Persimmons: I’ve been drawn to these orange-y red beauties in fruit markets for years. They’re in season during the fall and winter holidays, which makes them even more tempting, since they fit well into special dinners. Last year, rambling through Joseph Dabney’s classic Southern Appalachian cooking tome “Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread & Scuppernong Wine,” the section on persimmon puddings convinced me to bring some persimmons home.
I’d heard that persimmons, if not ripe, will turn your mouth inside out with pucker and it’s true. As the writers of persimmonpudding.com put it: “Tannins in [unripe] persimmons make your tongue, cheeks, and gums feel as though you’re chewing on a cross between aspirin, alum, and chalk.” So be patient: let persimmons ripen a good, long while– a process called “bletting”–until they are completely soft and almost appear over-ripe. At this stage, they’ll have an unctuous velvety sweetness with caramel overtones.
Persimmons are delicious simply scooped up with a spoon. But they also behave wonderfully in puddings and cakes. I adapted this vintage recipe from Southern Appalachian cook Nora Garland who once shared it with the writers of Foxfire Magazine. The finished cake has a deep brown color and moist crumb—reminding me of fig cake or banana or zucchini bread. The soft, high-gloss cream-cheese persimmon frosting shows off the fruit’s pretty orange hue, too.
Makes 2, nine-inch layers
- 2 cups sugar
- ¾ cup butter, softened
- 3 large eggs
- 3 cups flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups fully-ripe persimmon puree, divided. Use seedless Hachiya Asian persimmon puree OR very ripe American persimmon puree (Note: to make that much puree, it will take three or four Hachiya persimmons; or 6 to 8 American persimmons, depending on their size)
Cream Cheese Persimmon Icing Ingredients
- 8 ounces softened cream cheese
- ½ stick softened butter
- 1 lb confectioners sugar
- the remaining 1/2 cup persimmon puree
- Make cake: Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking soda and salt together. Stir into batter. Scoop flesh from persimmons; throw away skins. Puree flesh until smooth. (I used an immersion blender, but you can manually press through a sieve or china cap, or use a food mill.) Reserve one-half cup puree for frosting. Preheat oven to 350. Stir one cup persimmon puree into cake batter. Grease cake pans or line with parchment. Spread batter into pans. Bake at 350 degrees 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean. (Cake tops will be un-even.) Remove cake layers to a rack and cool.
- Make frosting and assemble cake: Whip cheese with butter. Add confectioners sugar and whisk until stiff. Add ½ cup reserved persimmon puree and whisk until smooth. Spread between layers and on top of cake.