Sunday, January 3, 2016

Persimmon Loaf (Or Persimmon Quick Bread)


Oh, Happy New Year! What a delight.  Let's start 2016 off just right, okay?

One of my very favorite poems of all time is "Persimmons" by Li-Young Lee.  Take a minute. Go read it. I promise it's worth it.

See.  Wasn't that breathtaking?



From forced assimilation to a poignant connection to one's aging father with stops at different layers of startling sensuality along the way, this poem bowls me over every time I read it. Torn between cultures, the speaker explores what we can recover or inherit from our families and what we invent for ourselves. This hybridity creates a new language, one of love, loss, and revelation.

And ain't all that just fruit glorious in all its symbolism?



The persimmon used in this baked good--more cake than bread--is the hachiya persimmon Lee references in the poem. Hachiya persimmons need to be ripe, really ripe, to be eaten, or they are bitter and unpalatable. They are astringent unless their tannins are allowed to mellow with a long-ripening process.



Fuyu persimmons, characterized by their round shape and flat bottom, can be eaten straight from a tree. But the heart-shaped Hachiya persimmons need patience. So much patience, you may think you have moved into the rotten stage. However, wait until the fruit is soft and squishy (almost like jelly) and the skin has begun to peel away from the flesh. Then, and only then, will you have a fruit worthy of Lee's poem.



Once the fruit is ripe, you can simply peel away the skin slowly to reveal a dome of fresh pulp. Or you can cut it in half, and then scoop out the soft, meaty flesh. The end result either way is a mash of fruit that acts much like pureed pumpkin (and has resonant flavors).



This loaf is as delightful the first day as it is next month if you freeze individual slices when you need another dose of persimmons. So go out, grab the last of the season's persimmons, be patient as they ripen, and then reap the sweet, subtle rewards.

Just like that poem. Let's go read Lee's poem just one more time, shall we?


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Persimmon Loaf (or Persimmon Quickbread)

Adapted from Baking in America

Yield:
1 large loaf cake, 12 servings

Ingredients:  
3/4 cups pecan halves or large pieces
4 very ripe Hachiya persimmons
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/8 tsp cloves
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil
6 ounces pitted dates, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Instructions:
1.  Adjust the oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a loaf pan, or coat with cooking spray. Dust the pan all over with flour, knock out the excess, and set aside.

2.  Place the pecans on a shallow baking sheet and toast in the oven, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes--until they give off a toasty aroma and barely turn light tan. Set aside to cool completely.

3.  Cut the persimmons lengthwise in half. Use a spoon to scoop the pulp from the skin. Place the pulp into a medium bowl and break it up with a pastry blender/cutter. You want a puree with some texture, so leave a few lumps. Measure 1 1/2 cups and set aside. (Any remaining persimmon is great stirred into a bowl of oatmeal.)

4.  Resift the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, mace and cloves.  Set aside.

5.  In a large bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer on high speed for 1-2 minutes, until slightly thickened. Beat in both sugars and the vanilla, and beat for 3-4 minutes until very thick. Reduce the speed to medium and slowly drizzle in the oil in a thin stream until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape the bowl, and beat on high speed for 1 minute. Add the persimmon puree and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.

6.  On low speed gradually add the dry ingredients, beating only until thoroughly incorporated. With a rubber spatula, stir in the dates, then the pecans. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

7.  Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the loaf is well browned and springs back when gently pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the pan to release the cake, and unmold the cake onto a wire rack. Turn the loaf and cool it completely.

8.  Cut into portions with a sharp serrated knife. Serve with butter or cream cheese. Wrapped airtight, this loaf keeps well for up to 1 week at room temperature, or freeze it for up to 1 month.

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