What Are…Persimmons?

Chef Art Smith reveals one of his favorite fall foods and teaches us something new about the South

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Persimmon pound cake? Sounds delicious, but, what's a persimmon?

When chef Art Smith and I sat down to develop our final dish for the InterContinental Hotels Kitchen Passport Program, the continued to focus on the same two themes that guided us through developing our other recipes: seasonality and the South. During our brainstorming session, chef Smith was unyieldingly enthusiastic about persimmons, which were coming into season, and so we decided to incorporate them into our dessert recipe.

Deciding how we would use persimmons in our dish was quite easy; they are most commonly used in baking recipes and so we chose to create a pound cake featuring the fruit. As we began to talk to more and more people about the recipe, it became apparent that very few people actually knew what a persimmon was, let alone knew of a pound cake recipe that used them. So before I get to the pound cake recipe, let me demystify the unusual fruit.

Persimmons are native to southeastern parts of the United States and are part of the Diospyros family, but while they may resemble tomatoes with their small round shape, the dark orange fruit has a mellow and sweet flavor, similar to that of a pear or plum. An excellent source of vitamin C and calcium, persimmons are easily enjoyed raw but are also great in bread recipes, pudding recipes, and compote recipes. If they are eaten before they are ripe, though, they yield a very sour and unfavorable taste, making it important to enjoy them at the peak of their season. 

Since I'm not much of a baker, I was uncertain about how the pound cake recipe would turn out. Throughout our research we found many ways in which persimmons were used in bread recipes, but learned that very few people, if any at all, had tried to use it in a pound cake recipe. Like always with pound cake, we used more baking soda than baking powder to get a rich, dense texture in the cake. We also substituted the more commonly used fats of canola oil and butter with olive oil, another locally sourced ingredient that was near and dear to chef Smith’s heart. Lastly, to incorporate the seasonal fruit, we puréed the pulp of four persimmons and folded it into the batter. The result was a thick and moist pound cake that had just the right amount of sweetness from the persimmons. The cake was perfect on its own, but could also be kicked up a notch in the sweetness department with a drizzle of vanilla icing. Our guests at the tastings were originally skeptical about the pound cake but were pleasantly surprised by its rich flavor, and whether or not they had ever heard of persimmon pound cake before, everyone left knowing what a persimmon was.

Click here to see the Persimmon Pound Cake Recipe

 

Anne Dolce is the Cook Editor at The Daily meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce


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3 Comments

schin26's picture

I'll have to try out the pound cake recipe. We've got a Hachiya persimmons tree in our backyard and have more of them than we know what to do with in the fall.

I thought persimmons were native to China and Japan though - not the South-East US?

schin26's picture

Guess there is a form of Persimmons native to the US... :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diospyros_virginiana

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Wait a minute! Hachiya persimmons (the pointy ones) are astringent if you eat them before they soften, but Fuyu persimmons (flatter and not pointy) are delicious even when they are firm and crunchy. You can eat them like apples! Of course, they have a much richer, sweeter flavor if you wait till they are soft.

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