Why It Works
- Brown sugar complements the flavor of roasted sesame.
- Unlike black tahini, Japanese-style sesame paste is roasted, giving it a much deeper flavor and jet-black appearance.
- When the custard is steaming-hot, the yolks will be cooked through.
Anyone who's traveled abroad can relate to the experience of returning home and struggling to re-create a favorite dish. Even with the simplest ingredients, manufacturing practices may vary from country to country and change everything. (Witness the difference between American and Belgian brown sugar, one made from molasses and the other with caramel.)
Such was the case in my quest to reproduce the black sesame ice cream I fell in love with during my time in Japan. It was always jet-black and outrageously nutty, with a pleasant bitterness like dark chocolate and an almost savory edge.
Japanese Black Sesame Paste Makes All the Difference
I knew from snooping around in Japanese kitchens that the key was commercial black sesame paste, rather than black sesame seeds. Though seeds alone can make a tasty ice cream, those ground at home can't provide the intensity of color, flavor, or richness that I longed for. It's like comparing a jar of Skippy to peanut butter made in a food processor—similar but undeniably a different beast.
Yet the black sesame paste I found in supermarkets invariably made my ice cream bitter, bland, and a sickly shade of gray-green. I realized immediately that there was something unique about Japanese black sesame paste, so I ordered the genuine article online.
As it turns out, black tahini is made from hulled, raw black sesame seeds, giving it a bitter astringency and only a mild nuttiness. Japanese-style black sesame paste, on the other hand, is made from toasted black sesame seeds, with their hulls intact. Those two factors give Japanese black sesame paste its super-nutty flavor and deep black color, with just a hint of bitterness—something that's lovely and mellow, rather than sharp.
That level of intensity is able to survive dilution with milk and cream, meaning that the prized flavor and color are evident in every bite.
Use Turbinado Sugar to Amplify Flavor
In Japan, black sesame desserts are often served with kuromitsu, which means "black honey," though it's really a type of light molasses. It has a maltiness and mild acidity that underscore toasted black sesame in a delightful way. To cash in on that classic pairing without having to source yet another specialty ingredient, I reached for turbinado sugar instead: Its all-natural molasses flavor is perfect for the job, though Demerara or light brown sugar would work nicely, too.
How to Make Ice Cream Base
With those ingredients in place, I make the ice cream base in much the same way as the custard for my Oreo ice cream, with the eggs, sugar, milk, and cream all mixed together from the start and gently warmed over medium-low heat.
Once the mixture is warm to the touch, I bump the heat up to medium and keep cooking and stirring until it's steaming-hot, but well short of bubbling. If you need to be certain the eggs are cooked through, aim for about 155°F (68°C), but hitting that specific temperature isn't important to the success of the recipe.
Off heat, add the black sesame paste, whisk until smooth, and strain to remove any bits of chalazae or chunky sesame pieces—the fineness of the paste will vary from brand to brand. On that note, if you do find yourself with a coarser black sesame paste, feel free to hit the ice cream base with an immersion blender to smooth it out, though I found this step unnecessary with ultra-smooth brands like Kuki.
Churning the Ice Cream
Refrigerate the ice cream base until it's no warmer than 40°F (4°C) before churning. (This can take about four hours, so use an ice bath to speed this process along if you're in a hurry.) As with any ice cream churned in a canister, it's vital that that canister be as cold as possible, so adjust the dial if your freezer is usually warmer than 1°F (-18°C); otherwise, your ice creams won't be as creamy as they should. I love my Cuisinart ice cream machine, but any stand-alone machine should produce equally excellent results.
When the ice cream is thick and light, you can enjoy it like Japanese soft-serve, or transfer it to a chilled ice cream container, empty yogurt tub, or loaf pan. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the ice cream (to prevent freezer burn), then cover with a lid or sheet of foil and freeze until it's firm enough to scoop.
Dressing Up Black Sesame Ice Cream
I'm crazy about black sesame ice cream by itself—it's bittersweet, rich, and complex enough to stand all on its own. If you'd like to dress it up, though, I've found that black sesame ice cream is amazing with a spoonful of raspberry purée.
It's something of a peanut butter and jelly vibe, with the toasted black sesame perfectly complemented by the bright acidity of fresh fruit.
And if you have any extra black sesame when you're done, be sure to try Daniel's roasted carrots with black sesame dressing—it's a recipe he invented to polish off all my leftover black sesame paste.
6 ounces turbinado or light brown sugar (about 3/4 cup; 170g)
4 1/2 ounces egg yolk (about 1/2 cup; 125g), from 7 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon (2g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
7 ounces heavy cream (about 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons; 195g)
8 ounces whole milk (about 1 cup; 225g)
6 ounces Japanese-style black sesame paste (about 2/3 cup; 170g), such as Kuki (see notes)
Combine turbinado or light brown sugar, egg yolks, and salt in a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, then whisk in cream and milk. Cook over medium-low heat until warm to the touch, then increase to medium and cook, stirring constantly with a flexible spatula, until mixture is steaming-hot but not bubbling, about 8 minutes or to 155°F (68°C) on a digital thermometer. Off heat, whisk in black sesame paste and strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large stainless steel bowl. For a more homogeneous color, process about 30 seconds with an immersion blender; this is strictly an aesthetic consideration.
Fill a sink compartment or extra-large bowl with a few inches of ice water and place bowl of custard inside, stirring from time to time, until cool, about 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until no warmer than 40°F (4°C), about 4 hours, or hold up to 1 week.
Churn in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions. Meanwhile, place a 1-quart container and flexible spatula in the freezer. When ice cream is fluffy and thick, shut off the machine and scrape ice cream into chilled container, using chilled spatula. Enjoy as soft-serve or cover with plastic pressed directly against surface of ice cream, then close lid and freeze until hard, about 4 hours.
The flavor and color of this ice cream hinge on high-quality Japanese-style black sesame paste, which is made from roasted, un-hulled black sesame seeds. The jet-black paste is rich, intensely nutty, and pleasantly bitter, like dark chocolate. Look for it in squeezable pouches at your local Japanese market, or shop for Kuki black sesame paste online. American brands of black sesame paste (often labeled "black tahini") are made from raw, un-roasted black sesame seeds, for a flavor that's too mild and astringent for ice cream.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 27g||34%|
|Saturated Fat 10g||49%|
|Total Carbohydrate 29g||11%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||4%|
|Total Sugars 23g|
|Vitamin C 1mg||6%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|