Cuisines around the world frequently pair sweet ingredients with contrasting flavors, often something savory or bitter, a combination that keeps the sugar in check and adds interest to what would otherwise be a one-note sweet dessert.
Nuts and seeds are common choices, like the sugar syrup and walnuts in baklava. More simply, a sprinkle of salt can heighten the caramelized flavors in dulce de leche.
As we sought ways to enhance a rich chocolate pudding, we considered the use of sesame seeds and their paste—better known as tahini—in Middle Eastern sweets. In the U.S., tahini is most often used in hummus, but its nutty, buttery flavor both complements and offsets chocolate and balances its sweetness.
To give our pudding creamy, luxurious texture, we used half-and-half as the base, enriched it with egg yolks and chose cornstarch as the thickener. We found that the most complex chocolate flavor was achieved by using a combination of Dutch-processed cocoa and semisweet chocolate. Whisking in a couple tablespoons each of butter and tahini at the end gave the pudding a lustrous sheen and nutty sesame notes.
For a faintly sweet topping, we whipped cream with sugar and a bit more tahini, creating a light, flavorful finish to balance the pudding.