A recipe for Black Sesame Buns inspired by our time in Yokohama, Japan! These buns are filled with a sweet black sesame mixture and steamed until light and fluffy.
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We recently spent nearly two weeks in Japan! We had such a fantastic time seeing Tokyo, trying a variety of restaurants, and spending time with friends.
I will be sharing our experiences in a series of blog posts. Today is my last one with our day trip to Yokohama!
Check out my previous Tokyo posts:
- Pork Gyoza and Tokyo (Yoyogi, Shimokitazawa, Meiji Jingu, Gotokuji Temple)
- Japanese Crepes and Shibuya, Tokyo
- Matcha Baked Donuts and Odaiba, Tokyo
- Omurice (Japanese Omelette Rice) and Tokyo (Ueno and Asakusa)
- Pokemon Bento and Tokyo (Tokyo Character Street, Pokemon Cafe, Nissan Crossing, Red Tokyo Tower)
- Matcha Latte and Shinjuku, Tokyo
Yokohama (横浜) is the capital of Kanagawa Prefecture and the second largest city in Japan. It is about 34 kilometers (21 miles) south of Tokyo.
From Shinjuku Station, it was about a 45 minute train ride and perfect for a day trip (though we definitely could have spend a few days here!). The time can be as little as 25 minutes from Tokyo Station.
Cup Noodles Museum
We started our day with a visit to the CUPNOODLES Museum!
This interactive museum focuses on the history and creative thinking behind Cup Noodles and its creator, Momofuku Ando (the father of instant noodles).
The museum is a short, scenic walk from Sakuragichō Station (桜木町駅) or Minatomirai Station (みなとみらい駅). There is another location in Ikeda, Osaka.
In the Instant Noodles History Cube, you will find walls lined with instant noodles packaging from the first invention, Chicken Ramen, in 1958 to many of the Japanese and international products that have been created since.
This area also has the entrance to Momofuku Theater with a 14 minute video using CG animation to explain the history. Audio guides are available in English, Chinese, and Korean.
There is even a recreation of Momofuku’s Work Shed where the world’s first instant noodles, Chicken Ramen, were invented using everyday kitchen tools.
My CUPNOODLES Factory
Cup Noodles Museum is full of unique experiences such as My CUPNOODLES Factory.
In My CUPNOODLES Factory, the kids designed their own CUPNOODLES packages with four different soup options and four toppings among 12 varieties (there are 5,460 flavor combinations!).
Numbered tickets are required with a limited number per day. It is best to arrive as early as possible if you want this experience.
The soup options during our visit were CUPNOODLES, CUPNOOLES Curry, Seafood Noodles, and Chili Tomato CUPNOODLES.
Toppings included Hiyoko-Chan fish cake, garlic chip, green bean, cheese, crab flavored fish cake, corn, kimchi, shrimp, minced pork, egg, negi, and umami roasted pork.
After coloring, assembling and sealing, the noodle containers are placed in air packages to protect the cups during transport home.
Ours survived the flight back to the USA and reheated perfectly for a light lunch.
Other experiences include the Chicken Ramen Factory (advance reservations required) and CUPNOODLES Park.
Another highlight of our time in the Cup Noodles Museum was lunch at Noodles Bazaar! This indoor food hall on 4F is styled to resemble an Asian night market.
Each booth has a ticket machine (a great way to use up extra coins!) with a focus on a single noodle dish, juice, and/or dessert. The portions are half-size to promote trying a variety.
We tried the following:
- ミニチキンラーメン Mini Chicken Ramen- original chicken bone soup with roasted soy sauce flavor. The customizable options here made it a favorite with the kids. Evan picked egg and negi for the toppings. Claire went with cheese and egg. Other options included roasted pork, fried onion, kimchi, and Vienna sausage.
- フォー (ベトナム) Pho from Vietnam. Fun fact- due to the polarizing flavor of cilantro, every booth with it asked me specifically if I wanted the herb added.
- 蘭州牛肉面 (中国) Lanzhou Beef Noodles from China. Chewy noodles are paired with beef in a Sichuan pepper, red pepper, and five spice powder seasoned soup.
- 冷麺 (韓国) Cold noodles from Korea. Beef bone soup with acorn flour noodles, char siu, vegetables, and kimchi.
- ミーゴレン (インドネシア) Mie Goreng from Indonesia. Noodles with Kecap Manis and tossed with shrimp and vegetables.
- カップヌードル味のソフトクリーム Cup Noodle Soft Serve Ice Cream either ramen or curry ramen flavored. This was definitely one of the more interesting ice cream flavors I have ever tried. I assumed it was just toppings over soft serve, but the ice cream does indeed taste like noodles!
- 雪氷 (ミルク) Milk Snow Ice. Coconut milk flavored snow ice with strawberry sauce (other options were blueberry and mango). It was so fluffy!
Nissan Gallery Global Headquarters
Along with Nissan Crossing in Ginza, Evan especially loved Nissan Gallery Global Headquarters in Yokohama.
On the ground level of Nissan Global Headquarters is a beautiful, bright showroom with vintage cars, racing and new models, modern technology, and a gift shop with Nissan toys and accessories.
It is just a short walk from Yokohama Station (横浜駅) or Shin-Takashima Station (新高島駅).
The exact cars on display may vary and often rotate. Check the official website for current vehicles in the showroom.
Test drives with staff and up to one accompanying passenger can also be booked through their website (in Japanese) and require a driver’s license valid in Japan.
In case you need a quick snack or a small break, there is a Starbucks on the ground level with great views of the Katabira River and surrounding buildings.
Gundam Factory Yokohama
Visiting Gundam Factory Yokohama was a bucket list experience for Chad. Originally, it was supposed to close in March 2022 (then 2023), but that date has been extended at the time of this post to March 31, 2024.
Gundam Factory Yokohama is a temporary exhibit home to a massive 59 ft (18 meter) Gundam that moves at regular intervals.
Check the official website for hours and tickets. The closest station is Motomachi-Chūkagai Station (元町・中華街駅), then it is a 650 meter (0.4 mile) walk to the building on Yamashita Pier.
In addition to the Moving Gundam, they also have a cafe, shop with original merchandise, and an exhibition room.
The Academy offers hands-on experiences for all ages and a closer look at the design and mechanisms of the Moving Gundam.
We grabbed a small late lunch (we had a lot of noodles earlier) at GUNDAM Café (ガンダムカフェ).
This limited time cafe is located inside Gundam Factory Yokohama with drinks, light snacks, hamburgers, hot dogs, desserts, and a kids menu.
Ordering is via tablets at the entrance with an English option. There are indoor and outdoor seating/standing areas.
We picked the Cafe Latte with different Gundam latte art options (カフェラテ), Gundam Factory Yokohama Original Lunch Box with Karaage (Fried Chicken, オリジナル弁当), Assorted Sausage Cup, by ポンパドウル Pompadour (カップDEウィンナー), and Açaí Berry Smoothie (アサイーベリースムージー).
Before heading back to Tokyo, we stopped by Yokohama Chinatown for a couple of snacks.
Of the three Chinatowns in Japan, Yokohama Chinatown (横浜中華街, Yokohama Chūkagai) is the largest. The other two are in Nagasaki and Kobe.
Its beginnings can be traced back to Yokohama’s port opening in 1859 and it was officially recognized as Yokohama Chinatown in 1955.
This area is home to a variety of shops, restaurants, grocery stores, notable architecture, and temples.
We walked from Gundam Factory Yokohama, but the closest station is Motomachi-Chukagai Station (元町・中華街駅). There is an entrance across the street from Choyo-mon Gate (photo above, 朝陽門).
As we were walking, Claire was drawn to 極茶 (Extreme Tea) at 80-1 Yamashitacho with the sticks of strawberry candy (いちご飴, Ichigo Ame) on display outside the shop.
We ended up getting one along with a Pandaman (パンダまん, Panda Bun) with a black sesame (and I think red bean) filling.
The strawberry candy wasn’t my favorite (Claire loved it), but I really enjoyed the black sesame bun and it was the inspiration for today’s recipe!
Black Sesame Buns
I loved the black sesame bun (黑芝麻包) in Yokohama Chinatown so much, I was excited to make a version at home.
For the base, I used my Mantou dough recipe (Mantou is the unfilled steamed bun) and filled each piece with a scoop of homemade sweetened black sesame paste.
After sealing, I topped the smooth side of each bun with eyes, ears, and a nose cut from a black cocoa dough to make the panda face. This part is completely optional, but adds a fun variation.
The Black Sesame Buns are best shortly after steaming while still warm. They can be refrigerated for up to three days in an airtight container, then steamed until heated through.
Black Sesame Filling
The black sesame filling is best with roasted black sesame seeds. Mine were already roasted, but you can toss them in a dry skillet (stirring constantly) over medium low heat until fragrant.
It will be difficult to check the golden color since the seeds are already dark. Some add a couple of white sesame seeds to the pan with the black sesame seeds to help keep track of the color and keep them from burning.
I like to use a small cookie scoop to add the black sesame paste to the center of each bun. Make sure to keep your hands clean before pleating to prevent any of that dark color transferring to the outside of the bun.
A Few Steamed Bun Tips
I added milk to the dough for a bit of extra richness and white color. The dough can also be made with purely water for a vegan option (check the source of your sugar as well).
Knead the dough well before setting it aside to rise. This will help create a soft, smooth texture and push out any excess air. By hand, this can take around 10-12 minutes or less (around 6-9 minutes) with a dough hook on a stand mixer. If you see any air bubbles, push them out with your fingers.
If the dough is too wet, add a little more flour (only enough to keep it from sticking). Add a little more milk or water if too tough and crumbly.
Only allow the dough to rise until doubled in size. This may take 1 hour in warm kitchens and closer to 2 hours during the winter. Over-proofing may cause the dough to collapse.
Keep any dough covered with a towel when not in use to keep them from drying out.
I used a bamboo steamer with two levels to steam all of the buns at once. One standard steamer basket will hold about 4 buns. If you are unable to cook all the Black Sesame Buns at once, keep the extra in the refrigerator until ready to avoid them over-proofing.
After steaming the buns for 12 minutes, remove the wok from heat. Keep the lid on the steamer basket for 5 minutes to prevent a sudden change in temperature. This will help keep the buns from collapsing/wrinkling. Take care when removing the lid to avoid condensation falling onto the bread.
To match the Black Sesame Buns in Yokohama’s Chinatown, I used a dark cocoa dough to form faces on the top of each bun.
I rolled out the panda black dough by hand. You can use a pasta machine if desired for ease to create a thin sheet (about 1/16th inch, 1.5 millimeters thick) of dough.
Wrap the black dough in plastic or cover and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. This will make it easier to roll and shape. If you have leftover dough, it can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to a day before using.
I used black cocoa powder to create the deep dark chocolate color for the panda faces. It can be found in the specialty baking section of some grocery stores or on Amazon: Black Cocoa Powder.
If unavailable, you can substitute with dark cocoa powder or plain unsweetened cocoa powder. The color just won’t be as dark. You can also skip this step completely to just have plain steamed Black Sesame Buns.
Black Sesame Buns Recipe
Adapted from Mooncakes and Milk Bread
Black Sesame Buns
Black Sesame Paste:
- 1 cup (120 grams) roasted black sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) canola oil
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) lukewarm water 105-115˚F, 40-46˚C
- 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch salt
- 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) lukewarm milk 105-115˚F, 40-46˚C
- 1/2 cup (62 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons (12 grams) black cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) lukewarm water 105-115˚F, 40-46˚C
To make the Black Sesame Paste:
- Place the roasted black sesame seeds, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor.
- Pulse the mixture until the texture becomes coarse.
- Turn the food processor on and while it is running, slowly pour in the canola oil until combined and a smooth paste forms.
- Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to fill the buns.
To make the buns:
- In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the lukewarm water. Stir briefly to combine and allow to sit until frothy, about 5-10 minutes.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook or a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
- Slowly mix in the frothy yeast with water and the milk to form a dough.
- In the mixer or on a lightly floured surface, knead the dough well until soft and smooth (10-12 minutes by hand, 6-9 minutes with the mixer).
- Transfer to a bowl and cover with a towel or plastic. Allow to rest at room temperature until doubled, about 1-2 hours.
To make the Panda Faces:
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour and black cocoa powder.
- Make a well in the center.
- Slowly add water to form a dough. If too wet, add a little more flour. If too dry, add a little more water.
- On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Wrap in plastic and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- On a piece of parchment (only add flour if absolutely necessary to prevent sticking), roll the rested piece of black dough into a thin sheet about 1/16th inch (1.5 millimeters) thick.
- Use a small oval cutter or a sharp knife to cut out 16 oval shapes for the panda faces. If desired use a smaller circle cutter to cut out eyes from each oval.
- Use a small half-circle cutter or a sharp knife to cut out 16 ears for the panda faces.
- Set the cut out pieces aside on parchment and cover with a towel until ready to assemble.
- Cut out 8 individual 4 inch (10 centimeter) squares of parchment.
- Once doubled in size, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface.
- Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Form each piece into a smooth ball. Cover any pieces you aren't currently using with a towel.
- Use a rolling pin to roll a ball into a circle about 4 inches (10 centimeters) wide, keeping the center thicker than the edges.
- Use a small cookie scoop or spoon to add a tablespoon of the black sesame paste to the center of the circle.
- Pleat the edges over the filling and pinch the tops together to seal, twisting gently.
- Place the sealed bun on one of the cut out squares of parchment, sealed side down, then repeat with remaining dough and filling.
- Lightly wet the back of each cut-out panda piece with a little water and gently press down on the prepared buns to make the panda faces.
- Cover the buns with a towel and set aside for 30 minutes at room temperature, until puffed.
- Fill a wok with water, keeping it low enough to not touch the bottom of the steamer. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.
- Arrange the puffed buns on the parchment into two steamer baskets about 2 inches (5 centimeters) apart, cover with the top, then place over the water.
- Steam the buns for 12 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes untouched in the steamer before removing the lid.
- These Black Sesame Buns are best served warm.