It's Spiced, All Right: Spiced Persimmon Cake

I love persimmons (both varieties), but rarely eat them here on the East Coast. They're not always easy to find around here, especially the Hachiya variety, which seem to be more scarce in this area compared to Fuyu for some reason. By contrast, whenever I visit my parents in Los Angeles during the winter, they typically have an ample supply of persimmons on hand. I never eat more fruit -- so many delicious, varied types of fruit, at every single meal -- than when I'm staying with my parents in California. My mother makes her own dried persimmons, and I whenever I can get my hands on some of these flavor bombs, they are a prized treasure. 

I had never used persimmons in a baking project before, but the photo of Claire Saffitz's "Spiced Persimmon Cake" in Dessert Person was irresistable. The cake is made with pureed Hachiya persimmons in the batter, and decorated with thin, petal-like slices of Fuyu persimmon on top. It's beautiful.

I found Hachiya persimmons at the Asian supermarket and it took what seemed like forever (about two weeks) for them to ripen. You definitely need to wait for them to become squishy soft, because an underripe Hachiya persimmon is a tannic and astringent nightmare that is incredibly unpleasant to eat. You scoop out the flesh of the ripe Hachiya persimmons, puree it, whisk in some baking soda, and wait. In a few minutes, the puree mixed with baking soda sets up into a solid gel. I had no idea that turning persimmon puree into a solid was a thing.
Once the persimmon gel is set, the cake batter comes together easily. You combine all of the wet ingredients (the persimmon mixture, sugar, oil, eggs, orange juice, orange zest, and vanilla) in one bowl; combine all of the dry ingredients (flour, Chinese five-spice powder, salt, and baking powder) in another; and add the wet into the dry. Then you add toasted walnuts and pour the batter into a parchment-lined loaf pan. The recipe is written to be baked in a 8.5-inch by 4.5-inch pan, and I multiplied the recipe by 1.5 and baked it in a 10-inch by 5-inch loaf pan. Before putting the loaf in the oven, I garnished the top with slices of ripe Fuyu persimmon and a generous sprinkle of demerara sugar. The recipe doesn't say anything about peeling the persimmon, but I did because my parents always peel Fuyu persimmons before we eat them. (They remove the skin of any fruit that can be reasonably peeled; after every meal, my parents will pull out from the fridge three or four plastic containers with different types of fruit that they have conveniently washed, peeled, and sliced ahead of time.)
The recipe says that the cake should bake for somewhere between 60-75 minutes. My loaf -- which was enormous and rose all the way to the top of my loaf pan -- took 90 minutes to finish baking, but I wasn't bothered by the time discrepancy since I had sort of gone rogue by scaling up the recipe and changing the pan size. Before baking, I had tesselated the slices of Fuyu persimmon to neatly cover most of the top of the loaf. But the loaf rose and expanded so much while it baked that there were large gaps of uncovered cake by the time it was done. Also, I was not able to slice the Fuyu persimmon as thinly as I would have liked because it was ripe and somewhat soft. The persimmon garnish shown in the cookbook photo is delicately thin and the edges of each slice are artistically turned up, like a flower petal. My slices of fruit just looked like flat, boring discs.
I was surprised at the intensity of the spice level in this cake. The recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of Chinese five-spice powder, so I used a tablespoon in my scaled up version -- and the cake was so spicy that it gave me a gingerbread-like vibe. The bread was dense and a bit heavy, although it was moist. The nuts pay a critical role by providing some textural interest, and I loved the terrific crunch of the demerara sugar. 

Here's the thing, though. This cake was good and I enjoyed eating it -- but at the same time I was a bit disappointed because I couldn't taste the persimmon in the cake batter. Perhaps the flavor was there by just drowned out by the level of spice. The amount of persimmon on top of each slice was pretty minimal, so from the way it tasted, I would describe this as a spice cake as opposed to a persimmon cake. And it's a perfectly good spice cake. But for someone who loves persimmons and patiently waited weeks for my fruit to ripen so that I could make this cake, I really wanted it to taste like persimmons. The next time I want to savor the lovely flavor of persimmons, I'll just eat the fruit!
Recipe: "Spiced Persimmon Cake" from Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz.


Louise said…
I,too,love good persimmons and this sounds like a waste of them. Could probably be apples or pears or even pumpkin and you couldn't tell the difference. Sad. For years we had a vendor at our farmers market who regularly had great persimmons all winter long. I never realized how special they were until the man retired and I had to get persimmons at the grocery store.
In the recipe headnote, Saffitz says that she was first introduced to persimmons from James Beard's persimmon bread (you can find the recipe on David Lebovitz's website -- it is very different from Saffitz's loaf). But the headnote also says that she is using the fruit "to add moisture and natural sweetness to a quick bread," so I agree that you could probably sub another fruit (or maybe even applesauce) and get the same result. I would dial back the spice a bit in any case.
Anonymous said…
I loved the recipe! I actually think the persimmon tastes amazing - might reco NOT using the Chinese 5 spice blend and instead just nutmeg, allspice, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, etc, because that's what I did and you can DEF taste the persimmon. OR you could just sub pumpkin for the inside and still do persimmon on the outside.
The only thing I still have a hesitation on is the type of persimmon. IMO it prob does not matter as long as you blend it and make it jelly-like.
Oh, I'm glad you could taste the persimmon! I agree that five spice is pretty intense -- I think it's probably the star anise in particular that seems so potent, so using other spices seems like a great idea!