Chocolate Raspberry Tahini Cake with Tahini Buttercream Frosting
Cake, especially when it's layered and frosted, always signals a celebration to me. It doesn't have to be large, nor does it have to be frosted to porcelain-smooth perfection. It's from the way that you have to cut through a coating of cream to see what's inside, almost in the way that you would unwrap a gift, that makes it so special.
There are no parties to bring a cake to these days, but it didn't stop me from baking one up this week. I'll make today a celebration myself, I said (much to the disbelief of my boyfriend/housemate/co-worker/recipe-taster/leftover-eater who'd turn around from his makeshift WFH desk every 10 minutes to ask me "but who's going to eat it all?!").
I originally saw this chocolate tahini cake on one of my favourite blogs ever, My Name is Yeh by Molly Yeh. It was a few years ago when I first tried it, and have made it numerous times since.
I'm not kidding you, this cake is good. Every time I've made it, I've always had someone running up to me to say something along the lines of Diana, you are a queen! no, I mean, that was the best chocolate cake I have ever had in my life.
So what does tahini in a chocolate cake taste like? Tahini, a runny paste made purely from sesame seeds, replaces some of the usual fat content in a regular chocolate cake recipe. While the paste on it's own tastes like, well, sesame, when mixed together in a recipe, it acts as a binder and supporting act to the chocolate flavour. The cake doesn't have a pronounced sesame flavour, but it has an added richness and complexity that no vegetable oil or butter can bring.
Ordinarily, I would have made this cake in two 20 cm cake tins, enough for 10-15 happy people. So given the circumstances, the recipe has been scaled down to half, in a two-layer 15cm cake. It will make about 8 small slices or enough for two people to be merry for the next two days.
How to make chocolate tahini cake
This is a very easy cake for anyone to make. I've simplified the process so that it's roughly divided into six steps:
Prepare the tins
Whisk together the dry ingredients
Whisk together the wet ingredients
Combine the dry and the wet (2+3 above)
Add hot water, stir well
A few helpful tips to make the best cake:
Sift the cocoa powder through a fine mesh over the bowl as you are adding it to your other dry ingredients as cocoa tends to get lumpy. This is easier than having to fish out balls of cocoa powder in your flour mix later.
Sift the baking powder and baking soda as well if they have lumps in them
There's no need for an electric hand mixer to make the cake (but you will need it for the frosting later)
How to make the tahini buttercream frosting
This tahini buttercream is even easier to make than regular buttercream. Start by beating the butter and tahini (both at room temperature) with the vanilla extract on high speed until well combined, creamy, and slightly lighter in colour.
I like to whisk the salt and cinnamon into the icing sugar at this stage, then add the icing sugar mix in two batches, beating on high after each batch to incorporate as much air as possible. More air in the buttercream makes it fluffier and also lighter in colour. Start beating the sugar into the butter-tahini mix, working at low speed and then beating a full 2-3 minutes on high speed. You need to start beating at low, otherwise the sugar will end up on your face rather than the buttercream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to well incorporate all the sugar. Repeat for the other half of the sugar.
The final tahini buttercream should be a few shades lighter than when you started, and the texture will be very light and fluffy.
Tools you will need
2 x 15cm cake tins (or 2 x 20cm cake tins if you are doubling the recipe)
baking (parchment) paper
2 medium/large mixing bowls
liquid measuring jug or cups
for the frosting, you will need an electric hand mixer
an offset spatula to smooth out the frosting (if you want to make it look smooth and perfect, otherwise, just some steady hands and a spoon or butter knife)
Chocolate Tahini Layer Cake with Raspberries and Tahini Buttercream Frosting Recipe
Adapted from My Name is Yeh
Makes a 2 layer, 15 cm cake (6 inches). Double the ingredients for a 2 layer, 20 cm cake (8 inches)
I first tried this cake about 4 years ago when I made it for a chocolate-loving friend. I remember falling in love with the recipe when I first saw it on Molly's blog - and it has never disappointed me. I honestly can't remember how Molly's original instructions went, but this is how I have always made it and it works.
Tahini, a creamy paste made with just sesame seeds replaces some of the oil content in an otherwise ordinary chocolate cake recipe. The resulting cake doesn't have a pronounced sesame or tahini taste - the tahini adds an extra depth of flavour that makes the chocolate taste just right, and brings richness to the cake. In the buttercream, the flavour is more obvious, making it the most moreish buttercream you will ever taste. Raspberries just acidic enough to keep things feeling light on the palate, and will make you run back for more.
For the cake:
175 g sugar
115 g plain flour
50 g cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 + 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 + 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 egg, room temperature
125 ml milk, room temperature
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
30 ml vegetable oil
60 ml tahini
90 ml boiling water
For the frosting:
140 g butter, at room temperature
60 ml tahini
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
125 g icing sugar (Italian: 'zucchero al velo')
tiny pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
a handful of fresh raspberries or blackberries
1. Preheat the oven to 180C /350F. Butter and line the cake tins with baking paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients (sugar, flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, baking soda).
3. In a second bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients, except for the boiling water (egg, milk, vanilla, oil and tahini).
4. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture. Using a rubber spatula, stir briefly until just combined, then add the boiling water. Stir to combine. The batter will be very wet and liquid.
5. Divide the mixture between the two cake tins. Bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Tip: An easy way to tell if the cake is done without opening the door is to see if the cake has pulled away slightly from the sides of the tin. Remove from the oven.
6. At this point, while the cakes are still hot, you have a couple of things to do to ensure your final layer cake looks even and beautiful. Take a look at the cakes, still in their tins, and check if they are level, or whether they have significant domes (rounded tops). If so, lightly press down on the uneven surface using a mug with a flat bottom. Work over the entire surface to make sure the cake tops are level. Let the cakes cool in the tins for about 15 minutes before turning them onto a wire rack to cool completely.
(The other option to flatten the cake tops is to wait until they cool down completely and slice off the domes using a sharp knife held horizontally to your work surface.)
How to make the tahini buttercream frosting
6. Meanwhile, make the frosting. Place the butter, tahini and vanilla extract in a large bowl and beat on medium-high speed until it has lightened in colour and is creamy in texture.
7. Add about half the icing sugar to the mixture and start beating on low speed briefly and increase to high and beat for a good 2-3 minutes. (If you start on high speed you will end up covered in sugar!) Repeat with the other half of the icing sugar. Add the salt and cinnamon and beat on high until the mixture looks a few shades lighter and is fluffy in texture. Set aside in the fridge until ready to use.
How to assemble the cake
Remember to let the cakes cool entirely before frosting or else the cream will melt and fall off the cake. You will first do a rough 'crumb coat' where you frost the entire cake with a very thin layer of frosting to 'seal' the crumbs, then let it cool in the fridge for 30 minutes before finishing the final frosting. Cooling the cake makes it easier to frost and fewer crumbs are likely to fall off the cake and into the frosting.
1. Place one cake layer directly on a cake platter, flat plate or cake turner (if you have one). Scoop out about half a cup of the frosting on to the cake and spread out evenly with a spatula, leaving about a 1 cm thick layer of frosting. Dot the surface with some halved raspberries, pushing them into the frosting.
2. Place the other cake on top. Tip: invert the second cake before placing it on the frosting so that the smooth lower side of the cake becomes the top, and the normal upper side of the cake is now facing down.
3. Scoop out another half cup of frosting and cover the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting. Start from the top of the cake and work down and around the sides. This is called the crumb coat and will prevent cake crumbs in the final frosting of the cake. Place the cake in the fridge for half an hour.
4. Finish the frosting on the cake: start by adding a large scoop of frosting to the top, and smooth out using an offset spatula. Push the excess down the sides, and smooth it out, adding extra frosting as you go. Scrape off any excess frosting while spinning the cake on a cake turner (or by turning the cake with your other hand if you don't have one). Decorate with raspberries on top.