Persimmon Hazelnut Cake
The first time I can remember tasting a persimmon, I was studying abroad in Barcelona, and my host mother came home with some super ripe “caqui” for dessert.
We halved them and scooped the bright orange pulp out of the peels with a spoon. They were like nothing I’d ever had before—sweet as nectar and with a texture that could only be described as gloppy, yet incredibly aromatic and appealing, like the fruit had been laced with ginger and cinnamon.
I didn’t encounter another persimmon until I moved to Japan, where suddenly the origin of the Spanish word caqui hit me: persimmons are called kaki in Japanese.
In Japan and Korea, persimmons are beloved and enjoyed in just the same way.
This is no easy task: eating persimmons out of their peels with a spoon is not unlike eating half-set persimmon-flavored jello out of a flimsy bowl that’s collapsing under the weight of the liquified fruit. (It may be messy, but you’re still going to scrape up every last bite.)
One of my favorite summer treats in Korea was packaged whole frozen already-peeled persimmons—like a spherical popsicle—no less impossible to eat than the fresh kind, but impossibly refreshing and addictive.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here is yet another thing I found magical about moving to California: persimmons actually grow here!
Not only are they available at our farmer’s markets, especially in the fall and winter, but they also decorate the low-maintenance fruit trees that dot the yards of lucky tenants (and forward-thinking landlords and gardeners).
I scored these persimmons from a friend who encouraged us to help ourselves from the tree outside her apartment as we were leaving after a dinner party. They were still firm and pale orange—ready to be picked, but still requiring another week or two on my countertop before ripening and softening into the bright vermilion color (and rotting tomato texture) that meant they were ready to be enjoyed.
Most fans of persimmons will already know that there are (more than two varieties, but broadly) two different types: astringent and non-astringent. The most common non-astringent type in the U.S. is the (squat, tomato-shaped) fuyu persimmon, which can be eaten either when firm or when soft.
The type that I’ve been talking about here are astringent (oval-shaped) hachiya persimmons, which should NOT be eaten until they are super soft and ripe. Believe the “astringent” hype: under-ripe hachiya persimmons taste horribly chalky and bitter, and make your mouth dry up like it will never be able to experience joy again. (Don’t let that happen to you.)
Whereas if you wait until they are so ripe they are practically sloshing out of their peels, you will have a delicious treat, worthy of the word “dessert.”
While my favorite way to eat persimmons is still simply halved and with a spoon, I thought my luck in having several persimmons at once called for baking with them.
This cake is seriously simple (or “sinfully easy,” as the Alice Medrich cookbook that inspired it claims) and would be the perfect quick dessert to whip up for a spontaneous dinner party.
I tried swirling persimmon pulp into the cake, which didn’t quite create the spectacular results I was hoping for: most of the more solid bits sunk to the bottom—but made for a nice treat for those particular bites, while the more liquid bits disappeared as they were absorbed into the cake batter.
The persimmon sauce, on the other hand, made the dessert! Not only does it add a refreshing touch of color and flavor, it also takes a basic hazelnut cake (or almond cake) and makes it fancier and more seasonal.
I thought the sauce was vaguely reminiscent of applesauce (probably because I’ve been making a LOT of applesauce recently and) because of the cinnamon.
Persimmon and cinnamon are a match made in heaven. This became evident to me the moment I first tasted the cold Korean drink sujeonggwa, a kind of persimmon-cinnamon punch made with dried persimmons, ginger, and cinnamon. It was the most delicious and invigorating of cold summer drinks (in Seoul’s hot and humid summer weather), though now that I think about it, it’d probably be just as restorative served warm in the winter.
I thought the almond version of this cake looked irresistibly crispy and crackly in the photo in Alice Medrich’s cookbook, but really it’s a softer, sweet cake, but still a lovely one. Not too dry and not too dense, it’s gingery and cinnamon-soaked and perfect with persimmons.
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Persimmon Hazelnut Cake
(Adapted from the Almond Cake in Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts by Alice Medrich)
Active time: 20 minutes; Total time: 50 minutes.
~ 1 cup (4 oz.) hazelnuts (or substitute almonds)
~ 1 cup + 1 Tbsp. sugar
~ ¼ tsp. salt
~ ½ tsp. fresh grated ginger
~ 8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes to slightly soften
~ 3 eggs
~ ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
~ ¾ tsp. cinnamon
~ ¼ tsp. baking powder
~ pulp of 1 ripe hachiya persimmon
Persimmon Sauce Ingredients:
~ pulp of 2-3 ripe hachiya persimmons
~ 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
~ dash of cinnamon, to taste
Special equipment needed:
~ food processor
~ 8- or 9-inch round cake pan, 2 inches deep (I used a 9-inch pan)
How to make it:
1. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and pre-heat to 350 degrees. Grease the cake pan with butter and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.
2. Combine the hazelnuts, sugar, salt, and grated ginger in the food processor, and pulse until the nuts are finely ground, scraping down the sides a few times with a rubber spatula. Add the butter and pulse until just blended, then add the eggs and continue to pulse until completely blended. Finally, add the flour, cinnamon, and baking powder and pulse until just combined, scraping down the sides once or twice.
3. Scrape the batter into the greased, parchment-lined cake pan and spread it out evenly. Optionally use a spoon to swirl in some persimmon pulp (though it will most likely sink and not be visible from the top once the cake is done). Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a rack. (Once the cake has cooled, run a butter knife around the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan, invert it onto a plate, remove the parchment paper, then turn the cake right side up onto a serving platter.)
4. For the persimmon sauce, scrape the persimmon pulp into a blender or food processor, and puree until smooth. Then transfer to a small saucepan, add the lemon juice and cinnamon, and warm over low heat for 2-3 minutes.
Serve the cake at room temperature, drizzled with warmed persimmon sauce. (You can make the cake ahead of time and keep it tightly wrapped in the fridge for several days, but bring it to room temperature before serving.)
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