A Cake That Will Make Your Mouth “Open Sesame”

Luscious tahini goes into both the batter and buttercream in this delectable one-pan cake.
Luscious tahini goes into both the batter and buttercream in this delectable one-pan cake.

One-pan cakes are simple and satisfying.

But sometimes — just sometimes — they can leap-frog over plain basic into the realm of attention-grabbing exceptional.

“Tahini Sheet Cake” is such a creation.

Like any sheet cake, it’s all of one layer baked easy-peasy in a rectangular pan that gets slathered with sweet frosting to finish.

But what sets this one apart is the tahini in both the batter and the fluffy buttercream that gives this cake the marvelously distinctive, sweetly nutty taste of sesame.

Gotta love the ease of a sheet cake.
Gotta love the ease of a sheet cake.

The recipe is from Eating Out Loud: Bold Middle Eastern Flavors for All Day, Every Day” (Clarkson Potter, 2020) by Eden Grinshpan, a Cooking Channel star and host of “Top Chef Canada,” whose Israeli heritage plays into the Middle Eastern-inflected recipes showcased.

Although you probably know tahini as an essential ingredient in hummus, it also does wonders for baked goods. It combines here with butter, grapeseed oil, whole milk, and sour cream for a batter that results in a moist, rich tasting cake.

What it does in buttercream is even more wondrous — leveling out the sweetness of all that powdered sugar for a thick frosting that is far more interesting in taste. If you’re a fan of Bouchon Bakery’s Nutter Butter cookie sandwiches (as I definitely am), you’ll be giddy to know the texture of this buttercream is akin to that cookie’s heavenly filling.

I used both black and white sesame seeds for more contrast.
I used both black and white sesame seeds for more contrast.

Grinshpan likes to sprinkle the frosted cake with white sesame seeds. I used a mix of black and white ones so that they were more visible against the light color of the buttercream, a suggestion I added to the recipe below.

Cut yourself a big square and “open sesame.”

Enjoy a big slab. You know you want to.
Enjoy a big slab. You know you want to.

Tahini Sheet Cake

(Makes one 9-by-13-inch cake)

For the cake:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup grapeseed, sunflower or safflower oil

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup whole milk, at room temperature

1/2 cup tahini paste, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Grated zest of 2 lemons

1 cup sour cream, at room temperature

For the buttercream:

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup tahini paste, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For serving:

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, white or black or a mix, for garnish

Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer or a spoon), cream the butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the oil and granulated sugar and continue to whip it until light and fluffy, about another 2 minutes, scraping down sides with a spatula as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, waiting until each egg is incorporated before adding the next. Beat in the milk, tahini, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the sour cream and mix just until it’s incorporated, only a few seconds.

Reduce the speed to low (this helps keep the flour from whooshing up in the mixer) and add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, increasing the speed to medium as more flour gets incorporated. Repeat with the other half of the flour mixture and mix for about 1 minute, just until it all comes together.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, using a spatula to help smooth it evenly. To help the batter settle evenly in the pan, gently lift the pan an inch or two off the work surface and drop it back down. Repeat a couple of times.

Bake until a skewer or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let the cake cool completely in the pan while you make the frosting. You could also invert the cake onto a cooling rack after allowing it to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then serve it on a platter or tray.

Make the buttercream: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer or a spoon), cream the butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. add the powdered sugar and continue mixing until well combined, making sure to scrape down the sides. Add the tahini, vanilla, and salt and continue mixing until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. The frosting will be nice and thick.

To serve: Liberally frost the cake with the buttercream and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Note: You can make the frosting up to 2 days in advance and store it in the fridge. Just be sure to let the frosting sit at room temp for about 20 minutes to soften before spreading it over the cake.

Adapted from “Eating Out Loud” by Eden Grinshpan

Another Recipe by Eden Grinshpan to Try: Roasted Romanesco with Pistachios and Fried Caper Vinaigrette

Other Ways to Bake with Tahini: Sweet Tahini Rolls

And: Fig-Tahini Cookies

And: Tahini Cookies by Manresa Bread

And: Tahini Shortbread Cookies

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  • Neat way to use tahini! I particularly like that’s it’s used in the buttercream — really clever idea. Bet its flavor is particularly nice in that. Super recipe, and sounds like an excellent book. Thanks!

  • Hi John: Yes, the fact that it’s used in the buttercream, too, makes this cake extra special and delectable. Hope you give it a try. I bet the Mrs. would love it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Holy Moly, Carolyn; you’ve done it again!!! My daughter-in-law will go nuts when I make this for her birthday!

    I should just give up ever using cookbooks any more. The archive of your recipes here provides more than enough inspiration for any occasion. Maybe I’ll start a Carroll/Carolyn project (a la the “Julie/Julia” project with which I’m sure you are familiar) Perhaps I too will become famous and score a book and movie deal out of it. I promise to cut you in for half, OK?

  • Hi Carroll: You are too funny! And too kind. This would make a splendid birthday cake for sure. I hope your daughter-in-law loves it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • This looks GLORIOUS! Quietly devastated it doesn’t give weight measures I can work with.

  • Hi Claire: I just double-checked the cookbook, and unfortunately, the weight measures are not included in this recipe. Sorry about that. I hope you give the cake a try, though. It truly is divine. Happy baking!

  • Hi -thank you for looking; I really appreciate that. Honestly, without accurate weights I won’t be trying it but have filed it away in my memory in the hope it gets updated in some form, somewhere or by someone in future. The world is slowly waking up to accuracy in baking so there’s hope.

  • Hi Claire: I hope you do give it a try. I made it by just using the cup measurements, and it turned out great. The cake has an ample amount of fat in it (never a bad thing!), which makes it more forgiving, too. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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