On August 21 earlier this week, we experienced the solar eclipse at 97% totality. The light was a smile of the sun’s corona peeping through. Mondays are my busy days at work so I didn’t feel right taking the day off. The staff helped rearrange my schedule slightly to give my afternoon more open space. I stood outside the hospital diligently wearing my ISO-approved eclipse glasses, cautiously brave to look at a gibbous sun creeping to a fingernail crescent. The sun crept away, the moon its accomplice. Leaves created a multitude of pinhole cameras in which to view the light safely out of the sky, feathery arches of light below my feet on the cement. As close to totality we were, the sun was still bright enough in its sliver to light the sky with eerie green-orange tones.
As the eclipse progressed, the light changed and I felt the ambient temperature drop, a breeze across my face, and the city around me grow quieter. The totality zone just north of us reported confused birds, the brief darkness triggering night time avian behavior of quiet, some agitation, then a leery dawn chorus birdsong restart.
I wonder if the sun feels that pull I do to disappear into itself. It has an inescapable expected anthropomorphic extroversion: it’s everywhere. Maybe the sun isn’t fond of large groups. Maybe it just wants to be alone for a few days, collecting its thoughts, thrumming its fingers on a rickety table, writing a faith-themed poem about calm, or studying the dust motes it creates on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Or maybe it wants to disappear, turn off its light, and sit in the unyielding dark. What if it wants to stay dark in the forever night of the Milky Way, squelching and sending life into a temporary flurry of panic when it uncharacteristically appears to vanish? But then, the sun bursts back into focus, like an explosion in the sky. The sun’s light touches so many planets and stars that, until it’s gone, its presence is ruefully underappreciated. Like many people. The janitor of your building. The float teacher part-time at your kid’s school. A grandparent. The grocery shelf stockboy. Your brother who stuck up for you when your friends were jerks. The teenage hostess at some flair bar chain restaurant. A parent. Your former college calculus professor who spent extra time trying to teach you a class you didn’t like but needed to graduate. You.
No matter your belief of whether there is afterlife or not, we never really disappear; there’s always a hint, a scrap of our presence, some space that we do not fill anymore. Even in our effort to disappear in total dark, there is the corona of us still blazing, peeping around the shadow of the moon.
This black sesame chiffon cake is neither bright nor dark. It is the gray area, the soft grey light of Hiroshima in the mornings when we were there this summer. You can choose the depth of flavor with using ground black sesame or black sesame paste (you can order it on Amazon or find in many Asian markets). I personally like the deeper sesame flavor using the paste; Eat and the kids like the ground sesame version better. The frosting is simple but demands cool temperatures to cooperate and prevent spoilage. It’s all whipped cream mixed with a little black sesame and powdered sugar. As I piped blobs to make the petal design, the warmth of my hands loosened the cream, necessitating a return of all frosting and cake to the fridge for a few minutes before resuming decorating.
Be well and see the light around you, even when it seems to be getting dark.
One year ago: apricot-earl grey jam
Recipe adapted from the lovely Off the Spork blog.
- FOR THE CAKE: 220 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
- 350 g (1¾ cups) sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 80 g (4 tablespoons) black sesame paste (See important notes before if using ground sesame seeds instead!)*
- 120 ml (1/2 cup) water
- 120 ml (1/2 cup) oil
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- FOR THE FROSTING: 400 to 500ml (about 1 pint) heavy whipping cream**
- 2 to 4 tablespoons black sesame paste (or ground seeds)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
- a few sprinkles of black sesame seeds, for garnish
- MAKE THE CAKE: Line a tube pan with parchment on the bottom. Do not grease.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a very clean, grease-free bowl, mix egg whites with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and cream of tartar to stiff peaks. Set aside.
- In a separate large bowl, whisk together flour, remaining sugar, baking powder, and salt.
- In yet another bowl, mix together black sesame paste, water, egg yolks, oil, and vanilla until well combined.
- Pour the black sesame mixture into the dry ingredient bowl and mix well.
- Scoop about ⅓ of the stiff egg whites into the black sesame/flour mixture and fold to lighten.
- Add the rest of the whites in two more batches, folding gently to just combine.
- Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake 40-45 minutes until cake tester comes out clean.
- When done baking, immediately invert pan (a wine bottle works well) to cool. When cool, use a knife rimmed around the edges to loosen and flip into a cake rack or pedestal. Peel off parchment.
- If there are any tears or cracks, don't worry! The frosting will cover it up.
- Make sure the cake is completely cool before frosting.
- MAKE THE FROSTING: Whip the heavy whipping cream until thickened, then add black sesame paste and sugar and mix to combine.
- I elected to do a petal frosting design for this cake in the pictures, but have also slathered it on roughly with a offset spatula with perfect results. As you frost, the cream may warm up and drip. Just put the frosting bowl and piping bag in the fridge for a few minutes to firm up before continuing.
- Store in the fridge fairly well wrapped for a few days, if it lasts that long. The unfrosted cake can be made a couple days in advance and kept well wrapped at room temperature before using.
**There will be leftover whipping cream. We like to dollop extra on slices when served, if the eater requests it. Usually, this is a child.