When I moved to New York a few summers ago, I did nothing but complain about the incessant heat. Erlend often rolled his eyes at me. “Wait until winter arrives,” he would say. “You’ll be wishing for this heat.” I would then point out that having lived in places like London, The Hague, and Portland, I was no stranger to the cold. He then shook his head. “Yeah, none of those places get as cold as New York.”
So I took his warning to heart. I went to Paragon Sports and almost shelled out $900 for one of those fancy AF Canada Goose parkas, before I realized that I don’t live somewhere that cold and that they trap wolves and kill geese in scary ways and that $900 is way too much money to spend on a seasonal jacket (I ended up with one of those cheaper, heat-reflective, and wolf-friendly puffers from Columbia Sportswear instead). I spent a considerable sum on waterproof leather boots that were nice enough to rock at a corporate office environment and a cashmere wool hat from Madewell. I was ready.
And then the winter of 2016 came and it was, well, NOT COLD. It snowed a grand total of two times; both days weren’t cold enough for the snow to stick to the ground. I used my pricey leather boots so infrequently that they still haven’t broken in properly over a year later. My high-tech puffer jacket was too hot and bulky to wear on the subway; I switched back to the thinner wool coat I wore in Portland. And before I could even get sick of the cold weather, summer arrived early (skipping spring all together, because honestly, there are only two seasons in New York now — summer and winter) along with the brutal humidity I hated.
Erlend jokes that I’m New York’s warm weather lucky charm. I missed the polar vortex in 2015; I missed the bomb cyclone at the start of this year. I’m sure at this point, a handful of you guys are wondering: why on earth is this psycho girl complaining about missing the freezing cold weather? Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t really enjoy it that much if I actually was in New York during the bomb cyclone (especially since the folks who ended up renting our apartment after us apparently lost all heat and hot water since our landlord was the absolute worst). It’s more FOMO than anything. Because let’s face it — while the photos of the snow dappled brownstones in Brooklyn and frosted trees in the park outside my old office building are very, very pretty, you know that shit would hurt IRL.
So my East Coast friends — this cake is for you. I know the bomb cyclone ended a few weeks ago, but I wanted to commemorate (and maybe commiserate) the occasion with a bomb cyclone layer cake. The frosting is partially inspired by this Wikipedia photo of a bomb cyclone hovering over Japan in 2013, but also this STORMBORN frosting design from Buttercream Bakery and this monochromatic beauty from Cake Ink (REAL TALK: why are Australians such talented pastry makers? How? Should I just move there already and learn all the skills?). The inside is just as dramatic too: an all-natural, all-black-erythang black sesame cake. And folks, you’re in for a treat — this is the first recipe I’m sharing from my upcoming cookbook, Weeknight Baking, as it’s actually a variation of one of the book’s foundational cake recipes (White Wedding Cake, for those interested).
- You’ll first need to roast the black sesame seeds before throwing them into the cake batter. You can also use un-roasted seeds, but your cake won’t be as flavorful or colorful. Roasting the black sesame seeds takes about 15 minutes of active work (you’ll need to toss them every five minutes or so to prevent them from burning), and then they’ll need to cool to room temperature before you can use them in the batter. You can roast the seeds up to a week in advance before making the recipe though; just keep the roasted seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. The sesame sugar mixture as a whole will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
- For this recipe, it’s especially important that all your eggs, butter, and milk are at the same temperature — the batter is especially finnicky and tends to curdle if some of the ingredients are colder than others. You’re also going to be using the reverse-creaming method to make the cakes, which means that you’ll be mixing all the dry ingredients in together with the butter, and then adding the liquids later. This method, while a little weird, tends to result in a more tender crumb that’s perfect for more delicate cakes like the wedding cake recipe this recipe is based on. Note that once you pull these cakes out of the oven, there’s a good chance that they’ll pull away dramatically from the sides of the pan as they cool — don’t worry about that too much! It tends to happen with reverse-creamed cakes (I have no idea why, but I’m working on finding out) and won’t affect your flavor at all.
- The buttercream frosting recipe is adapted from super star blogger Sarah Kieffer’s cookbook, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book. The ratios will seem off at first because it’s a lot of butter, not a whole lot of sugar, and zero liquid. But trust the recipe! It works. You just have to cream it for longer than what’s typical for a traditional American buttercream recipe. The frosting is intensely buttery — I wouldn’t recommend it with a butter cake, or really, any delicately flavored cake since it’s basically just pure butter. That being said, it works beautifully with “strong-flavored” cakes like this black sesame one, since it sorta offsets the toasted, nutty (and almost slightly bitter) taste of black sesame.
- To decorate the cake, I used first created a base frosting layer using an ombre frosting techinique, coloring the bottom half of the cake with buttercream gray buttercream. This tutorial from my incredibly talented friend Tessa is great and has step-by-step photos. I then put random dollops of white buttercream and random, teeny drops of navy blue and black food coloring throughout the cake before frosting it smooth. I think this is called the watercolor technique? I don’t really know. One day I’ll do a video of it so you can see, but for now, check out Tessa’s tutorial on how to do the watercolor technique — it’s great, it has GIFs!
Get the Recipe: Bomb Cyclone Black Sesame Cake
For the Black Sesame Sugar
- 1 cup (5.25 ounces) black sesame seeds
- 2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar, divided into two 1 cup portions
For the Black Sesame Layer Cake
- 1 recipe Black Sesame Sugar, at room temperature
- 3 cups (12 ounces) cake flour
- 4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 1/3 cups (10.65 fluid ounces) whole milk, at room temperature and divided into 1 cup and 1/3 cup portions
- 5 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the American Buttercream
- black food coloring
- navy blue food coloring
- edible gold leaf
- A food processor
For the Black Sesame Sugar
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 400 (F). Spread 1 cup black sesame seeds evenly across a parchment lined sheet pan. Transfer to the preheated oven and use a rubber spatula to stir and toss the seeds every 5 minutes, baking for a total of 15 minutes. Towards the end of the bake time, the seeds will start to lighten and steam and smoke gently. Rub a seed between your fingers — the seed should shatter and crush easily into smaller grains, emitting a nutty and fragrant smell. Once this happens, immediately remove the pan from the oven and transfer the seeds to a plate on a wire rack to prevent any further cooking. Cool to room temperature.
- Once the seeds have completely cooled, divide into two even batches. Pour the first batch into the bowl of a food processor and combine with 1 cup granulated sugar. Pulse for about 20 seconds until finely ground, and the seeds have evenly distributed throughout the sugar. The mixture should be light gray in color and resemble super-fine cornmeal in texture. Be careful not to overprocess, or you’ll end up with sesame butter! 20 seconds should do the trick. Repeat with the remaining batch of sesame seeds and the other remaining 1 cup granulated sugar. Combine the two batches of sesame sugar into the same airtight container and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. The mixture will keep for up to 1 month.
For the Black Sesame Layer Cake
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 (F). Prepare three 8-inch cake pans by spraying generously with cooking spray and lining the bottom of each pan with a parchment paper circle; spray the parchment paper as well and set aside.
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine Black Sesame Sugar, 3 cups cake flour, 4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Beat on low speed until combined. With the mixer on its lowest setting, add 1 cup cubed unsalted butter slowly into the mixture, only adding a few pieces at a time and continuing to mix until the mixture has the texture of cornmeal. Add 1 cup of milk all at once and raise the mixer speed to medium. Beat for 2 minutes, or until the batter is light and fluffy. While the batter is mixing, whisk together 5 large egg whites, the remaining 1/3 cup milk, and 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract in a large liquid measuring cup or a medium bowl with a spout. Reduce the mixer speed back down to its lowest setting and add the egg white/milk/vanilla mixture in 2 to 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl well after each addition and beating only until combined.
- Divide the batter evenly between the three cake pans. Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out with few crumbs and the top of each cake bounces back when gently poked. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.
For the American Buttercream
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat 2 cups unsalted butter on medium until creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowls and add 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Mix on low until combined and then beat on medium for 1 minute. Keep the mixer on low and slowly add 3 cups confectioners' sugar a little at a time, mixing until combined, and stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 6 to 8 minutes until light and fluffy. Use immediately.