Monday, April 21, 2014

Black Sesame + Dark Milk Chocolate Chip Ice Cream


Several years ago, at a gathering for a publication that I wrote for, I struck up a conversation with another writer. The topic turned to ice cream. I told her that I'd just finished making maple bourbon pecan, and she told me that she had developed a perfect recipe for black sesame. "The secret," she said, "is grinding the sesame seeds first." I nodded and tried to look impressed, but the truth was, I didn't even know that black sesame ice cream was a thing. I tried to imagine how it would taste, but I couldn't. From her tone, it sounded difficult to make.


I spent the next two years kicking myself for not requesting the recipe, or even getting the woman's contact information. Meanwhile, pretty pictures of the stuff taunted me all over the internet. But black sesame ice cream remained nonexistent in my local stores and ice cream shops. And I remained too lazy to make any.


But a few weeks ago, my black sesame dreams began coming true. My friend Amelia and I were shopping for dinner ingredients at a natural foods store near her home in San Mateo when we found a carton of local, organic black sesame ice cream from Tara's. We snapped it up. 


Ice cream is never better than when you've arrived home from the grocery store, hungry and tired, to crack open the carton and scrape off and devour the melty top layer. (The one exception is when you've made the ice cream yourself and you're standing over the sink, licking the dasher, hoping that none of your neighbors can see you through the window.) One mouthful of that toasty, charcoal-grey goodness, and it was love at first bite. My mere curiosity peaked to obsession. I needed more.


The following week, Amelia and I found more black sesame dessert love at Namu Gaji, a Korean restaurant in San Francisco with which we are quite obsessed. Their black sesame pudding came in a mason jar topped with chocolate ganache and whipped cream. The combination of chocolate softened with cream against roasty sesame custard was perfection. So I dreamed up a black sesame ice cream studded with flecks of chocolate.


Most recipes that I found called for black sesame paste, an ingredient most commonly found at Japanese and Chinese markets. This product is different from tahini in that the seeds are roasted prior to being ground. Some ice cream recipes additionally ask for black food coloring to create an even darker color. But I remembered the words of my writer friend, and decided to try making mine from scratch. I based the recipe on my preferred ice cream base which has a good balance of fat, eggs, and sugar. I tweaked the ratio of milk to cream in order to compensate for the richness of the sesame, and I increased the sugar a bit since sesame has a hint of bitterness.

Love my Kitchen Aid stand mixer ice cream maker attachment

I roasted a ton of black sesame seeds in a skillet until I could hear them crackle. I let them cool, then ground them to a paste in my food processor. This took a good few minutes of grinding and scraping down the sides of the bowl. The paste tasted so strong, I feared I had burnt the seeds and the ice cream would be ruined. But I steeped the paste with sugar, milk, vanilla bean, and a touch of salt before whisking the mixture into egg yolks and cooking the mixture to a custard. The hot custard gets poured into cold cream, which stops the cooking and cools the mixture – no tricksy ice baths necessary.


I tried straining the mixture at first, thinking that would make it extra smooth, but this filtered out too much black sesame goodness; in the end I left the mixture as it was. It still tastes perfectly creamy on the palate.


For my first batch, I spun the ice cream and scribbled it with bittersweet chocolate that had a 70% cacao mass. I have David Lebovitz to thank for introducing me to the scribble method, which is not only fun, but it incorporates the chocolate in tiny shards that become one with the ice cream in a way that simply stirring in chocolate chunks doesn't.


The combination of bittersweet chocolate and black sesame was a happy one, but I noticed that after a few bites, the chocolate began to take over and hide the gorgeous flavor of the sesame seeds, which just wouldn't do. Trading the bittersweet for dark milk chocolate provided the perfect solution; the milder flavor of the dark milk chocolate allowed the sesame to be the star, and its softer texture melted more quickly on the tongue, even a tongue cold from eating ice cream. Dark milk chocolate has a cacao mass of around 40% (as opposed to the super-sweet 10% of commercial milk chocolates). It still has the deep chocolate notes of semi- or bittersweet, but powdered milk and a bit more sugar round out these notes, bringing out the chocolate's fruity qualities and tempering its bitterness. I'm particularly fond of my neighbor Michael Recchiuti's Dark Milk Bar, (and while you're at it, try his restaurant in the Dogpatch), but Scharffen Berger and Tcho also make excellent dark milk chocolates.


When Jay first saw me toasting a skillet full of black sesame seeds and asked after my plans, he gave me quizzical look when I answered, "Black sesame ice cream." I'm sure this was similar to my own expression at that writer's meeting years ago. On his first taste, though, his eyes opened wide and he said, "It tastes just like a Reese's peanut butter cup." I get what he means – the ice cream has the same addictive toasty/nutty/chocolaty thing going on, only in a more exotic, subtle way. It manages to taste familiar and completely new at the same time. Its charcoal-grey coloring adds to my fascination with the stuff. I would happily eat it for the rest of my life. And I'm no longer the only black sesame ice cream addict in the house. When I told Jay that I was writing up this post his words were, "You mean, the best ice cream in the world."


Now when I go to parties, I'll be the weirdo saying proudly to perplexed strangers, "I've discovered the secret to making black sesame ice cream..."



Black Sesame + Dark Milk Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

I love love love my Kitchen Aid ice cream maker attachment, pictured above. It goes in the freezer for 24 hours, then the bowl and dasher (which "stirs" the ice cream) go right onto the stand mixer. Turn it on low, and it churns the ice cream in about 10-20 minutes.

I found black sesame seeds in the bulk aisle of my co-op. The 10 tablespoons called for here yields about 6 tablespoons of toasted black sesame paste. If you can't find the whole seeds, you can probably substitute an equal amount of Japanese black sesame paste, though you may want to decrease the sugar in the recipe if the paste is sweetened. 

I like this ice cream best made with dark milk chocolate that has a 35-40% cacao mass. This has less sugar and dairy than regular milk chocolate, which only needs to have 10% cacao mass to be labeled as such. I'm partial to the dark milk bar from Recchiuti, but Tcho and Scharffen Berger make excellent dark milk chocolates, also. I found bittersweet chocolate a bit too assertive, though still quite tasty, so feel free to use it if you prefer. This recipe can also be made using 2 cups half and half and 1 cup heavy cream in place of the milk and cream.

All ounce measurements are by weight.

Makes 1 generous quart

For the ice cream:
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces / 80 grams) black sesame seeds
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces / 340 grams) whole milk
1/2 a vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
3/4 cup (5.75 ounces / 165 grams) organic, blonde cane sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
 4 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces / 340 grams) heavy cream
4 ounces (115 grams) dark milk chocolate (40% cacao mass), roughly chopped (about 3/4 cup)

Make the sesame paste:
Place the sesame seeds in a dry, wide skillet. Shaking the pan frequently, toast the seeds over a medium flame until the seeds start to crackle. This can take anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of your pan. It's a bit hard to tell when they're toasted, since they're black and won't change color, and they don't give off much fragrance, but crackling is a good sign. Let the seeds cool, then whizz them in a food processor until they turn into a paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally, 2 or 3 minutes.

Make the ice cream base:
Scrape out the black sesame paste into a medium saucepan, and add the milk, vanilla seeds and pod, sugar, and salt. Warm over a medium flame, stirring occasionally, until hot and steamy. Cover the pot and let the mixture steep at least 10 minutes or longer.

Meanwhile, place the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Place the heavy cream in a different medium bowl, or in a large mason jar and set aside. Rewarm the milk if necessary. Very slowly, dribble the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, until you've added half the milk. Scrape the yolk mixture back into the pan and return to a medium-low flame. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly with a heatproof silicone spatula, until it thickens just slightly and/or registers 170ºF on an instant-read thermometer. Immediately pour the custard into the cold cream to stop the cooking.

Chill the ice cream base until very cold, at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, or up to 3 days.

Spin and chocolate-ify the ice cream:
Place the ice cream base in the freezer for 30 minutes to get it really cold, giving it a stir once halfway through. Place a loaf pan in the freezer as well.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate by placing it in a dry, metal bowl set over a saucepan filled with hot water that is barely steaming (not simmering or boiling, or you will scorch the chocolate). Stir the chocolate until it is melted, and let it cool slightly. When the ice cream is churned, the chocolate should be fluid enough to drizzle, but not so hot that it melts the ice cream. 

Churn the ice cream in an ice cream maker until it is the consistency of soft-serve. Spread 1/4 of the ice cream in the bottom of the frozen loaf pan, then drizzle 1/4 of the melted chocolate over the ice cream. Repeat until you've used up all the chocolate and ice cream. Freeze the ice cream until firm, at least 2 hours. Once firm, scoop the ice cream into storage containers. It will keep frozen for up to a few months (though good luck making it last that long).

53 comments:

  1. This looks so very interesting and very impressive looking.

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    1. Hi Sam, Thanks for the kind words! I just clicked over to your site and practically cried over those beautiful sticky buns. WOW.

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  2. Oh my goodness! Your photography is really beautiful. As a blogger myself, I know first hand just how difficult it is to put out this quality of work week after week and the time it takes. Are you teaching photography, because I live close enough to take a workshop? I also love the originality of your recipes. Nice job! Linda of Salvation Sisters

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    1. Hi Linda, thanks so much for the nice note - that means a lot to me! I haven't thought about teaching a food photography workshop, mostly because I'm still learning myself! But I'll definitely let you know if that changes. And I'm planning to do a post soon about several things that have helped me improve my photography, too. I'm always happy to answer questions! The book Plate to Pixel is an excellent resource, too.

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  3. I think I just cried a little at the beauty that is this recipe and these PHOTOS! You are KILLING it friend!

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    1. Aw!!! Thanks, Dana! You are too sweet. I have a mind to try a vegan version of this with your kick-ass cashew coconut base and dark chocolate. :)

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  4. You've got my imagination spinning with this post. The photos are awe inspiring, and I won't rest until I taste some of this. I love the silvery black speckled look of it, and I need to try black sesame paste, too. Wonderful post!

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    1. Thank you, Sue!! I can't recommend it highly enough. Black sesame ice cream seems to have a bit of a cult following, and for a good reason!

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  5. This ice cream looks and sounds great. I doubt I will be making it but, if you have some to spare when I come down to the Bay Area, I'd love to try it.
    By the way, it looks like you freeze the ice cream in the freezer instead of using an ice cream maker. When I've done that, it usually came out grainy. How do you keep that from happening?

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    1. Hi Dad! I'll happily make a batch of this for you to try next time you're in town. :) And I do use an ice cream maker - it's the attachment for my stand mixer. I'll add a note up top. Thanks for the note.

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    2. What is this about an attachment for a stand mixer? I am in the Alton Brown school against unitaskers and would like to hear more.

      And yum. Your recipe looks (as always) amazing.

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    3. Hi Katherine, Thanks for asking! I just added a note up top. It's a bowl that gets frozen for 24 hours, then it screws onto the stand mixer along with a dasher that stirs and scrapes the bowl when you turn the mixer on low. It costs ~70 bucks and it rocks! I've had mine for about 8 years. I use it a lot and it's good as new. :) Here's a link to it on Amazon: Kitchen Aid ice cream maker attachment

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    4. Thanks so much for the link! And thanks, (Dad) for bringing up the subject. I have had an eye on ice cream makers for a while but couldn't justify. Now if it's just an ... attachment... well I can do that :)

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  6. Yay! Food weirdos unite! Especially if it means a bowl of ice cream like this. :) I've never tried black sesame ice cream, so I think I need to dig out some room for the ice cream maker bowl in our freezer ASAP.

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    1. Haha, totally! If you're a food weirdo, which I'm pretty sure you are, you're gonna love this one. :)

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  7. Oh my gosh, ALANNA. This looks SO so so good. (And the step photos are amazing! I always lose my head when the ice cream is done churning and panic and throw it all in the carton as fast as I can. Haha.) Black sesame is one of my favorite flavors ever, and this sounds and looks absolutely delicious.

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    1. Aw! Thank you, Cynthia! And you know what needs to happen? Braided red bean brioche and black sesame ice cream sandwiches. Just sayin. http://tworedbowls.com/2014/04/21/red-bean-brioche/

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  8. I had to come over to read since I have been gushing about the dishes on Vijay's page. And I am glad I did. I love your blog and photos by the way. I love the story behind this ice cream too. The flavor sounds so intriguing! I love "different" ice creams and I am with on licking the dasher - thats the best part! I have 6 egg yolks in my fridge right now since I needed whites for a recipe and now I think I might seek out some black sesame seeds to try this!

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    1. Thanks for the super sweet words, Shanna! I need your egg white recipe because I have insane amounts of whites in my fridge right now! I'm glad to know I'm not the only dasher-licker and weird ice cream lover. :)

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  9. Stunning. I can't wait to try your recipe! I am into sesame lately too. Have you tried adding it to granola? I love Megan Gordon's recipe, which combines sesame seeds, hazelnuts, and cacao nibs. A batch never lasts long.

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    1. Oooooh! That granola sounds awesome! I'm all over it. I made a black sesame granola a few years back with honey, orange, and ginger, but I love the sound of those earthy flavors. Yum! Thanks, Ileana!

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  10. I am so intrigued by this black sesame ice cream! I've never heard of it before, but suddenly I find myself needing to try it! I have an ice cream maker that rarely gets used, it looks like I will have to dust if off and try this amazing looking ice cream! As always, your photos are so beautiful :)

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  11. Good God, woman! I'm still not over the photos.

    Ok, so, I've had black sesame gelato and loved it! I usually get a scoop of black sesame and violet at Paciugo. Love it :)

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    1. OMG, that sounds awesome! Thanks for the kind words, my dear! :)

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  12. Black sesame. Just gorgeous, my friend. I have never even thought about black sesame ice cream before but now I want some...badly!

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    1. Aw, thanks, Monet! I wish I could have you and your fam over for a bowl. <3

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  13. This ice cream looks like an absolute dream and that color is amazing!

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  14. This looks incredible! The photos are so moody and dark, I love it :)

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    1. Thank you, Lilli! I had so much fun shooting and editing these. :)

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  15. Omgosh, too many emotions right now. 1) I am obsessed with black sesame. I think it started with Lady and Pups' latest black sesame creation, and now I can't stop thinking about it. Ice cream is genius! I couldn't agree more about the best way to eat ice cream in terms of that melty layer (!!) but WOW that shot of it freshly churned in your mixer? It's like the ENTIRE thing was just one melty, gorgeous scoop.

    2) I'm from San Mateo!! Which store did you go to?! I'm always so excited to hear about my hometown.

    3) Question: how do you know when you've toasted vs. burned black sesame? When I tried making black sesame sugar, it also smelled really strong (like, sort of burnt but sort of just like sesame) and several of the seeds look scorched. Those tricky buggers.

    3) I just sent my parents the link to Namu Gaji. I bet they'll love it!

    Last question, I promise: where is that pan from?? I love it. Your photos are AMAZING. The way the light catches the chocolate drizzle on top? *swoon*

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    1. Hi Erika! You are so sweet!! It's incredible (and highly understandable) what a cult following black sesame desserts have. It's kinda like chocolate or coffee, I guess - all roasty and earthy and perfect with sugar and cream. I'm obsessed, too! Going over to Lady and Pups straightaway to check it out!

      I'll have to ask my friend which store. It was just little health food type store on a corner - super cute! I'll get back to you with the name. :)

      I was convinced I'd burnt my seeds, but they seemed to be fine in the end, so I'm afraid I don't know the answer. It seemed like a bit of crackling and popping indicated that they were done.

      I hope your folks love Namu Gaji! I don't think it's super authentic Korean food, but I wouldn't know since it's all I've ever had. I do know that I dream about their okonomiyaki! So good.

      I found that loaf pan at an antique shop in Santa Cruz - I love it, too! It's enamel, and I bet you'd find some on Etsy or Ebay if you did a search. Thanks for the super sweet note!!!

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    2. Oh, don't go to any trouble about the store name. I was just curious but I'll probably stumble across it at some point! And I bet my parents will love the restaurant because they're not super tied to really authentic-anything food :) And thanks for the tip on the pan! The search is on!

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    3. The market is this place: http://www.earthbeamfoods.com/ - it's actually in Burlingame (my mistake). Super cute. I hope your folks love Namu Gaji, and that your search proves fruitful!

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  16. Absolutely gorgeous ice cream! I spent a summer in China where I was introduced to black sesame porridge. I love that toasty flavor - familiar yet exotic too. Stunning photos!

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  17. The color is so gorgeous! And it sounds seriously delicious, as well. Gotta dust off my ice cream maker for spring!

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    1. Thank you, Katie! I heartily encourage you to do so. :)

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  18. Hello! I wanted to tell you that your photography is AMAZING and I saw in a previous comment you're thinking about doing a photography post soon - please, please do. I'm just amazed at how good they all look and I've really been trying to improve mine (it's kind of my favorite part of food blogging) :) so I think that post will be super helpful. It seems like really in the past year your photos have gotten just incredible.

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    1. Hi Allie, Thank you for the super sweet note - totally made my day! Ok, I'll get to work on that post. I was thinking of saving it for my 5th blogiversary this September, but I'll try to post it sooner. Please feel free to email me if you have any specific questions, though! (agoodie [at] gmail [dot] com) The book Plate to Pixel helped me a lot and I highly recommend it, though the pictures on your site already look totally pro! I want to eat all of them (blood orange yogurt panna cotta)!

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  19. Oh my god. This looks amazing! I must try it! :-) Where's the pretty ice cream spoon from? And do you know where to buy it (if it's still possible)? And do you know where to buy the container you use for the ice cream? They're very beautiful! So are your pictures! :-)

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    1. Hi Viola! Thank you for the sweet note. Your site is very beautiful, too! I got the ice cream scoop from a flea market, and the enamel loaf pan from an antique shop. You might try searching on Etsy or Ebay if you don't come across any at your local second-hand shops. Best of luck!

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    2. Thank you for the note about my website! :-) I'll try looking at Ebay and Etsy and in Sweden where my summerhouse is there might be some flea markets ;-) Thank you for the answer!

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    3. - and btw I tried your Potato and green garlic quiche without crust yesterday, and it was amazing! Thanks for your recipes and beautiful pictures!

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    4. I'm so glad you liked the quiche! Thanks for giving the recipe a go. Happy prop hunting, and keep up the lovely work, Viola!

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  20. This recipe seems WAY out of my comfort zone, but I'm definitely going to try it!

    P.S. - I spy some Heath! Lovely!

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    1. You can totally do it! And I'm happy to show you the ways of the black sesame ice cream any time you want to come over for a tutorial. And yes, this was my first Heath purchase - I love that you knew! I had to take lots of deep breaths as I was being rung up, but I love them. :)

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  21. Brilliant! I love black sesame things since I grew up in China. But I don't think i've ever had it with chocolate yum

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    1. Thanks, Maria! I was surprised how good the combination was, too. :)

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  22. Hi Alanna:
    I am super excited to find your website and this amazing recipe! It is absolutely brilliant! I am honored to feature your fantastic recipe in my "Top-Rated Ice Cream Recipes Round-Up" on my website! I will definitely be back!

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    1. Hi, Amy! Thanks for featuring my recipe, and for the super sweet words!

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Nice comments make me warm and fuzzy!