I wish I had a more elegant way to share my love for ever-elegant black sesame. It's dessert in a tuxedo—the James Bond of sweets. In ice cream, it's pure magic: lush and nutty, rich but never overwhelming. And the color, a stately (vintage) Sean Connery charcoal, doesn't hurt either.
In Asia, black sesame ice cream is as classic a flavor as vanilla in the States. There's not much to improve on it—it just works. Ground black sesame seeds take on the texture of tahini in that "so creamy it changes your perception of what creamy can be" sort of way. The rich, roasted flavors of the seeds, which give off an aroma as complex as fine chocolate, are a perfect match for a light custard.
But for me, black sesame ice cream gets its addictive quality from those hard-to-pin-down notes in the seeds: slightly herbal and spicy, just a tad fruity. Something about it made me reach for a zester and an orange. Though the zest hitting warm custard made my kitchen stink of burnt coffee, it churned into something wonderful. Of all the ice cream I've made, this may very well be my favorite. That wee bit of orange, barely whispering its flavor, amps up all the curious, enticing qualities of black sesame I find so addictive.
Along with the orange zest, I added some toasted sesame oil, a pantry powerhouse that contributed a smooth sesame flavor that the seeds don't quite deliver on their own. It also created a soft, scoopable texture even after a day in deep chill. But that only matters if you let it age at all. I downed half my batch right out of the churn: it was soft and light like the most ambrosial whipped cream. And I'm not in the least ashamed to say that after I snapped my photo, the rest didn't stand a chance.
Ethan Frisch is the chef and co-mastermind behind Guerrilla Ice Cream. He's traveled around the world (30 countries, 5 continents) and worked as a pastry chef and line cook in some of NYC's great (and not so great) restaurants. He currently lives in London, where he really misses New York City tap water.
Max Falkowitz writes Serious Eats' weekly Spice Hunting column. He's a proud native of Queens, New York, will do just about anything for a good cup of tea, and enjoys long walks down the aisles of Chinese groceries.
- 1/4 cup black sesame seeds
- 3 cups half-and-half (or 1 1/2 cups each cream and milk)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Toast sesame seeds in a small skillet, stirring frequently, until fragrant and nutty, then set aside to cool.
Transfer seeds to a blender and blend on high till seeds are crushed. Add two to three tablespoons half-and-half and blend till smooth. Add remaining half-and-half and blend on high till well combined, about two minutes. Seeds will not be completely pulverized, which is fine. Large chunks can always be strained out.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar and yolks until thickened and lighter in color. Combine yolk and dairy mixtures in a heavy-bottomed three quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly while custard thickens. Custard is done when it coats the back of a spoon and a swiped finger leaves a clean line.
Remove from heat and transfer to an air-tight container for overnight chill. Stir in sesame oil, orange zest, and salt till well combined. Chill overnight, then churn the next day according to manufacturer's instructions. Serve immediately for a whipped, soft-serve consistency, or return to container to set for two to three hours for something firmer.
ice cream maker, blender