If you’ve been following along for a while, you may have noticed I pull many recipes from various Junior League cookbooks. Quite often the recipes in those cookbooks are heirloom recipes, passed along in families or between friends, each one with its own untold story. And while that has its own lure of appeal, knowing that most of the recipes originated from everyday home cooks gives me the greatest satisfaction.
Recently, I picked up a couple of old Junior League cookbooks published in the early 1970’s while searching for recipes that would put some Hachiya persimmons (the longer, pointy-ended ones) to good use. I came across this recipe which immediately interested me. I’ve had great success with other brunch cakes, and this one was definitely different. It was neither a steamed pudding nor a persimmon cookie like most of the recipes I had encountered thus far. It also involved the typical warm winter spices that are so characteristic of persimmon season, which makes sense considering the very sweet yet almost flavorless pulp of a ripe Hachiya; you’ve got to add something to it. But what really stood out was the lack of eggs, and the unusual requirement of adding baking soda to the persimmon puree beforehand.
What? Why? I’ve never had to do that with banana breads or cakes. Unfortunately old cookbooks rarely provide any commentary like those of today, so this question remains unanswered for now.
As I do with most baking recipes, I followed it exactly as written the first time around. I was very intrigued to find the persimmon-baking soda combination resulted in an almost gelatin-like substance after a mere 5 minute period. I have no background in chemistry, but I have to assume the baking soda somehow stabilized what was previously a thick, syrupy puree. Clearly something chemical was going on. (I may have to pose this question to the folks over at Cooks Illustrated. This is totally up their alley, and they have scientists on staff to shed light on these very things. If you know the answer to this, please set my mind at ease by leaving me a comment below.) Curiosity aside, this cake is quite good and the only adjustment I made was to shorten the baking time. That probably had more to do with my own oven than anything.
Spicy Persimmon Brunch Cake
Recipe from The California Heritage Cookbook
I realize persimmons are not available everywhere and their season will be over sometime in February for those of us in Southern California. But if you can get your hands on some of the Hachiya persimmons, please consider making this interesting and tasty spice cake. Most importantly, you must allow the persimmons to ripen to the point where they are like a water balloon in your hand otherwise you will have very unpleasant results (think the worst case of dry mouth you’ve ever had and multiply it times ten).
1-1/4 cup pureed fresh persimmon, Hachiya variety (see note below)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Stir together the persimmon and baking soda in a small bowl until blended and set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the puree to the creamed butter and sugar (the creaminess of the butter and sugar will be replaced with a lumpy orange-colored concoction that will not incorporate) and mix together. Gradually blend the dry ingredients into the persimmon mixture. Add the nuts and zests, mixing just enough to blend.
Spoon the stiff batter into a well-greased and floured 8 x 8 x 2-inch cake pan or 5-cup bundt pan. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes and turn out onto a rack to continue cooling another 20 or 30 minutes before serving (or serve directly from the pan if using an 8 x 8 x2-inch pan). Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and serve warm.
Cake may be baked earlier and reheated, wrapped in foil, for 15 minute at 325 degrees F. (It’s good at room temp as well.)
Note: A fresh Hachiya persimmon should feel soft and jellylike when ripe. Cut it in half and scoop the flesh from the skin with a spoon. Use a blender or immersion blender to smooth the pulp. Use at once or freeze. The puree tends to turn brown if left, and a small amount of lemon juice may be added if desired, to prevent discoloration. (I did not do this.)