Usually our first In the Kitchen With post in January promotes a return to “healthy” eating. I decided to break with tradition this year and post a cake recipe. Before reading Molly Yeh’s blog, Molly on the Range, I would have probably never eaten chocolate and tahini together unless I’d had a Reese’s peanut butter cup type happy accident — even though they are two ingredients you will almost always find in my home. Molly did it for me! One of the many recipes she combines the two in is her Chocolate Tahini Cake with Tahini Frosting from her cookbook Molly on the Range. If you are a bit skeptical, try it to believe it. (And make it in the form of the little mini cakes because they are so cute, and look at how much trim is leftover for snacks!) —Kristina
Why Molly loves this recipe: Whoever invented the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” clearly didn’t have a pyramid of tahini jars in their pantry and a bowl of chocolate cake batter in front of them. It’s true that there aren’t many better things in life than a rich chocolate cake, but a chocolate cake with nutty tahini sends this thing right over the edge into a territory that’s similar to a chocolate peanut butter cake but every so slightly fancier. The chocolate here remains the star of the show, but with tahini there to play a hearty supporting role, everybody shines their brightest and this cake becomes the dessert of your grownup birthday party dreams.
Cake and cover photography by Molly Yeh | Cooking and headshot photography by Chantelle Quernemoen
Chocolate Tahini Cake with Tahini Frosting
Makes one 8-inch layer cake, one 13-inch by 9-inch sheet cake, or 24 mini cakes
Not many things in life are better than a rich, moist chocolate cake covered in buttercream and doled out with birthday songs and birthday wishes. But as my old timpani teacher used to say, “If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.” Chocolate cake, meet tahini.
Chocolate cake and tahini go together fantastically, but not like bacon and eggs or peanut butter and jelly: They’re not splitting the spotlight 50/50. Chocolate cake and tahini are more like my favorite ice dancing pair, Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Meryl is the cake, the star, the real-life Disney princess who has the power to make everything she touches turn to solid gold (see: Dancing with the Stars season 18). While Charlie’s the tahini, the support, the knight in shining armor on his horse to meet his princess. Yeah, he’s pretty freaking magnificent on his own, but tahini kind of needs to latch onto something in order for him to deserve a spot on the podium, like chickpeas to make hummus, or sugar to make halva, or an outstandingly terrific chocolate cake. So when the two come together and chocolate cake is able to shine her absolute brightest thanks to the strong support of a smooth nutty tahini, an X-factor happens that makes this pair one of the best in the world.
Someone once told me that they “don’t like cake,” but that they “love this cake.” The tahini here sends an otherwise classic chocolate cake right over the edge into no-going-back territory.
— 1 3⁄4 cups sugar
— 1 3⁄4 cups flour
— 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
— 1 1⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
— 1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
— 1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking soda
— 2 large eggs
— 1 cup whole milk
— 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
— 1⁄4 cup flavorless oil
— 1⁄2 cup tahini
— 3⁄4 cup boiling water
— 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
— 1⁄2 cup tahini
— 2 cups powdered sugar
— 1⁄8 teaspoon kosher salt
— 1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
— 1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract
To make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and line the bottoms of two 8-inch cake pans or one 13 x 9-inch baking dish.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, oil, and tahini. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Whisk in the boiling water.
Pour the batter into the cake pans or baking dish and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Begin checking for doneness at 28 minutes for round cakes and 32 minutes for a sheet cake.
Let cool in the pans or dish for 10 minutes and then remove to a rack to cool completely.
To make the frosting:
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter and tahini until creamy. Gradually add the powdered sugar and mix to combine. Mix in the salt, cinnamon, and vanilla.
For a layer cake, level the round cakes and stack them with a layer of frosting between them. Frost the top and sides of the cake.
For a sheet cake, spread the frosting on top and cut into squares, or chill in the refrigerator until the frosting is firm and use a biscuit cutter to cut into mini cakes.
About Molly: Molly, a Juilliard-trained percussionist, recently moved from Brooklyn to a sugar beet farm outside of the North Dakota-Minnesota border, where her husband is a fifth-generation farmer. She spends her days baking, writing, photographing, and navigating the new-to-her upper Midwestern cuisine, like vegetable-less salads and tater tot hotdish. She documents her adventures in her blog, my name is yeh, which was named Saveur’s 2015 Blog of the Year and Yahoo’s 2014 Blog of the Year. Molly’s work has appeared in Saveur, Food & Wine, Condé Nast Traveler, Food52, Kinfolk, and Modern Farmer, and she was featured by the New York Times in a video about the Norwegian flatbread Lefse. Find Molly on Instagram here.