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These no-bake black sesame puddings are an ideal light and refreshing dessert. [Photographs: Shao Z.]

There is one rule I try to stick to during the summer months: no oven cooking. I have a small kitchen, so it doesn't take much to turn it unto a sauna. That's why I make sure most of my meals—and especially desserts—are the types that can be prepared oven-free during the hottest months.

The truth is, though, heat issues aside, I just love no-bake desserts. They often don't require a lot of prep time, and most can be made overnight or even a few days in advance. Because of this, no-bake desserts are especially great when you need to feed a large crowd, like at grilling parties and potlucks.

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One of my favorite no-bake desserts is panna cotta—it is simple, elegant, and serves as a blank canvas to play around with different flavors. These black sesame puddings are similar to classic panna cotta, but are a little less jiggly and a little more creamy than many versions.

To make them, I start by grinding black sesame seeds. There are three ways to do this: you can use a mortar and pestle, a spice grinder, or a mini food processor. Using a mortar and pestle results in coarsely crushed sesame seeds with the most texture.*

*There's also a fourth way to get smooth black sesame paste without doing it yourself: buy it pre-made in a glass jar or squeezable tube at Japanese supermarkets.

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A spice grinder will give you the finest grind, and a small food processor, which works best when you blend the seeds with the honey, will give you results that are in-between the other two.

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Personally, I prefer the mortar-and-pestle method, since I enjoy the taste and texture of little flecks of sesame seeds in the pudding. If you like something smoother, a spice grinder is the way to go.

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After preparing the seeds, I dissolve gelatin in milk.

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Then I mix in the honey and black sesame seed paste.

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Then I ladle the mixture into small serving bowls and refrigerate them until set.

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