It’s persimmon season in California, and last month a friend with a tree gifted me with a huge haul of bright orange fruits. I never had persimmons growing up – aside from the fact that they’re not super common on the East Coast, my mom was convinced she was allergic, so we never had the fruit around the house. I tried a single persimmon maybe three years ago, but it was unripe so I didn’t like it very much. But these persimmons from my friend’s tree, they were incredible. The ripe fruits are soft, with no detectible seeds. They have a warm, almost cardamom flavor that’s somewhere between butternut squash and navel orange. As soon as I tasted one, I immediately thought I needed to bake it with warm spices. I considered a few options – food 52 did an entire series on persimmon recipes! – but I decided on spice cake, in part because I was strapped for time. I modified the gingerbread cake recipe from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain, which is pretty much the only cookbook I have that I actually cook from, rather than just use as inspiration. It’s an incredible book of recipes utilizing whole grains, and Boyce’s method is to use fruit purees to keep the final product light and sweet. This was definitely true for my persimmon cake, and it ended up a huge hit at my husband’s extended family Christmas. The core of the recipe, which is the balance of wet and dry ingredients, is the same as Boyce’s original. My tweaks were to change the flavor profile to complement the persimmon.
Persimmon Spice Cake
Preheat the oven to 350*.
Remove the skin from and dice 3 very ripe fuyu persimmons (the squat round ones), and set aside. Toast in a dry skillet until fragrant 6 black peppercorns, 4 cloves, 1/4″ chunk of nutmeg, and 1 star anise pod (or 1/4 tsp aniseeed). Add the toasted spices to a grinder along with 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon and 1/2 tsp ground allspice and grind until all spices are a fine powder. Add the spices to a large bowl along with 1 cup white flour, 1 1/4 cup whole wheat (or other glutinous whole grain) flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp kosher salt, whisk and set aside. In another bowl, whisk together 4 tbsp melted butter, 1 cup full-fat plain (non-Greek) yogurt, 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce, 1/4 cup maple syrup, and 1 egg. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry with a spatula, along with the diced persimmon. Grease an 8″ square baking dish and pour in the batter, slashing the center to make a divot. Add thin slices of persimmon if you have extra, and sprinkle another 2 tbsp brown sugar over the top. Bake 40-55 minutes, rotating the pan in the middle. Remove when a cake tester comes out clean.