry ingredients and then add extra water to the original recipe for the “liquid” aspect. Measurements can vary by brand so I left measurements out here- you’ll want to read your can’s instructions for help

Step by Step Directions

Make your cupcakes

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Line and grease your cupcake pan and set it aside (I only own 1 muffin tin so I did two rounds of baking vs. 2 pans at once)
  2. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients (including the dried buttermilk if you’re using it)
  3. In a medium bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, oil, and tahini (You may need to stir your tahini a bit before adding it in; it gets lumpy in the container but the separation is natural and you should stir it to a smoother consistency before adding it to your batter)
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix to combine.
  5. Stir in the water (this is when I added my additional water for the buttermilk)
  6. Pour your batter into cupcake pans and throw them in the oven
  7. This is when I set out my butter so it’d soften in time to make the frosting!
  8. Cupcakes will take 15-18 minutes to bake. Mine were exactly 15 minutes but you should always check for doneness by sticking a toothpick into a cupcake’s center and checking if it comes out clean
  9. When the cupcakes are done, let them cool for a few minutes in the pans and then transfer to a wire rack to cool fully.

Make your frosting 

  1. Beat together the butter and tahini
  2. Beat in the cocoa powder
  3. Beat in the powdered sugar
  4. Add vanilla, salt, and cinnamon
  5. Taste and make adjustments as desired- I added a bit more salt
  6. Frost your cupcakes, and add sprinkles if you want. And really, why wouldn’t you?

I took a ton of pictures, and most of them came out even worse than usual. Sorry!