i was in the kitchen the other night when a wobble-board kind of noise, and maybe the tiniest wobble, came from behind the wall. “what kind of home improvement is the neighbour up to at this time of night?” i wondered. then i finished making my cup of tea and thought nothing more of it. turns out it was the biggest earthquake to hit victoria in 109 years, and then before i even knew it, it was over. it feels less bleak these days. i expect it’s only cosmetic though, but if i don’t try too hard, it is easy to ignore the darkness. possible to embrace it, even, in the form of black cake. ah, the shadowy spectre of holidays past…
my habitual first stop in singapore, muji, yielded a two-pack of black muffins. the little dessicant packet and the goodness of humectant created the perfect sealed-in-plastic micro-climate for a perfect, moist cakelet. i seem to remember that one of the ingredients listed was “carbon”, although it was mostly black sesame. also: soft and spongy, sticky and sweet, and a little bit otherworldly. i did become quite obsessed with black sesame cakes while we were away. it was easy: in singapore, they are everywhere.
from mushiya steamers in the ion foodcourt, a kurogoma mochi kintoki steamer. doesn’t it just look like a package of good fortune? inauspiciously, as the shopgirl tonged the cake into a plastic bag, she sneezed. all over it. “um.” i said incredulously. “you just sneezed all over it.” she was nice enough to fetch me a fresh one (i had to ask), although it didn’t taste particularly fresh. it turned out to be much like a local huat kueh — steamed spongey bready cake made with a variety of leavening agents; my grandmother favoured a can of creaming soda — just drier around the edges. the cake was somewhat bland with the gentlest hint of black sesame flavour; the embedded jewels — assorted beans and a fat chewy mochi artfully arranged over the top– were slightly more compelling.
another food court, another steamed bun. from food republic at vivocity, a pair of black sesame buns. these were fresh out of the steamer — lovely, pillowy soft dough wrapped around a rich, sweet filling of black sesame paste. it’s the kind of thing where after you eat it, you must check your teeth to make sure that there are not pockets of black tucked into the crevices. once in new york i snacked on black sesame crackers on my way to meeting my sister at her supercool lower manhattan publishing house. i met all her supercool colleagues. i smiled and chatted. and then after we’d left, she caught a glimspe at the side of my smile and exclaimed, horrified, “what is that!?”
masticated black sesame seeds, nyup nyup.
on to more pleasant memories. the black sesame society, from bread society at ion. soft, slightly sweet bun studded with sesame seeds. a fat ribbon of black sesame buttercream. a dusting of fine sugar. it was probably the best in show (the easter holiday black sesame show), but then i am particularly partial to a cream bun. regretfully, i never made it back for another. the end of our holiday came upon us far too soon.
even so, there had been enough time for five or six trips to muji. on my last, wistful jaunt, i finally gave in to a large bag of individually packaged black bean and barley biscuits, which i packed into my luggage along with a dour pile of stripey shirts-socks-dresses in sombre shades of grey and greyish blue. somewhat sympathetically, these bite-sized biscuits are barely sweet, decidedly savoury, and taste of healthfood. they are a sturdy crunch which gives way to a sandy mouthful. the blackbeans do not crumble of course. they resist, challenging your molars. they are by no means horrible, but i can’t have more than one at a go. no doubt they will last through this cold, cruel winter, giving me sustenance at my desk, one humourless bite at a time.
and finally, yes, the black baumkuchen. the muji incarnation is not a charming ring of cake carved from a log on a spit. instead, it is a black slab (cut from said ring) industrial enough that it was mistaken for a newfangled cleaning product by another member of the household (like, i would buy a cleaning product! ha!). do not fear. i rescued it just in time, and so can tell you that, even two months past its best-before date, it only needs a few seconds in the microwave to freshen up, forming part of a demure sunday morning breakfast, with a side of gingery daufufa and a crackle cup of genmaicha.
it wasn’t quite as moist as the aforementioned black muffin, due, i suppose, to its cooking method of being roasted one thin layer at a time. the flavour was black sesame with a slight smoky edge. truly a post-apocalyptic cake appropriate for this time in which i live.