Since our trip to Japan I’ve been seriously obsessed with black sesame desserts.
So don’t be surprised if this is the first of many sweet sesame recipes.
You probably think of sesame as a savory flavor, but it really plays quite well in the sweet sphere too, as I learned, rather quickly while stuffing my face with sesame soft serve, mochi, and macarons. These little seeds are quite common in desserts in Japan, and once you’ve tried a few you’ll understand why. The sweet and nutty combination is simply divine.
Shortly after our return, I picked up a jar of black sesame tahini (basically black sesame seeds ground to a smooth paste not unlike peanut butter) and have been waiting for the right moment to crack it open.
That moment is now.
These are classic chocolate truffles, with a rich chocolate ganache and snappy chocolate coating, but with a nutty twist: I stirred in about 5 tablespoons of black sesame tahini into the ganache filling. I started with 2, but the flavor wasn’t quite prominent enough. I think you could go up to 6 or 7 even without affecting the consistency of the ganache.
I rolled some truffles in black sesame powder, and dipped others in chocolate topped with a sprinkle of whole black sesame seeds to offer a visual ‘hint’ as to what’s inside.
Let me say, much like the Chocolate Black Sesame Cookies I made a few years back, the sesame flavor is subtle, especially when paired with a bitter dark chocolate. I was expecting it to be stronger, but even with a solid third cup of tahini in here, the nuttiness comes through as a subtle suggestion of flavor rather than a firm statement.
It’s actually quite lovely.
Black vs White Sesame
Black sesame seeds are unhulled, whereas the common white sesame seeds have their hulls removed (there are also different varieties of sesame seeds, so there are unhulled varieties that are brown instead of black, but hulled sesame seeds are always white). Unhulled sesame seeds have a coarser, crunchier texture and a nuttier flavor; they sometimes border on bitter, making them the perfect in desserts, where the sugar counteracts that bitterness.
Black sesame tahini is not nearly as common as white tahini, but I was able to find a jar of it on Amazon. Could you use regular tahini in this recipe? You bet. The flavor will be more mild, less nutty, but still noticeably sesame.
If you’re making rolled truffles you’ll also want some black sesame powder, or finely ground black sesame seeds. You can also make your own by finely grinding black sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle.
I made both dipped and rolled truffles (since I wanted to top these with sesame seeds that ruled out the molded truffle method). While the dipped truffles are quite pretty, the rolled truffles pack the most black sesame punch from the added layer of black sesame powder. I do think cocoa powder would be too potent here, as the sesame flavor is surprisingly delicate and it wouldn’t take much to overpower it.
Types of Truffles
Dipped truffles are balls (or in this case, domes molded using a silicone mold) of ganache or filling that are fully dipped in tempered chocolate.
Rolled truffles are balls of ganache that are rolled in tempered chocolate in your palms, creating a super thin snappy coating of chocolate. They require much less melted chocolate than dipping. They are usually coated in cocoa powder, though here I used black sesame powder. I’ve seen rolled truffles that just go straight from ganache to cocoa, skipping the tempered chocolate step, and you could certainly do that too.
Molded truffles are made using chocolate molds, either hard acrylic (what the pros use), plastic, or silicone. The insides of the mold cavities are coated with a thin layer of chocolate, cooled, then the ganache or filling is piped inside. Finally they are capped with more chocolate. Once cooled, if the chocolate was properly tempered the truffles will pop right out of their molds. If you see super shiny truffles anywhere they are probably molded since the chocolate picks up the finish of the acrylic mold.
Tempering chocolate is mostly a matter of patience and accuracy. If you’re in a rush don’t even try it. The ultimate goal is to create a uniform crystal structure which will allow the chocolate to be more stable at room temperature, with a solid shiny finish and a snappy consistency when you bite into it.
By bringing the chocolate up to 120ºF you are essentially resetting the crystalline structure of the chocolate. The chocolate is then brought down to about 85ºF using a few chunks of well-tempered seed chocolate. As the chocolate cools, the seed chocolate encourages the crystals in the melted chocolate to reform in a uniform way.
Think of it like this. Have you ever been cooking a pot of sugar (for fudge or caramel or what not) when one stray sugar crystal gets in the pot and suddenly the whole pot seizes up into a crystalized mass? Well, that one little sugar crystal is a lot like the seed chocolate, crystalizing the entire batch of chocolate. It’s that unique crystal structure that gives tempered chocolate its signature snap.
Don’t have time (or patience) to temper? No worries, you can still make these truffles, you’ll just want to keep them refrigerated once they’re done to keep the chocolate from melting and blooming.
- 8 ounces good quality dark chocolate (60-70%, no higher), finely chopped
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/3 cup black sesame tahini
- 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 4 OR 12 ounces* good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped, plus a few bigger chunks of well-tempered chocolate to use as seed chocolate.
- 3/4 cup black sesame powder (for rolled truffles)
- black sesame seeds, for topping (for dipped truffles)
- Place finely chopped chocolate (pieces should be no larger than a peanut) in a heat-proof bowl and set aside.
- Heat cream over medium-low heat until it just starts to bubble. Pour over chopped chocolate and let sit for 30 seconds.
- Begin stirring in a tight circle in the center of the bowl until you see a glossy chocolate emulsion start to form. Then slowly widen your strokes to incorporate the rest of the cream. If your mixture cools down too quickly and your chocolate isn’t completely melted, you can place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (like a double boiler) briefly to rewarm it. Just be careful not to heat it up too much or let even so much as a drop of water get in it or it might break (if your ganache ever does break, transfer one-third of it to a separate bowl and vigorously whisk in few tablespoons of very hot cream until the emulsion returns. Then gradually whisk in the rest of the broken ganache until smooth.)
- In a small bowl, mash together black sesame tahini and softened butter until it forms a smooth paste. Drop a dollop or two into lukewarm chocolate mixture and gently stir until smooth. Repeat until all of tahini mixture is incorporated.
- Set aside and refrigerate briefly until ganache has thickened to a pipeable consistency. If you chill it too long and it is too firm, then you can shape the truffles by scooping out balls of ganache using a melon baller, then rolling into smooth balls.
- However, I prefer the piping method. Transfer thickened-but-not-yet-firm ganache to a large piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip. Pipe dollops of ganache onto a parchment-lined baking tray. Keep them pretty small, since you’ll be putting two together to form a ball. You’ll likely end up with a kiss-shaped dollop, and that’s ok. If you want, you can also pipe your ganache into silicone molds to create shapes other than spheres.
- Chill piped ganache for 30 to 60 minutes or until firm. Pick up two piped domes, stick the flat ends together, and then use the heat of your hands to shape the ganache into a round sphere. Return to baking sheet and repeat with remaining truffles. Return to the refrigerator while you melt your chocolate.
- Place finely chopped chocolate in a double boiler set over gently simmering water or chocolate melting pot. To temper the chocolate properly, let the chocolate fully melt and come to 115 to 120 degrees F (no higher). Remove from heat and stir in a few large chunks of seed chocolate; this will bring the temperature of the chocolate down and encourage proper crystallization. Gently stir until the chocolate has come down to the low 80s. If there are still chunks of your seed chocolate left unmelted at this point, go ahead and fish them out. Return the chocolate to the double boiler in brief increments until it reaches 88 to 91 degrees F, but NO HIGHER. If you rush this and your chocolate goes above 91º, then you’ll need to reheat the chocolate back up to 120º and start the whole process over again.
- When the chocolate reaches the proper temperature, you can begin dipping your truffles. I recommend working in batches and keeping the rest of the truffles in the refrigerator, as if they get too warm they will be harder to work with.
- For dipped truffles, use a dipping fork to gently lower the chilled truffle into the melted chocolate, spooning a bit over top to fully coat. Tap off excess, then transfer to a clean parchment lined baking sheet. Quickly sprinkle with a few sesame seeds for decoration (do this quickly as properly tempered chocolate will start hardening almost immediately).
- For rolled truffles, place a spoonful of melted chocolate in your palm (if you prefer to wear gloves here, that’s fine). Roll the truffle between your palms until it is fully coated with a thin layer of chocolate. Drop into shallow dish filled with black sesame powder and roll it around until it’s evenly coated. Again, do this quickly as the chocolate will start to harden. Tap off excess powder and transfer to a baking sheet while you repeat with the remaining truffles.
- Properly tempered truffles can be stored at room temperature for up to a week; otherwise, keep refrigerated and enjoy within 3 to 5 days.
* For rolled truffles, you probably will only need a few ounces of tempered chocolate, since each truffle needs only a teaspoon or so. If you are making dipped truffles, however, you might want to melt 12 ounces of chocolate or more so you have a deep enough pool for dipping all your truffles (it’s better to have too much chocolate here than to run out partway through dipping). If you have any chocolate left at the end, spread it out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and let it set up, then break into pieces and store it in an airtight bag for the next time you need chocolate. If there are any impurities in it (such as bits of the ganache filling) it might not temper properly, but you can still use it for ganache or other recipes like brownies.