This was my late father-in-law’s absolute favorite candy by a country mile. He munched on a couple of pieces every day, ostensibly to keep his hair black, but also because he had the biggest sweet tooth I’ve ever seen.
Any trip to a Chinatown market would involve him placing a packet of these crisp wafers into his shopping basket with a satisfied smile.
They would be opened up in the afternoon when he sat down to enjoy his cup of hot jasmine tea, with a pile of toasted pumpkin seeds on the side. All of these had therapeutic value, he assured us, as he happily nibbled away. I must admit, it took little encouragement for me to join in, too.
The only thing I never really liked about these wafers is that they sometimes tasted a bit (or more than a bit) stale. Who knows how long they had been idling on some shelf, waiting for my father-in-law to take them home. Or else the seeds hadn’t been toasted enough, giving them a slightly bitter edge, rather than exploding with the right amount of nuttiness.
|Starting the candy syrup|
So, that is why I worked on creating these at home. For one thing, they are guaranteed fresh for, at least, the five minutes it takes between making them and me devouring them on the spot. I know they have the right amount of toasted goodness, as well, because if the seeds aren’t already toasted, they get dry-fried for a few minutes before they are coated with this crunchy caramel.
If you are new to candy making, this is a great place to start. It’s one of the easiest recipes around. Once you have the seeds toasted, you will spend more time setting up than actually creating these delectable shards.
By the way, these candies are truly beautiful when made with black sesame seeds. Their ebony surfaces glisten, refracting light and suggesting that you take just one more bite. The slices offer a gorgeous contrast, too, since the insides of the seeds are a delicate white. But still, if black sesame isn’t hanging around your house, by all means use white or unhulled or a mixture of different sesame seeds. They will be equally delicious.
|Start timing now|
Even now, when we visit my father-in-law’s grave in Southern California, we are always sure to bring a gift of these candies along with some other of his favorite sweets, a bunch of flowers, a couple of fresh tangerines, and sticks of sandalwood incense. Some things are just too good to let a little thing like death get in the way.
Black sesame candy wafers
Hēi zhīmá táng 黑芝麻糖
Makes around 6 ounces | 180 g
¾ c | 100 g raw or toasted black sesame seeds
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons packed | 40 g black or dark brown sugar
¼ teaspoon sea salt
|Stir in the butter|
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon softened butter (salted or unsalted)
1. Prepare 1 baking sheet and 1 sheet of Silpat or parchment paper, as well as a rolling pin and a small work bowl. Line the baking sheet with the Silpat or parchment paper.
2. If your sesame seeds are raw, toast them first by dry-frying them: Place them in a wok without any oil and set it over medium-high heat. Use a large silicone spatula to stir them as they toast, paying special attention to the bottom of the wok where the heat is the fiercest. As the seeds toast, they will start to pop and smell divine. Taste them as you go along, and when you no longer can detect rawness, scoop them out into the work bowl. If your sesame seeds are already toasted, skip this step.
|Coat the seeds with the syrup|
3. Put the water, sugar, salt, and honey in the wok and bring it to a full boil over medium-high heat. As soon as the top of the liquid is just about covered with bubbles, set your timer for exactly 2 minutes. You don’t need to stir the syrup, just let it bubble away. As soon as the 2 minutes are up, immediately remove the wok from the heat and use your silicone spatula to first stir in the butter and then the sesame seeds so that they are all evenly coated with the syrup. This will turn into a soft mass that will leave the sides of the wok (see the photo to the right).
4. Scrape the hot sesame candy onto the lined baking sheet. Dip your silicone spatula in boiling water as needed to quickly turn the candy into as thin a layer as possible. Roll out the candy until it forms a very thin sheet, about one-sixteenth of an inch | 1.5 mm is ideal. A good way to do this by guesstimate is to have a thickness of no more than 4 or 5 seeds, as this helps make the candy shatteringly crisp.
|Roll out a big wafer|
5. As soon as you have the correct thickness, and while the candy is still warm, flip it out onto a cutting board. Use a long, sharp, heavy knife to trim off the uneven edges and cut it into rectangles. Any size is fine, but I like the shape that reminds me of my father-in-law: about ¾ x 1 ½ inch | 20 x 40 mm.
6. Cool the candy completely, and then refrigerate it in a closed container. I like to keep it hidden in the back of the refrigerator with something like “anchovies” written on the side to keep it from disappearing too quickly.
Buy your sesame seeds where there is a fast turnover, since they are awful when stale. Before you use them, taste a couple of seeds to ensure that they taste fresh. Store any extras in a cool place and use them up as soon as you can.
|A perfect New Year treat, too|
I like to toast my sesame seeds and have them on hand to toss into different dishes or sprinkle on cookies. It’s somehow reassuring—at least to me—to have a couple of jars of toasted peanuts, sesame seeds, and soybeans ready to go to work at a moment’s notice.
A good way to measure out the honey is to first pour the water into a small (¼ cup | 60 ml) measuring cup before adding the honey. The honey will flow out much easier.
The raggedy edges of the sesame candy should be trimmed off and squirreled away for a private treat. However, if you are feeling generous, they can be sprinkled on top of ice cream or puddings. But only if you really like those people.