Tahini Espresso Cheesecake Pie

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Layers. That’s what was about the past week. Even if it did just mean reminiscing the gone, the forsaken, or somehow lost, there was a patter of layering, of some serendipity and will, that saw me through, and maybe saw so many through. In life there are inevitably some circumstances, not necessarily life-threatening, but still make for confusion, like how cutting my carrots much nearer the heads would mean pounds of carrots saved a year, or how there’s still this sad idea that gluten is bad for you because it creates gut permeability and thus allows for the infiltration of foreign substances and consequent inflammation, despite no hard scientific backing for this or the real relevance for us always-evolving-and-adapting human beings (perhaps you watched Clean EatingThe Dirty Truth as well, and know exactly what I’m talking about).

There is always a tussle between loving reading about nutrition and creating things like this double-layered cheesecake, but that’s still what this blog will always be about– a joyous acceptance of conflict, this trust, that forms the greatest relief in this world of unknowing, guessing and playing.

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It’s a double-layered cheesecake. On the one hand that’s just it. On the other it’s got tahini weaved into its dense, firm, cheesy body, and the richest bottom layer of espresso, and I mean rich. To the point where you’re pretty grateful for the top, more normal bit, which still doesn’t scream total normalcy because of the tahini, the rich sesame paste doing much to enliven your normal dessert with a Mediterranean touch. I’m always constantly inspired by this young lady as well, who effortlessly incorporates such interesting flavours into her exotic new combinations and twists on classics!

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Espresso literally takes the cake here, and the process itself is quite the cakewalk, if I do say so myself.

An easily put-together crust, a potent layer of espresso, a little of that aforementioned normalcy for the second layer, optionally topped with gingernut biscuits to enhance the spice and flavour in the body. Each bite is a two-toned wonder, nothing too magnificent, but still boasts so much to enjoy.

The fact that this is a cheesecake pie ups the game a little, because it’s an excuse to not have all the sides perfectly covered with crust, there’s a lesser filling volume requirement, and both layers can be seen from top-down already, and I don’t know about you, but that made me all the more excited to tuck in when the time came.

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Tahini Espresso Cheesecake Pie (makes one 9-inch pie)

Ingredients

For the crust:

170g plain flour

20g sugar

pinch salt

85g unsalted butter (sub: vegan butter)

1 egg (sub: 1 flax egg, made by mixing 1 tbsp flax with 2 tbsp water and letting rest for 5 minutes on the counter)

 

For the filling:

405g cream cheese (sub: vegan cream cheese or tofu! Yes, try it and tell me how it goes, because I imagine it would be quite something, and very texturally pleasing)

100g confectioner’s (icing) sugar

half tsp vanilla extract

4 tbsp light tahini

2 tbsp coffee concentrate or extract

optional toppings: melted chocolate, tahini, coffee shortbread or gingernut biscuits

Directions

Preheat oven to 200C (400F) and prepare your cheesecake tin, preferably with a removable bottom.

Mix ingredients for the crust, then press into the bottom using your fingers or the bottom of a cup. Bake this for 15 minutes, then remove to let cool for a while. While it’s baking, make the filling.

To do so, mix together all ingredients for the filling except for the coffee concentrate or extract using a fork, in a large bowl. Split the mix in half, roughly or by weight, and add the coffee concentrate/extract to one. Mix well, then spread this half on top of the crust. Dollop the lighter layer on top and carefully spread that around, leaving a little border around the edges.

Slice and serve! Feel free to top with melted chocolate, more tahini, and some gingernut biscuits for crunch.

Pumpkin Ginger-Spiced French Toast Roll-ups with Cinnamon Tahini Fondue

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This cinnamon tahini fondue is very everything. When I woke up that morning, there was a funny pain at the base of my stomach, and that’s never a good thing, but I still knew my weekly french toast get-up was much needed, for better or for worse. There are times during the day, usually alone, with a bit of quiet, or during deep conversation with someone who’s on the same page as you, that one can calmly address all negative emotions, accept them, then pass them to the air.

Feeling wild writing this, yet calm. It’s my last day of being 19, and who knew a year could’ve changed me so much in all facets. Just a year ago I was on a boat with other freshmen pondering the excitement of living near Hyde Park, and now here I am, still alive, still a student, still eating the same plates of french toast. I am truly grateful for the close friends who stuck by me and who I can always count on, my family, and stuff to learn and discover every day. Now I find I need so much less to be happy– dining in the dark with an old friend, a fresh bath and timely wake, fresh roasted vegetables, the hug of tea in the cold, brisk air, working alone. Nope, nothing more.

Of course there was no more appropriate way to spend the morning than with my favourite breakfast. Opened the pantry and of course there was no bread. But. Found a fair bit of Lebanese flat bread given so kindly to me by a friend (Lavash I should think?), so I made do with that, and goodness was that good. Though it had gone a bit stale as I intended to make each pillowy bit of fragrance last as long as possible, dipping it in my pumpkin french toast batter and then frying it gave it a renewed warmth, tenderness, life.

I came up with the idea for this cinnamon tahini fondue whilst trying to think of something other than good old coconut almond butter for my porridge topping, and I know nothing comes quite as close as the stuff, but with a new pot of tahini, something had to be done, and tahini naked wouldn’t have been embracing that morning creative jolt It’s an uncomplicated mix of tahini, cinnamon, applesauce and yoghurt, along with some of the pumpkin french toast batter. The weirdness of that mix overshadows its majesty.

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Pumpkin Ginger-Spiced French Toast Roll-ups with Cinnamon Tahini Fondue

Ingredients

1 large flatbread (lavash), tortilla or crepe (alternatively, use normal bread slices)

 

For the pumpkin french toast batter:

2 heaping tbsp pumpkin purée

50ml milk of choice (I always use almond)

1 tsp fresh grated ginger (or ground)

1 tbsp sweetener of choice (agave syrup/date syrup/honey/blackstrap molasses)

pinch of salt

pat of vegan butter (or normal butter) for the pan

 

For the cinnamon tahini fondue:

1 tsp pumpkin purée

3 tbsp tahini

a heavy hand (around 1 tsp) of ground cinnamon

1 tsp sweetener of choice (refer to choices above)

 

Directions

If using flatbread, tear so that the pillow punctured and you get two thin ‘slices’ per bit of bread. You can use any other bread, but for the rollup effect, make sure to roll them out pretty tin and flat so you can squish them into the rolled shape you want afterwards.

Whisk together the ingredients for the pumpkin french toast batter and heat your pan on medium heat. Add a pat of butter to the pan and wait to hear a sizzle. Once hot, dip your slices into the pumpkin batter for 5-6 seconds on each side (you don’t need much time if you’re using a crepe or flat bread because they are so thin), then place gently in pan. Wait 20 seconds or so to cook, then flip and wait another 10-15 seconds.

Mix together the ingredients for the cinnamon tahini fondue, and serve the hot french toast rollups with that, together with some berries, perhaps some whipped (vegan) cream and more sweetener of your choice.

Condensed milk Tahini Flapjacks

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The past weekend was one of the best that could’ve possibly been. The late Saturday afternoon welcomed a trip to Borough Market, undoubtedly one of my favourite places in one of my favourite cities. It’s here that I came across ‘flaxjacks’ by Flax Farm, a specialty flapjack store that uses cold-pressed linseed (flax) and linseed oil to add more bang for your buck. As I savoured their bestseller (apricot, orange and pumpkin seed), I realised not once have I tried making this classic, stereotypically English treat. With a new stock of ingredients haphazardly put together, the task had to be completed.

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Just a week into school has gifted the worth of baking once more; each bout of newness allowing ingress of a more meditative mode. All very complementary. Though I’m not used to making or eating flapjacks, I adore its solemn simplicity, both in character and assembly. It’s all just a matter of mixing together the traditional group of ingredients: rolled oats, golden syrup, butter and brown sugar. I changed the ingredients and proportion of this make-up, replacing most of the glucose bits with condensed milk, tahini, and, yes, golden syrup for good measure. Jam is then blobbed on top, which melts a little into the jacks and prove a firm, jammy consistency after baking.

Gooey tops slathered in the familiar milky sweetness of condensed milk, hard, well-cooked bottoms. I like the crunch of an edge and a little bit of snap when it comes to anything oat bar-y, and this recipe really did the trick with that. If you’re into less hard bars, simply bake them for a little while less.

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Condensed milk Tahini Flapjacks (makes 16 rectangular bars)

Ingredients

200g butter

pinch of salt

90g condensed milk

20g golden syrup

5 tbsp brown sugar

200g porridge/rolled oats

120g cereal of choice (I used cornflakes, crushed briefly before addition)

4 tbsp tahini

7-9 tbsp raspberry jam

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180c and briefly butter a 8×8 or 9×9-inch pan. Line your pan with some parchment, if you wish. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the salt, sugar, condensed milk and stir over the heat for a couple of minutes. Take the pan off the heat and mix in the oats, cereal and tahini with a wooden spoon. Press this mix into your pan to form an even layer. Dollop the jam however which way you want on your flapjacks; I did it in a 3×3 fashion. Bake the bars in your preheated oven for 35 minutes. Check them at the half-hour mark– if they are golden-brown on top, take them out. The bars may be soft to touch, but will harden as you let them cool on the counter. After letting them cool for 10 minutes, drizzle with more condensed milk and tahini, add some sliced almonds (optional, I added them for textural variety), and cut into bars. These are best eaten the same day, but can be stored at room temperature or the fridge for up to a week.

 

Tahini Blueberry Muffins

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I know the words tahini and blueberry make this sound pretty much holy, but the taste of these muffins are as lascivious as muffins can get. Not that muffins are meant to be lascivious or anything– they’re always taken as the granny-pants-boring stuff; the complete opposite. I abhor incorrect grammar and the use of words like lascivious in inappropriate contexts, but the fluff on this thing, flavours and textures made me think of that very word, so that they shall be. These muffins are so good, so simple, so delicious (and sexy).

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I think spontaneous, successful experiments call for celebration. It almost feels like a good replacement for the lack of dirty hands-on lab practicals the past week, though I’m eternally grateful for that one incredibly eye-opening introduction to anatomy dissections. As I peered under each vertebrate (cervical, thoracic, lumbar and coccygeal), fiddled with the moist muscle (sorry for the unappealing alliteration right there) and poked and prodded at the nerves and meningeal layers, I witnessed the magic that is the human form. I crave more of it now. There’s something grossly satisfying in touching something which you know is all you, and at the same time, everyone else. It’s universal, it’s each of us, it’s everyone.

The hands-on itch was a bit delayed– got home and had the blinding urge to experiment and yield results. Delicious results And seeing that I was visiting my fellow foodies Emily and Ella that night (!!), to make something not akin to your typical baked product felt quite appropriate. With lots of tahini and blueberries on hand, these babes were born.

I’ve recently been reading up a lot on our attitudes towards food, health and nutrition, and even with all the information and resources around us, am still boggled by the fact that so many of us are tricked into what I call ‘fake healthy’ eating. Different things may work for different people, but ultimately even the whole notion of ‘striving for balance’ proves to be an inherent problem. We all possess different gut flora, different sets of genes, different intolerances– how are we to rely on anything we hear, see and touch? Is the market trustworthy, justifiable? Diet. Oh, that contentious word.

Yes, it’s good to experiment and see what works for you (no meat, no eggs, etc), but I think it’s high time we stop believing everything we hear, and start listening to our bodies. I know, that phrase is so repeated it’s practically proverbial. And yet, it’s the one thing we must always remember. Chowing down on that Special K and sugary yoghurt isn’t a crime, but advertising betrays the truth, and unless your reward circuitry systems are truly messed up, there’s no saving anyone. All that sugar is practically like lifting up your shirt sleeve and injecting cocaine. So as much as I love sugar, sugar and more sugar, I’ve also become keenly aware on what’s right, and what’s just downright harmful (basically excessive consumption).

These muffins aren’t 100% healthy, but I’m ok with that, and you should be, too.

Because it’s a bloody muffin, guys.

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Tahini Blueberry Muffins (makes 6 large muffins, lightly adapted from my nut-butter-stuffed matcha cupcake recipe)

Ingredients

130g (1 cup) plain flour

70g (1/3 cup) white sugar

75g (1/3 cup) packed dark brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

pinch salt

2 eggs

113g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

80ml (1/3 cup) tahini

1 tsp vanilla extract

50g (1/2 cup) fresh blueberries

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 170C (340F) and line a muffin tin with liners, or simply place some cupcake/muffin liners on a baking tray.

In a medium bowl, briefly whisk together the flour, two leavening agents and salt. Dump in your blueberries and lightly toss to coat in flour.

In another large microwave-safe bowl, microwave your butter for 20 seconds until partially melted. Whisk the butter and two sugars in this bowl (quick creaming method) to aerate the mixture slightly, for at least a minute. Add the 2 eggs, vanilla and tahini, and whisk everything together well. Pour the dry mix into the wet mix, and use a wooden spoon or spatula to gently fold in the dry mix until everything is just combined.

Spoon the batter into 6 muffin liners, and bake in the preheated oven for 25-28 minutes. The muffins are large ones, so they need time to rise and brown. Check them at the 25-minute mark– a wooden skewer inserted right in the middle should come out clean. They should have a medium brown, almost caramelised and slightly domed top. You might even need a whole half hour. The insides will be fluffy and tender.

These muffins are best served the day they’re made, but you can keep them for an extra 1-2 days in an airtight container. Otherwise, freeze any uneaten ones in the freezer and microwave when the mood hits.

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.