A black sesame twist on two classics

When I was younger, about 11 or 12, I remember really wanting to buy other people gifts for their birthdays and for Christmas. I was old enough to understand the gratification of giving, rather than receiving, but I was too young to be able to buy anything really cool. I was never given an allowance or pocket money; I simply asked for money when I needed it (all within reason, of course). I remember buying friends lip glosses from the $2 shops, as well as books, pens, CDs, bath stuff and jewellery.

When it came to my parents, I ended up buying them things with their own money, which is kind of funny but really, really pointless in hindsight. I remember buying my mum a really cheap necklace of her star sign, Aquarius. For my dad, I remember one Christmas gifting him a ring binder and rewriteable CDs. I remember he held them up in a victory-like pose and thanked me with a great, wide smile on his face, even though he had more than enough ring binders and blank CDs to choose from already.

To this day, I still struggle with gifts for my dad. Last year I bought him new headphones, which very much disappeared in comparison to the gift I bought my mum – tickets to see Mary Poppins, the musical. Naturally, he didn’t say anything or show any sort of resentment. He is my dad, after all. For his birthday I got him a massage at one of the city’s most luxurious spas and he enjoyed it but I don’t think he wants to experience something like that again. What I really wanted was to buy him a holiday, even just to Sydney, because the last time he and my mum went overseas was 13 years ago when we all went on a family trip to Los Angeles. Unfortunately I don’t quite have the money for that (yet) but I’m hoping within the next year or two I’ll be able to make that happen.

Nowadays, I’ve been utilising my newfound love of cooking to make food for my parents that they may not ever eat or very rarely eat if I didn’t make it for them – special “treats” if you will. For Mother’s Day, I made lemon drizzle cake. For Father’s Day this year (last weekend for us Kiwis), I made two desserts: black sesame panna cotta and black sesame creme brulee.

My dad has a penchant for black sesame, if you hadn’t figured out already, and I’ve been saying ever since I first made creme brulee that I would make a black sesame variation just for him. Well, for some reason, I thought I’d try panna cotta first. I found what seemed like a really good recipe  and I thought it would be a bit healthier than creme brulee, so I went for it.

I kind of wish I hadn’t.

Following the measurements, ingredients and method in the recipe exactly, I created something that was really tough, hard and completely unpleasant to eat. It was like ingesting black sesame flavoured rubber. I personally think it’s the amount of agar agar the recipe called for. I didn’t have the common sense at the time to look back on my green tea panna cotta and see what I could do better from there, which probably would have helped quite a bit.

Anyway, what’s done is done, rubbery dessert and all. I would be keen to try this dessert again but would, hopefully, remember to use less setting agent.

Black sesame panna cotta. Excuse the shocking lack of presentation skills! Photo: Tao Lin

Black sesame panna cotta. Excuse the laughable lack of presentation skills. Photo: Tao Lin

With this failed experiment and the accompanying sense of disappointment that I wasn’t able to pull through for my dad, I turned to my dearest, most velvety smooth love, creme brulee. I followed the recipe and method by Nigella Lawson – perfect for those times when you really want to make creme brulee but just cannot be bothered turning on the oven (that can’t just be me, right?!) – and guesstimated how much black sesame I used. I think I used about 3 tablespoons for half the amount of ingredients in the Nigella recipe. By the way, you can buy black sesame powder from Asian supermarkets. I’m not sure if they have different “finenesses” of powder but I’d imagine a finer powder would work best.

It turned out fantastic and it made my dad really happy, which was the main point. The colour is really off-putting – grey doesn’t really flatter any sort of food – but other than that, there’s really nothing I would change about it.

Happy Father’s Day Dad. I hope this makes up for all those redundant presents I got you in the past!

Photo: Tao Lin

A more successful black sesame creme brulee. Photo: Tao Lin

Panna cotta fail

“It’s like cold custard, no, porridge. It tastes like porridge.”

– My boyfriend of my attempt at panna cotta last night.

So my green tea and vanilla panna cotta wasn’t the best dessert I’ve ever made mostly because the consistently was completely off. I read here that panna cotta is meant to have the “quiver of a 17th century courtesan’s inner thigh”. Mine was more like the thighs of a heptathlete.

I followed Jamie Oliver’s recipe for green tea and vanilla panna cotta, which, might I add, is actually a really lovely combination of flavors, but instead of using gelatin, I opted for agar agar. It’s obviously not used in the same amounts as gelatin and from some research, I’ve found that agar agar sets quicker and stronger than gelatin. I used 1/2 teaspoon of agar agar and I think that was too much, given that it started setting before I’d even put it into the ramekins (I don’t actually know if that was the real reason it set so quickly but just hazarding a guess).

The taste was fine but the consistency did sort of resemble porridge. I’ve had panna cotta once and it was really smooth, whereas my one was a bit grainy.

Anyway, no pictures because it looked crap. I’ll try it again soon and hopefully get it right…