I dunno what you’re doing (or not doing) for Enforced Romance Day. However you look at what people say about Valentine’s Day, there’s always an undercurrent of, ‘If you really cared about your partner, you’d show your feelings in x manner.’ And then a sub-undercurrent of: ‘If you had any self-respect, you would behave in y manner.’
Well, I and himself are probably going to snuggle up on the sofa and watch a movie, which is what we do most evenings. Dinner: a beautiful fat pork pot pie and lychee and vanilla coconut milk jelly.
Because I set off to work before him, I left a bag full of sweet things perched on his boots for him to find. These black sesame brownies are one of them.
To me, the luxuriousness of these treats is on par with chocolate-filled brownies: black sesame is relatively harder for me to acquire and the gram-for-gram cost is similar, the flavour is resonantly warm, rich and nutty, and the colour is beautifully dark.
I wanted to do a variation on the previous black sesame brownies, building upon the flavours of a dessert I served once for a family meal, pairing a tub of black sesame ice cream from Chinatown with home made pear and dark chocolate cake.
All their different sweetnesses and richnesses go really well together: the black sesame still takes centre stage and is underscored by the caramel nuttiness of palm sugar, but it’s occasionally interrupted by the cool, mild fruit and bittersweet chocolate.
I sort of want to tell you that I made some of these brownies heart-shaped because I generally like heart shapes, owning a pair of tights, a shirt, and two jumpers (Christmas presents from Mr Pear) patterned with them. But no, I’m gooey and silly at heart, and a bit of it is to do with Valentine’s Day because it was the occasion when Mr Pear and I first declared our attraction to one another via ridiculous semi-jokey presents.
You can find out the grim details and more besides in our MouthLondon editors’ special on Valentine’s Day, which begins with Imran and his hilarious truths (‘Valentines Day will pass by like a facial blackhead’ – DEAD).
My heart has been broken countless times. I approve of timely break-ups because wanting to leave is enough. This remains true even if at the time I respond like Beyoncé, volubly listing my favourable attributes while wearing shoes in the bath and setting dinner on fire.
All of my exes and I mutually loathe each other. (IF YOU’RE STILL READING THIS, IT WAS A MISTAKE: THE FACT THAT YOU CHEWED WITH YOUR MOUTH OPEN WAS THE LEAST DISGUSTING THING ABOUT YOU.)
I view love as value neutral: you can love someone selfishly while neither liking nor respecting them. You can love someone and degrade them utterly.
I’ve known all those things firsthand, but I still want to love and be loved. That feeling has little to do with conventional, tidily packaged rituals, but is so raw and strange that I still sometimes find myself performing said conventional rituals in earnest, trying to elide the soreness and softness into jokes and silliness.
Isn’t that embarrassing?
And yet, I don’t find these expressions completely inauthentic. It’s simply a different vocabulary in a rich language.
PEAR, DARK CHOCOLATE & BLACK SESAME BROWNIES
Makes a 23 cm/9 inch square tin to a depth of about 2 cm/ 3/4 inch. Keep wrapped in foil in an airtight container. I get about 6 – 7 hearts with a 7 cm heart cutter.
ETA 17/02/14: I think these are best when they’ve been left to mature for at least a day. The colour deepens slightly and the flavours round out. You may want to keep them in the fridge due to the fruit content.
225g unsalted butter, melted and still warm
150g black sesame seeds, toasted + 2 – 3 tbsp more for sprinkling
200g palm sugar, chopped (use part/all jaggery, light brown soft sugar, demerara or golden granulated sugar if you can’t get any/much palm sugar)
2 tsp sweet dark soy sauce (kecap manis) or any soy sauce
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp coarsely ground rock or flaky sea salt, or 1/4 tsp cooking salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
125g plain flour
1 medium pear, preferably ripe and fragrant, peeled, cored and cut into small dice
50g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped, or chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius/160 fan. Line a 23 cm square tin with baking paper.
In a food processor or blender, blitz melted butter and toasted black sesame seeds for a good few minutes until blended as well as possible into a splutteringly thick black paste. It won’t be as smooth as shop bought tahini.
Put the black sesame paste into a large saucepan with chopped palm sugar and soy sauce. Cook, stirring, over a moderate heat for 4 – 5 minutes until it’s fragrant, the oil separates, and all the sugar has dissolved. Cool until just warm to the touch. I dunk the pan into a bowlful of cold water, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the eggs one at a time and fold in the salt and flour until just combined. Pour half the batter into the lined tin and evenly scatter with chopped pear and chocolate. Pour over remaining batter, nudging with a spatula to cover. Sprinkle with 2 – 3 tablespoons black sesame for a nice toasty top.
Bake for 17 – 25 minutes until slightly risen with dry, somewhat springy top. A toothpick should come out clean (or with a trace of grey if you like it very gooey; 17 is the minimum for it to stay together). Cool in the tin, or if in a hurry, another cold water bath (a roasting tin, this time).
Cut into pieces when completely cool. For heart shapes, lift the whole slab out onto a chopping board and use a heart-shaped cutter, pushing in one short sharp movement.
If you find upon cutting they’ve turned out too gooey, you can re-bake them for 5 – 10 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius/160 fan. They should be completely firm but still fudgy this way. To keep some pieces gooier than others, only bake the pieces you want to firm up. To keep their shape, wrap some foil round the base and sides of each piece before baking, only removing when completely cooled.