Isn’t it incredible how a smell can transport you back to a place and time far easier than a photograph can? How the whiff of someone’s perfume, or browning garlic, or freshly cut grass causes often causes a flood of memories and emotions? I know now that for the rest of my days, the intoxicating scent of orange blossoms will always take me back to the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.
I believe I mentioned before how enchanting Turkey was, and surprising on so many levels. One thing that really struck me was the abundance of fresh produce from the obviously fertile landscape that surrounded the area we were traveling through. Banana plantations stretched from the turquoise sea up through the rolling hills of Antalya. The orange groves took over from there, topping blankets of chamomile draped across the fresh, spring earth. Herbs and grasses pulsed with fragrance under the persistent sun and the air was full of life.
This cake was actually the recipe I started writing about even before returning home to Denmark. All amazing aubergines aside, Orange Blossom Sesame Cake is the one dessert that truly captured the essence of my experience in Turkey. The reason it appears before you now is because it took three rounds of experiments to get the thing right! I am not a baker whatsoever, but I’d like to think that I possess enough instinct to hit the nail on the head it most of the time. Ha. My pride and presumptuouness got the better of me this time. I eventually looked to the internet for guidance. Thank you, fellow food bloggers.
Sesame and Tahini – These are a few of my favorite things
My husband and I have a little joke going that if I ever left him, it would be for a jar of tahini. Sad, but (nearly) true. Luckily my marriage allows me to enjoy the best of both worlds – my main man and my tahini boyfriend on the side. I am sure I’ve canonized the stuff quite enough here on the blog, but since I’ve never delved into details about tahini, I think this opportunity is a perfect one.
Tahini is simply a paste made from ground sesame seeds. There are several types out there however, ranging in colour, texture, flavour and of course processing techniques. The traditional Middle Eastern versions tend to be on the lighter and more liquid side of the scale, where I’ve noticed that “western” versions are darker, thicker and taste richer. The reason for this is usually because traditional tahini is made from hulled sesame seeds, meaning that the outer bran has been removed. Certain types of tahini then, cannot be considered a whole food because part of the original food is missing. When the bran is removed from the sesame seed much like when the bran is removed from a wholegrain, a great deal of the nutrition, and the cofactors needed for complete digestion, are lost. In the case of sesame seeds, we’re talking fiber, calcium, zinc, iron, and phosphorus taking a serious hit, and don’t we want those things? Indeed we do.
Next time you’re at the shop, make sure to read the label of the tahini and purchase the type that is made from unhulled sesame seeds. Sometimes this sort of tahini will be sold under the name “sesame butter” indicating that is in fact different from regular tahini. But again, check the label to be certain – some sesame butters may also use hulled sesame seeds.
Of course the same rule applies for buying sesame seeds. Always purchase the unhulled type to make sure you are getting a whole food and the most nutrition. Unhulled sesame seeds are darker and vary in colour more than their hulled counterparts, which tend to be a uniform creamy white.
And since we’re on the subject, you might be asking yourself whether raw tahini is better than roasted. It may surprise you to discover that the roasted sesame version is easier to digest than the raw type. If you are purchasing raw sesame butter or tahini, check to see if the processing included soaking and dehydrating the seeds before grinding. This crucial soaking step unlocks the enzyme inhibitors, which would otherwise make it difficult for us to digest all the good stuff inside the seeds. And the dehydrating step is essential to preserving the sprouted goodness, otherwise the tahini wouldn’t even make it on to the store shelves before turning rancid. Raw sesame butter that is just ground sesame seeds can cost a lot more money, but fail to deliver the nutrition, and give you a really bad case of indigestion to boot! If you read back to my post about soaking nuts, you’ll get the full story.
The creation process for all of my recipes starts with a spark of inspiration that can come from anywhere – a brightly coloured tomato on the vine, a story from a friend, a photograph in a magazine, or a day walking in the forest. What I always try to do however, is encapsulate some kind of experience and push it as far as it will go. The Orange Blossom Sesame Cake is a perfect example of that, as I tried to weave in as many elements from my Turkish travels as possible. The amazing thing is, all the elements come together beautifully almost as if a greater force was at work through the inspiration process, and all I have to do is trust.
The highlights of my trip have now turned into the most recent highlight from my oven. The cake’s orange blossom water and oranges were inspired of course, by the miles and miles of citrus groves we passed (and one I actually got to indulge in); the sesame seeds that I bought from a little granny selling produce from her garden; the honey from the countless hives we saw; and the pistachios that I enjoyed in many pieces of baklava. So really, this is an orange-blossom-sesame-tahini-honey-pistachio cake, but that title wouldn’t fit on the header.
Because we’re using tahini in this cake, it doesn’t need any eggs, dairy or added oil. It is happily vegan and a great dessert to try out if you’re skeptical about baking without animal products because it is rich and moist and deeply nutty. The gorgeous “ribbon” of sesame seeds in the middle was a last minute thought, but made all the difference – a great alternative to icing that would certainly overwhelm the delicate flavours.
You can find orange blossom water at many grocery stores, and most certainly specialty shops and Middle Eastern grocers. This ingredient is what makes this cake special from other desserts because of its pungent scent that imparts a floral kiss to the crumb. I should advise you to use only modest amounts of this potent liquid however, otherwise whatever you add it to can end up tasting like some kind of bizarre-o cleaning product. Its luscious scent will undoubtedly encourage you to pouring it onto and into all your favorite dishes, but I warn you, moderation is definitely the key. You’re after a whisper here, not a wail.
Orange Blossom Sesame Cake (adapted from this recipe)
2 ¼ cups (320g) light spelt flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. sea salt
¾ cup (180 ml) tahini (from unhulled sesame seeds/sesame butter)
1 ¼ cup (300ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
1-2 tsp. orange blossom water (optional)
½ cup coconut palm sugar
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup (50g) unhulled sesame seeds
2/3 cup (100g) raw, unsalted, un-dyed pistachios
¼ cup good quality honey
1 Tbsp. water
1/2 tsp. orange blossom water
1. Begin by toasting the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium-high until they are fragrant. Remove from skillet to cool. Follow the same procedure with the pistachio nuts. Set aside.
2. Prepare a 9” (22cm) spring form baking pan with a little coconut oil. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
3. Sift together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
4. Zest one of the oranges, and juice the rest (4-6 oranges).
5. Place the tahini in a large mixing bowl, add the zest and pour in the orange juice while whisking. Add the orange blossom water and sugar, and whisk until smooth (at least one minute). Add in the dry ingredients in thirds, and fold to incorporate. Then add the apple cider vinegar and stir quickly to incorporate (this reacts with the baking soda and puts air into the cake).
6. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan, smooth out, then sprinkle with the sesame seeds completely covering the batter. Add the remaining batter on top. Place in the oven for 30-40 minutes until golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 10-15 minutes before removing from pan.
7. While the cake is baking, put all the syrup ingredients together in a small saucepan on the stove. Warm up on very low heat and stir often (do not let it boil). Once the syrup is well combined, remove from heat until ready to use.
8. Roughly chop pistachio nuts.
9. Once you have removed the cake from the pan, slice off the uneven top of the cake so that when you invert it, you’ll have an even bottom.
10. With the bottom of the cake now facing up, poke several holes in the top with a skewer. Cover the cake top with the pistachio nuts and pour the warm syrup over top. Slice and serve.
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