A Divine Fruit, Persimmon ลูกพลับ
Here in Seattle, I have been savoring persimmons during all of November and now into December. Persimmons reached their peak this last week. The abundance of this fruit at peak season provides a low price and high quality sweet fruits and this is when I am inspired to cook with persimmons. This year in my kitchen I found two delicious new ways to cook with them: persimmon-orange butter and persimmon upside-down cake. Today I will share with you my discoveries of this divine fruit which only appears once a year.
The yellow-orange color of persimmon and its aromatic sweetness make this fruit special. In the U.S., the season for persimmons is in November and December, and they give us a special way to celebrate the holiday seasons. Persimmons arrived in the U.S. and Europe over 200 years ago. There are two varieties in Seattle market: Hachiya and Fuyu. The former is recommended to eat when it is fully ripe. The latter, Fuyu, is my favorite and it is the variety most commonly available, so my focus today will be on the Fuyu persimmon.
Fuyu persimmons (Diospyros Kaki L) are native to Northern China. It is an ancient fruit—a fossilized persimmon was found in the tomb of the emperor of the Han Dynasty. Fuyu persimmons first traveled from China to Thailand in 1937, but they did not become widespread until the Royal Project Foundation under Kasetsart University conducted a study in 1969 that grew various varieties of persimmons in Thailand and led to the successful establishment of persimmon farming in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phetchabun. These are three persimmon varieties in Thailand: Xichu, Fuyu and Hyakume. (Source: 111 Thai Fruits by Nidda and Thaweethong Hongvivat published by Sangdad). The season for harvesting them is from July till September each year. The nutritional benefits from persimmons are priceless. It is high in potassium, vitamin C, and much more.
When the hint of green disappears from the skin and is replaced by a yellow-orange color, one can snack on unripe Fuyu persimmon, though the ripe ones are the best. Persimmons can accompany an assorted cheese platter, much like pears or grapes, or combining green salad with bacon. For dessert, last year I found my pleasure by adding persimmons in coconut milk to my pearl tapioca pudding just before serving. This year, in the process of creating a dessert for 70 people, I found myself preparing persimmon-orange butter to serve over sweet sticky rice. Then came persimmon upside-down cake; this was magically created right after baking cranberry upside-down cake for my family. For an impromptu inspiration, all we need is to have plenty of persimmons around while they are in season.
Yield: 2 cups
You can use persimmon-orange butter on just about everything, or you can eat it plain like apple sauce. This is my favorite way: served with sticky rice, on top of peanut butter and fruit butter for the sandwich.6 fully ripened Fuyu persimmons, peeled and chopped Zest of one orange 6 oranges, peeled and chopped 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup sugar 1 cinnamon stick 3 tablespoons triple sec 3 tablespoons butter
Place persimmons, orange zest, orange, salt, sugar, cinnamon stick, triple sec and butter in a large saucepan. Let it cook on medium heat until softened and all juices from the fruit have evaporated, about 30 minutes. Stir often during the cooking. Remove cinnamon stick. Pour the mixture into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
The Making of Persimmon Upside-Down Cake
When I was looking for a spice to compliment the flavor of persimmon, I picked up my cinnamon powder from Vietnam and star anise powder from Thailand. After smelling the star anise, I decided it was a sure thing. At that moment my eye glanced over at the star-shaped center of the persimmon and I decided to place a star anise in between the slices of persimmon. The star anise mirrors the pattern of the star-shaped center of the persimmon. Perfect.
I was also happy that I had some persimmon-orange butter that I had created on another day. This allowed me to add some persimmon flavor in the body of the cake.
I used organic brown sugar, but any brown sugar would do the work.
The pretty star-shaped centers creates a perfect look for this upside-down cake.
Burnt brown sugar with creamy soft persimmons melt in your mouth, almost like a crème caramel.
Persimmon Upside-Down Cake
I baked Yankee Cranberry Upside-Down Cake many times last week, which is what led me to this project. I played around with persimmons and spices I had in the kitchen, and by the time the cranberry upside-down cake was finished, my persimmon-star anise upside-down cake was ready to go in. It became totally a different cake with its own flavor profiles, but it was the Yankee Cranberry Upside-Down Cake that inspired me with confidence.
Baking time: 35 to 40 minutes
Serves: 8 to 126 tablespoons butter, melted ¼ cup brown sugar 1 ¼ teaspoons star anise powder, divided 1 tablespoon triple sec, divided 3 persimmons, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 6 pieces, each about 1/3 inch thick 5 star anises, whole 3/4 cup sugar 2 eggs, at room temperature 1 ¼ cups flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup buttermilk 3 tablespoons persimmon-orange butter, persimmon pulps or orange marmalade
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cover a 9-inch spring form pan with 2 tablespoons melted butter, then sprinkle with brown sugar, triple sec and ½ teaspoon star anise powder to cover entire surface. Arrange persimmon slices and star anise as shown in the photo above.
Combine flour, baking powder, remaining star anise powder and salt.
Beat the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and the sugar very hard by hand until they are well mixed. Then beat in eggs, one at a time, very hard by hand until the mixture is custardy. Whisk in ½ cup of the flour mixture, mix well, then whisk in ¼ cup buttermilk; continue this method of adding the flour and buttermilk until you finish with ¼ cup flour. Pour the batter into the center of the springform pan, smoothing it with a spatula to make it evenly cover the persimmon.
Bake on a rack in the center of the oven until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let it cool for 5 to 10 minutes. While the cake is still warm, invert the cake onto a serving platter.
Photos: © 2011 Pranee Khruasanit HalvorsenPranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area. Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com
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