No-Bake Vanilla Bean Cheesecake For One with Black Sesame Brittle

Sweet, tangy vanilla cheesecake with a crumbly crust, topped with shards of black sesame brittle. 

So much goodness in a 4-inch tart pan. The addition of black sesame? Almost unprecedented, perfect.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of attacking a bought cheesecake in a jar, with a delightful crumbly crust, topped nicely with passionfruit. The first bite made me realise, and later lament, how much I adore cheesecake sometimes. It was my favourite sort of cake thing aged 5 upwards; hot, cold, plain or with something swirled in, I liked it all. The addiction pash waned a few years ago, but recent encounters with good, solid cheesecakes rekindled that familiar joy and pleasure.

Ah, speckles.

What I love about this is that it’s totally customisable, depending on the ingredients you have in stock. Save for the main component of cream cheese, of course. You see, the main base is cream cheese and icing sugar, but the ‘lightening’ components are needed for lift, volume and better distribution of flavours. Now these can be altered. I state whipped coconut cream as one component, but not many people have a can of coconut milk or cream lying around, so whipped cream (or whipped topping) would work just as well. A milder flavour suits the majority, too. And the vanilla bean? Well, life doesn’t end here. Vanilla extract would work as well, but if you’re the sort who doesn’t like to compromise on taste and scent, I strongly suggest going all out, and remember that these beans will always come in handy, for instance in your sugar and in a myriad desserts.

Vanilla bean and black sesame work like a dream together. The latter component is optional, but to spoon a bit of cheesecake onto a small shard of crisp, sweet brittle? Joie de vivre. The actual process of making the brittle isn’t half as hard as it sounds. I know, words like ‘brittle’ might as well be replaced with ‘croissant lamination’ or ‘flambée’. But the only hard thing about this is waiting, and perhaps spreading the brittle into a thin enough layer before it hardens completely. On a side note, things like sesame and flax have compounds called lignans which help to regulate metabolism and weight, and that’s always a plus, right?

No-Bake Cheesecake For One With Black Sesame Brittle

Ingredients

For the cheesecake:

25g biscuits (I used Nice biscuits, but you can use graham crackers/ oreo cookies/ anything you have on hand)

10g melted butter

70g cream cheese, at room temperature

20g icing sugar (no need to sift)

1 heaping tbsp nut butter such as peanut butter or almond butter/ tahini (I used tahini)

2 tbsp whipped coconut cream/ whipped cream

the insides of half a vanilla bean or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

pinch of salt

For the black sesame brittle:

200g (1 cup) white sugar

60ml (1/4 cup) water

4 tbsp black sesame seeds

30g (2 tbsp) unsalted butter

pinch salt

Directions

If you’re using coconut cream in your cheesecake base, then start prep the night before. Take a can of coconut milk/coconut cream (the label can be either) and place in the fridge overnight. The next morning you should have a thick, firm white cream. If you’re using normal whipped cream, whip up a batch the night before and let set in the fridge so it’s more stiff the next morning when ready to use.

Place your biscuits in a small ziploc bag and zip the top tightly. Take a rolling pin and bash the biscuits until you get fine crumbs. Pour in the melted butter and incorporate well with your fingers (on the outside of the ziploc bag, of course). Pour into a small tart (should be 3-4 inches wide), or a small jar/cup, and press into an even layer with your fingers. In a medium bowl and with a metal whisk, whisk together all the ingredients listed above needed for the cheesecake.  The bowl needn’t be anything larger than medium since there’s not much volume to work with anyway (hoorah for a cheesecake all to yourself!!). Scrape the mix into your tart/jar/cup and place in the fridge to firm up. It’s ready for consumption in just 30 minutes, but you can eat it whenever.

Black sesame brittle? Easier than it sounds. I based the recipe off Joanne Chang’s Flour recipe for cacao nib brittle, and though I would have preferred a thinner, lacier texture, this still worked fine by me and the rest of my family. Grease and line a large baking sheet and set aside (the top of the baking sheet should be well greased too). In a medium saucepan, add the sugar and water. Place on high heat and let come to a hard boil. Let the mixture continue to boil for 5-8 minutes, or until you get a light brown colour. At this point, pour in the black sesame seeds and swirl pan in a circular motion to distribute, or do so gently with a wooden spoon. Let mixture continue to boil until the colour deepens to a deeper, richer amber-gold colour. Then, whisk in the butter and salt. Take off the heat and pour onto the baking sheet and spread into a thin layer with a spatula or wooden spoon. Work quickly because the mixture hardens with time. A couple of minutes later you can break the layer of black sesame brittle into shards, or pieces as big or small as you like.

Stick shards into the cheesecake and eat both components together. I like to spoon the cheesecake onto the sharp, sweet bits chockfull of black sesame seeds. YUM.

Red Velvet Cake Bars

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Truly no frills.

And way too hard to mess up, to be perfectly honest. There are a few reasons why I’m in love with this red velvet cake recipe. Why? A list seems appropriate, yes. These cake bars (or mini circular-sort cakes, if you would like, those work too) are:

  1. The most moist, fluffy and tender red velvet cake bars your lips will ever meet.
  2. Have a deeper chocolate flavour than most red velvet cake recipes
  3. Have actual melted chocolate in the batter (!!)
  4. Cream cheese frosting. That is all.
  5. Thick, creamy, vanilla bean-ified frosting.
  6. Frosting.

Red velvet has gotten quite a bit of flak recently. Most everyone has tried these dainty red cakes slathered in cream cheese frosting. However, due to its perceived nature of artificiality and lack of distinct flavour thanks to too many a sticky-topped, mass-produced factory version, people have come to believe the one true hero of the eponymous red velvet is really just that cream cheese frosting… and not much else. If I may quote someone from my favourite TV series– red velvet is a lie!

The chocolate notes have been forgotten, abandoned, and what was once known (I remember the trend hitting hard around 2-3 years ago) for unbeatable moistness and tenderness has been passed off as that unnecessary trendy thing with too much red food dye. 

With this recipe, hopes have been revived.

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I found it in my mother’s huge collection of cake recipes (quite literally a huge grey file labelled ‘CAKES’), and modified it to taste and texture. The red velvet batter has the perfect hint of chocolate, and the cream cheese frosting is rich, cram-jammed with real vanilla bean and the right amount of tang. I could go on about this cake and how easy it is, but I don’t think I need to bore you with the details. Let’s get to it, because life is short and there’s no point wasting time wasting time.

Ingredients (makes enough for 3 batches of cake bars in an 8×8-inch pan, or 3 6-inch cake layers)

For the cake bars:

120g soft, unsalted butter

330g castor sugar

300g all-purpose flour

2 eggs

50g cocoa powder

1 heaped tablespoon red gel food colouring

1 tbsp vanilla bean paste (or substitute with the same amount of vanilla extract)

50g bittersweet chocolate, chopped (preferably from a bar, but chips are fine here too) and melted in 30-second increments in a microwave

250ml buttermilk (or mix 240ml whole milk with one tablespoon of white vinegar, and leave to rest for a while before using– the mixture should be slightly curdled)

pinch of salt

2 tbsp white vinegar

1 1/2 tsp baking soda (bicarb soda)

For the cream cheese frosting (enough for the tops of 3 batches; make double this amount if you wish to frost the sides as well):

42g unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or sub with vanilla extract)

180g cream cheese, at room temperature

200g icing sugar

pinch of coarse salt

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and grease and line your cake pans, be it 8×8-inch square baking pan(s) or 3 6-inch round cake pans. Melt your chopped plain chocolate in the microwave and set aside for the time being. Take your cream cheese out from the fridge so it has time to come to room temperature. If you’re making your buttermilk (because you’re like me and can’t be bothered to run to the grocery store just to buy that packet of buttermilk), mix together the whole milk and white vinegar in a bowl and set aside as well.

In a large bowl and with an electrical whisk or Kitchenaid if you have one, beat together the softened, unsalted butter and white castor sugar. Beat until pale and fluffy, at least 30 seconds or so. Add the eggs one at a time and beat between each addition. Add the vanilla bean paste at this point, and then sieve in the cocoa powder. When sieving, I find it handy to place your bowl on a weighing scale and then sieving in the cocoa powder until you reach the 50g mark. Beat the vanilla bean paste, cocoa powder and your melted chocolate on a low speed until it’s all combined. You should have a thick, sticky, dark batter.

At this point, add your red gel food colouring. I used a heaped tablespoon, but you may want more or less depending on colour preference. Start with a teaspoonful of food colouring and then work from there. I find that a heaped tablespoon (I used a ‘Christmas Red’ hue) does the trick, producing a rich, deep, carnation red, nothing too pink or too dark.

In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and half a teaspoon (it’s part of the amount stated in the ingredients list above) of fine salt. This is the dry mix. Add half of this to the chocolate-butter mix you just put together, then add half of the buttermilk. Beat on low speed briefly, then add the rest of the flour and the rest of the buttermilk. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides and make sure all the batter is evenly mixed, folding from the bottom  and coming up through the sides and middle.

Now for the kinda magical bit, and what gives the batter a final kick and ridiculous level of moisture! In a small saucer, mix together the remaining 1 tsp of baking (bicarb) soda and 2 tsp of white vinegar. The mixture will fizz up. Immediately tip it into the batter and mix in thoroughly with a wooden spoon.

Pour the batter into your cake pans and bake in the preheated oven for 20-22 minutes. If you’re using 6-inch cake pans, check at the 20-minute mark– insert a wooden skewer into the middle of the cakes; if they emerge with wet red batter then bake for 5 more minutes. With an 8×8-inch cake pan, these will be done by 20 minutes, but every oven is different, and they may take 2 minutes more or less.

While the cakes are baking, make the cream cheese frosting. In a large bowl and with an electrical whisk, beat together your soft, unsalted butter and cream cheese. Then, beat in the vanilla bean paste, icing sugar and salt.

Once the cakes are baked, leave to cool on cooling racks for at least half an hour before removing from the pans and cutting off the tops (the cutting off part is unnecessary if you’re baking these in an 8×8-inch cake pan). If you’re using the square baking pan, spread on the cream cheese frosting, then cut into bars. If you are using 3 6-inch cake pans, spread on a large dollop of cream cheese frosting on one layer, then stack with the second layer, and repeat. If you’re making a cake this way and you’re done with the last layer, immediately let the cake set in the fridge, for the cream cheese frosting will start to melt all over the place otherwise. With the amounts stated above, I could make a stacked 2-tier cake and one 8×8-inch square cake (with lots of leftover cake from the tops!). These cakes can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week.

Tender is the crumb.

Pineapple Condensed Milk Loaf Cake

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If there’s one thing you make this week, make it this.

A fluffy pineapple condensed milk loaf cake, studded with fine bits of pineapple, topped with fresh pineapple slices and a lemon-pineapple glaze. 

Sometimes my ideas are like branches with dead ends and no coherence. Since this blog is all about delicious, easy bakes, I didn’t want to throw random curveballs, but I didn’t want to overestimate the charms of conformity either. Basic, but not too basic. A degree of subtle complexity, and certainly no plain jane taste.

Scavenging the kitchen left me with some leftover pineapple from last night’s dessert and, well, not much else. Pineapple loaf cake has been done before, upside-down variations galore, and my finding of condensed milk in the fridge led to this mild twist. I must say it was fun to play around with the ratios; it turned out to be the perfect balance of sweet from the condensed milk and tangy from the use of both fresh pineapple and pineapple juice. Here, there’s not much flamboyance, and hardly any finesse. Funnily enough, it’s exactly this lack of properness that provides the right amount of charm.

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{Above: served warm with lemon curd, a drizzle of condensed milk, and coconut chips}

It’s messy, sticky, glorious. A little of the juice from the fresh pineapple layered on top mixes with the lemon-pineapple glaze, and together with the fresh pineapple both on and inside the cake, forms the perfect topping to the fluffy cake base. And goodness is this fluffy. Fork work is no work. The condensed milk, other than its more unorthodox flavour in the cake, provides a satiating density without weighing anything down. Tender is the night crumb.

Ingredients

For the cake:

175g cake flour (or substitute with the same amount of all-purpose and add 2 extra tablespoons, and be sure to whisk the dry mix all the more thoroughly later)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

large pinch fine salt

115g white sugar

110g (around a stick) soft, unsalted butter

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

150g fresh pineapple, cut into even chunks, around 1cm thick

60ml (1/4 cup) condensed milk

60ml (1/4 cup) pineapple juice (freshly squeezed, or you can buy those cans which state ‘100% pineapple juice’), or substitute with 30ml lemon juice and 30ml water

freshly squeezed juice of one lemon

For the lemon-pineapple glaze:

75g icing sugar

juice of half a lemon (the remaining lemon juice)

1 tsp pineapple juice, or substitute with more lemon juice

Directions

Preheat your oven to 177C (350F) and grease a 9×5-inch loaf tin. Separate your pineapple chunks into two clumps– one that’s 100g (to place at the bottom of your pan) and another that’s 50g. Finely chop this latter clump into small pieces. Sprinkle some white sugar on the bottom of your greased loaf tin, then place the chunks (100g in total; refer to picture above) of pineapple at the bottom. Set aside your loaf tin.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and white sugar for at least 30 seconds. Beat in the egg, vanilla extract and condensed milk. In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. To the butter-sugar mix, add half of the flour mix, then half of the pineapple juice. Use a wooden spoon to mix everything in briefly (streaks of flour are fine), then add the rest of the flour, remaining pineapple juice, half of the lemon juice, and the finely chopped pineapple. Mix everything together until just combined. The mixture should be yellow-ivory with a thick dropping consistency.

Tip batter into the loaf tin and bake for 40-45 minutes; mine took 42. Insert a wooden skewer into the middle of your loaf at the 40-minute mark– leave it for another couple of minutes if the skewer emerges wet and sticky, but take it out if it comes out dry. A few moist crumbs at the tip are fine, for the pineapple chunks at the bottom make it stickier and wetter than the other parts of the cake. While the cake bakes, make the glaze. In a bowl and with a fork or spoon, mix together the lemon juice, pineapple juice (or more lemon juice) and icing sugar. Play around here; you should have an opaque, white glaze. It should easily run when you hold the spoon at a height, but the stream would become reluctant once it starts thinning.

After removing the tin from the oven, leave the cake to cool on a cooling rack for an hour or so before removing. To remove, wear heatproof gloves and tip out your loaf cake, setting it down on your counter the way you put it in the oven (pineapple side down). Using a serrated knife, cut off the top of the cake, so both the top and bottom are flat (tip: the bits you cut off are wonderful, crusty and perfect with marmalade and tea). Flip the loaf cake so the pineapple side is on the top this time. Drizzle with the lemon-pineapple glaze.

Serve warm with lemon curd and more condensed milk. Store the rest in an airtight container and place in the fridge for up to a week.

Avocado Yin Yang Mousse

Black and white. OK, green and white. It’s balance, it’s harmony, it’s almost meant to be.

I’m all for avocado and all the variations it can take on. This will be a short one, because I’m aching to get the directions out; it’s ridiculously easy and delicious. Plop everything into your blender or food processor and you’re in the groove. Chocolate avocado mousse has been done before, aka the wholesome take on a classic chocolate pudding. Look, I love the green stuff, but I still think a good chocolate pudding deserves to be just that– sinfully chocolatey, donned in cream and your normal sugar. But wait! Let’s think thick, rich, glorious breakfast toast spreads here. Maybe a snack, or something along those lines. With dark chocolate done, why not experiment with white? This one here incorporates both dark and white chocolate, with a few different ingredients thrown in here and there to enhance the chocolate theme, simultaneously complementing the natural richness and creaminess of avocado.

I was pleasantly surprised by the texture of the white chocolate variant in particular. The incorporation of the special ingredient –tahini– is what made it lush, thick and deliciously spreadable. No graininess, nothing. Just ease. Smoothness, a slight hint of salt, the childlike sweetness from melted white chocolate. That’s what I love about white chocolate. It appears to lack dimension and sophistication, but it’s the perfect medium for so many other things.

Avocado Yin Yang Mousse

Ingredients

For the dark chocolate take:

half an avocado

2 tbsp cocoa/cacao powder

1 tbsp honey/ maple syrup

1 tsp milk of choice

pinch salt

For the white chocolate take:

half an avocado

30g white chocolate, melted in the microwave

2 tbsp milk of choice

1 tbsp tahini (optional, but highly, highly recommended)

pinch salt

Directions

Blend the ingredients for the respective versions together in a food processor or blender. If you wish to make both (of course!), start with the white chocolate take first so that you won’t have to wash out your blender or processor after dealing with the cocoa/cacao powder. Spread on toast or eat on its own, maybe with a couple of dark chocolate truffles, mmm. This will keep for a week in the fridge.

Strawberry Chocolate Vanilla Bean Baked Doughnuts

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Somewhere in between rubbing fragrant vanilla bean into sugar and popping these guys into the oven, I found myself at the beck and call of Strawberry.

Out they came, and my heart was singing. A subtle burst of tang. Gooey bursts of warm chocolate dispersed throughout the batter, little nuggets of treasure. Plump, light-as-air cakey batter to encase everything. Two bowls, whisk, an oven, done.

I was skeptical at first. Initial thoughts gravitated to classic vanilla bean with a more exotic fruity frosting, or chocolate whatnots. Some people don’t like the combination of berry and chocolate, and I get it, but I just couldn’t help myself when I saw fresh, fat strawberries sitting, beckoning in the fridge, round-butted, the promise of sweet juice pulsating under firm and uneven flesh. I thought of strawberries dipped in melted chocolate, and couldn’t get the theme out of my head. So after my good daily dose of reading and writing, I jumped up and got to work. It had to work. And I’m glad it did.

You could say the addition of vanilla bean is pompous, but goodness does it add a whole new dimension of flavour and (slight) grandeur to the whole thing. The speckles are endearing, no? It’s exotic, it’s fearless. Each little doughnut is jam-packed with bits and bobs of strawberry and chocolate, so every bite is a great deal of wonder, a different experience, a slight surprise. In between, you can savour a dandy cake-like medium, the vehicle for all those pockets of tang and sweet. A standard batter so silent and unassuming it almost feels guilt-free.

What’s a doughnut without the glaze.

The magic lies in the incorporation of puréed strawberries, without which this recipe just wouldn’t be the same. J’adore. Pink isn’t my favourite colour, and never will be, but the muted tangy notes elevate this from airy-fairy to plain wicked. Despite my not being accustomed to having real chopped fruit in a doughnut glaze, or any topping for any baked good in general, the whole experience made me realise what a difference the real deal makes.

There’s something about a simple doughnut, enjoyed alone at home or at a coffee shop with a large cup of black coffee, which makes a breakfast get-up or solitary pondering session all the more sensual. It’s homey, and pretty bad, but pretty good.

Strawberry Chocolate Vanilla Bean Baked Doughnuts (makes 16)

Ingredients

For the doughnuts:

265g (slightly less than 2 cups) all-purpose flour

170g (3/4 cup) white castor sugar

1 vanilla bean

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

60g melted, unsalted butter

180ml (3/4 cup) buttermilk, or take a tablespoonful of white vinegar and place it in the bottom of your measuring cup before filling it up to the 180ml-mark with whole milk

70g chopped dark chocolate

2 eggs

170g (1 cup) finely chopped strawberries

For the glaze:

60g (1/3 cup) strawberries, washed and finely chopped

230g icing sugar

pinch salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 180C (350F) and butter doughnut pans with melted butter. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, chopped chocolate and salt. In a separate, slightly smaller bowl, pour in your sugar. Take a sharp knife and run it firmly down the middle of the vanilla bean, then scrape out the insides. Dump the clumps of black into the sugar. With your fingertips, rub the vanilla bean into the sugar, so most of it is evenly incorporated into the white mass. Tip the vanilla and sugar mix into the bowl with the rest of the dry ingredients and whisk everything together well, for at least 30 seconds or so.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk (or milk and vinegar mix) and melted butter. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and mix everything together slowly with a wooden spoon until just combined. The batter should be a little lumpy and slightly thick. Not in the least bit liquidy. Pat your chopped strawberries with a dry paper towel just to remove excess moisture, then stir them into the mix. Using 2 tablespoons, dollop the doughnut batter into the greased doughnut pan(s) (I only have one so I did this in batches). Bake in the preheated oven for 15-16 minutes.

While they are baking, make the glaze- no electrical beaters needed!!

Purée the chopped strawberries in a blender, or you could microwave them and then mash with a fork. Put the strawberries into a large bowl, then using a tablespoon, remove any extra liquid that seeped out. It won’t be much, and you need not remove all of the extra juice. Add half of the icing sugar first and the salt, and mix together with the same tablespoon until you get a wet, dark pink mixture. Add the rest of the icing sugar and continue to mix until you achieve a thick, spreadable consistency.

Once the doughnuts are baked, leave to cool in the pan on a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before turning them out. Once fully cool (around another 15 minutes later), dip the tops of the doughnuts into the strawberry glaze, then let them rest on the cooling rack again. Store the doughnuts in the fridge, because the glaze doesn’t sit too well in a warm environment.

Pink kinda pleasure.