The virtue of frugality
I continued to cook like that for the first few years of my 'cooking life' (starting in boarding school) but gradually I started to think more (and harder) about where food came from. Not just where this particular sea salt was harvested, or whether my chicken is a Bresse - it's thinking about the lives of the animals who sacrificed themselves (unwillingly) for our sustenance and carnal pleasure; those farmers, fishermen and workers who worked an imaginably hectic life day and night so that we can just buy our food instead of having to hunt/fish/butcher/grow our animals or produce. It dawned on me that making the most out of one's ingredient is almost a moral imperative - a Kantian categorical imperative even.
So, I gradually tried to make the most of what I had. When I buy a whole chicken, I would save the feet, wing tips and head for making stock; I would save rendered chicken, pork and beef fat in individual containers so that I can cook with them; I would save grated ginger from squeezing ginger juice for frying rice with later; I would save excess tart crust for nibbling; I would add the peel when I poach apples or pears; I would try to pack most unfinished dishes when I eat out, and so on. Not only is it a healthy thing to do, being thrifty with every bit of your ingredient also means that you gain extra flavours at no additional cost. All those skins, peels and rendered fat can 'add' to your dishes in myriad ways and could have much, much better use than a knee-jerk tossing to the bin.
It's actually the first time that I used leftover black sesame paste for a cake - the original recipe was one I developed for an almond pound cake utilising leftover almond paste from making almond soup (杏仁茶). I said to myself, why can't I do the same with black sesame paste? And it worked. I reckon this recipe would work with any leftover nut paste - cashew nuts, almonds, sesame seeds, peanuts, etc. - any leftover nut paste after you've made nut milk out of them. You'd be surprised by how much flavour this leftover stuff packs! If you don't have leftover nut paste, you could substitute with nut butter or ground nuts. The texture might end up slightly different, but there's no need to be so awfully exact every time we eat, right?
115g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
115g (1/2 cup) vegetable shortening (or all butter)
1/2 tsp salt
135g (3/4 cup minus 1 tbsp) granulated sugar
200g black sesame paste (sorry, no cup measurement!)
240g (1 3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
125ml (1/2 cup) milk, at room temperature
Set a rack in the lower third of the oven, and spray a 9-inch tube or bundt cake pan with non-stick baking spray.
Preheat the oven to 170C/325F.
1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder with a whisk to combine and loosen the mixture.
2. Cream the butter, shortening, sugar, salt and sesame paste in a large bowl for 5-8 minutes at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Adding the sesame paste at the beginning when you cream the butter helps distribute it evenly into the batter.
3. Add the eggs one by one to the butter mixture. Beat well between each addition to ensure proper emulsification.
4. Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk in two additions: Dry-Wet-Dry-Wet-Dry.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top using your spatula.
|Don't be disappointed by the grey colour at this point: the colour will darken and the full aromas of the sesame released after baking.|
6. Bake in the preheated oven for about 60 minutes or until the top is springy to the touch and the sides start to shrink away from the pan. Remove from oven and let cool for at least 15 minutes before inverting/removing. Serve at room temperature or reheat in the microwave for 20 seconds before eating to bring it back to life again