a recipe of one’s “own”
on adaption, attribution, and halloween baking
as an act of resistance against the seasonless void that is san francisco, california, i’ve tried to fill my life with spooky-cozy things that make it feel like october. (yep, fall is still on my mind.)
my culinary endeavors are no exception. i couldn’t not crack open a can of fake-pumpkin puree. i planned to host a discussion of “the yellow wallpaper” and wanted to bake something that befit the story’s halloween-y creepiness. (i haven’t yet figured out which flavors pair well with feminist horror, but would love to hear your thoughts!) one impulse purchase of black sesame tahini later, i started to imagine how i might inject its inky blackness into an orangey-brown cucurbitaceous base. the sweet, sweet quintessence of halloween felt within my reach.
but queries like “pumpkin tahini dessert” and “how to use black sesame tahini” left me rabbit-holing from recipe to recipe unsatisfied. unlike its pale counterpart, tahini made from black sesame seeds hasn’t yet been mainstreamed by american food bloggers. (while i’m glad that foodie elites haven’t appropriated black sesame tahini, it would’ve been nice to have had a ready blueprint to bake from.) some truly lovely desserts feature black sesame paste, but that ingredient differs in both consistency and toastiness. for once, the absence of easy answers galvanized me: i’d set my mind on a black-sesame-tahini-and-pumpkin dessert so i vowed to make up “my own.”
why the scare quotes? “my” recipes always originate from someone else’s. i adapt and/or mishmash recipes past the point where the final product can be identified as of those recipes. even so, only with ample attribution am i willing to designate a recipe as “my own.” (my tecc brain now wishes to apply swift’s Equatable protocol to this situation, but i’ll rein it in until i can fully flesh out the analogy. shameless plug: i’m proud to say that i got a cooking/coding story published in stained page news, which i recommend you read if this intersection intrigues you.)
i riff a lot in cooking, but not much in baking. i once souped up a blueberry flax muffin recipe, but didn’t diverge from what you’d expect such a muffin to look and taste like. with the exception of cutting down on sugar and subbing in healthier fats, i follow the rules when baking. only as of late have i felt sufficiently confident in my baking know-how to do “my own” thing.
so i wrote “my own” recipe for a pumpkin and black sesame tahini swirl loaf. my houseguests were fond its bittersweet profile, spongy-soft crumb, and, of course, black-and-orange colorway.
speech time! i cite sarah jampel as my main inspiration: i derived my process from her recipe for a black sesame, banana, and peanut butter cake, which, fittingly, she “adapted heavily” from yet another fruity black sesame cake recipe. i credit kristina razon for tipping me off to the ways in which dairy complements pumpkin, a food science factoid that i took full advantage of in shaping “my own” recipe. i also gotta thank roxana jullapat, whose cookbook mother grains has compelled me to experiment with locally-milled flours. finally, i am indebted to all of the cool dishes that i stumbled upon in my research, even those that didn’t play into “my” final loaf: here’s looking at you, qizha. learning about new-to-me foods makes me feel like i’m becoming a smarter chef and better human, aka exactly who i want to be.
hilariously, i ended up tinkering with “my” pre-written recipe in the midst of baking from it. i’ve captured these revised instructions here so that others might get this bread (out of their oven) (if they so choose!).
pumpkin bread with black sesame tahini swirl
yields one spooky loaf
for the loaf pan
- ~1 tablespoon of neutral oil in its liquid state i used grapeseed)
- 102 grams (~¾ cup) all-purpose flour
- 38 grams (~¼ cup) whole-wheat flour (i used yachats-milled expresso wheat, which is a hard red spring variety)
- 30 grams (~¼ cup) buckwheat flour
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- somewhere between ¼ and ½ teaspoon table salt (not cheffy, i know)
- 1 teaspoon malted milk powder
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons of cooking oil in its liquid state (i used a mixture of grapeseed and coconut)
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1½ cups (a little over half of a 15-ounce can) pumpkin purée
- 4 tablespoons kefir (or buttermilk)
- 2 tablespoons milk (any percentage and/or vegan should work)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (extract suffices, but i’m partial to that whole bean / paste speckle)
for the finishing swirl
- 2 or 3 spoonfuls of black sesame tahini
- preheat an oven to 350°F.
- coat a standard-sized loaf pan with neutral oil. if desired, line it with enough parchment paper so that you might lift out your soon-to-be-baked loaf using its overhang. (here’s how.)
- add all of the dry ingredients to a small mixing bowl. whisk until evenly distributed.
- add all of the wettish ingredients to a separate, medium-to-large mixing bowl. whisk until evenly distributed.
- shake the contents of the dry ingredients bowl (see step 3) into the wettish ingredients bowl (see step 4). using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wettish ingredients until no more dry streaks remain. (try not to overmix! here’s why.)
- pour the prepared batter (see step 5) into the prepared loaf pan (see step 2). shift the loaf pan from side to side to ensure even batter distribution.
- dollop black sesame tahini down the lengthwise center of the batter. swirl it in with a few confident swishes of a butter knife or chopstick. (check out the helpful swirling explainer in this recipe.)
- bake for 50–60 minutes, or until a butter knife or chopstick inserted in the center comes out batter-free. (it might have some smudges from the black sesame tahini, but should no longer have anything orangey stuck to it.)