This time of year is right smack in the middle of the harvest of one of my favorite fruits of all time: persimmons! I love eating persimmons fresh, but they really don’t get enough love recipe-wise. I was hoping I could try my hand at a different persimmon-based dessert: persimmon chiffon cake & custard drizzled with caramel sauce.
If you’ve never heard of persimmons before, it is very important that we establish up front that these stout, orange-colored fruits (which look like odd tomatoes but are nothing like them) are simply the best fruit out there (I think I’d put figs second, for those keeping score). Grab some now at your grocery store if you can–they aren’t around long during the year, but they are really something.
Persimmons come in many different varieties which are all quite different from each other. My favorite is the hachiya: acorn shaped and one of the absolute worst things you could possibly eat when its not quite ripe yet. How would you know its not ready? The persimmon will be firm and the taste is…well, awful. The fruit will be really tannic to the point of inducing a real cotton-mouthy experience…very unpleasant. You need to give these fruits some time to mature, and when they’re ready for you, hachiyas will ripen to the point of being ready to mush and just fall apart. And this isn’t hyperbole–they should feel almost ready to burst when you give a gentle squeeze. Once in this jelly-like state, you have the most divine of fruits–an incredibly smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture with a really amazing sweet taste.
So with that little introduction out of the way, what’s the deal with the dessert? Persimmons (well, ripened hachiyas) tend to wind up in a very common dessert: persimmon pudding on account of that jelly-like texture. This isn’t knocking persimmon pudding as that is also a fantastic dessert (think gooey, fruity brownie), but I wanted to try something different. I happened to come across an entry in the most recent Daring Bakers Challenge themed around Bostini Cream Pies and my mouth was watering (maybe its about time I stopped just drooling over the monthly challenges and start joining in…). So I set out to see if I could spin that recipe to show off persimmons: a small, light, airy cake infused with lively persimmon and orange flavors, floating atop a rich, decadent vanilla persimmon flavored custard, all topped off with a drizzle of orange-flavored caramel sauce. This thing is probably one of the richest desserts to come out of my kitchen yet and I expect a heart attack some time during the next week as I finish off the remnants in the fridge. It is gooooooooood.
- 5 or 6 ripe Hachiya persimmons
- Chiffon Cake
- 1.5 cups flour
- 3/4 cup finely granulated sugar
- 1 1/3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/3 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup canola oil (or some other neutral oil)
- 1 cup persimmon puree
- grated zest from one orange
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 egg yolks
- 8 large egg whites
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- 3 Tbsp persimmon puree
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 2.75 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 whole egg
- 9 egg yolks
- 3.75 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 vanilla bean (or vanilla extract if you don’t have a bean)
- a bit more than 1/2 cup finely granulated sugar
- all remaining persimmon puree
- Caramel sauce
- 1 cup of sugar
- 6 Tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- juice from 1 orange
(in case you’re trying to add it up: this will run you 14 eggs and you’ll have some leftover egg whites. Yea, yikes!)
Before you do anything, make absolutely certain that your persimmons are ripe (and be careful–just because the bottom is ripe doesn’t mean the top is!). If you haven’t eaten one before and this recipe is your first exposure to hachiya persimmons, there’s a little trick to make certain that your persimmons are ripe: put them in the freezer for a day, then let them thaw out again before you want to work with them. The cold breaks down all of those tannins that make unripe persimmons so astringent (which would also wreak havoc on your dessert). Once they’re ripe and ready to go, squeeze the persimmon pulp out of the skin (and remove any seeds, if there are any) and puree the pulp in a food processor–you want mush.
So first, make the custard as it needs a good bit of time to chill in the fridge. In a medium-sized bowl, blend the whole milk and cornstarch until smooth. Then, incorporate the whole egg and the many yolks whisking until smooth while imagining how delightfully healthy this will be.
Now, not in your egg bowl, take half of a vanilla bean, slit down the length of the pod (you want to let the seeds and that flavor out into the mix), and add this in a saucepan with the sugar and cream, lightly mixing and bringing slowly up to a boil.
The plan is to cook everything together, but eggs can be a tricky, delicate thing. So as soon as the cream mixture starts to boil, spoon a ladelful of the hot cream into the egg mixture and whisk it all together to temper it. You want to give those eggs a preview of the heat so that they warm up slowly (otherwise you’ll get scrambled eggs–picture how eggs react to a suddenly hot skillet). Spoon in another ladle and whisk some more. Now that the eggs know what’s going on, whisk the egg bowl into the hot cream mixture. Continue to cook this on medium heat and don’t stop stirring. Once the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, get it off of the heat and pour the entire mixture over a strainer (in case you inevitably did get any strands of cooked egg going on) into a bowl. Also, if you love that fresh-from-the-pod vanilla taste (I do), scrape the thousands of seeds out of the slit vanilla bean and mix them into your custard.
At this point, you’ve cooked your custard and all that remains is for you to spoon it into whatever you intend to serve the dessert in (figure you’ll have about 12 portions). If you have custard cups, ramekins, or even nice stemware, those will all do well. A note though if you do go the stemware route–pouring hot anything into glass can have the unfortunate side effect of shattering the glass, so be sure to cool the custard off for 15 minutes or so in the fridge before dishing out into the stemware. If you can hold your finger comfortably in the custard, the temperature should be glass-safe, but do at your own risk. And another suggestion: I used both maragrita glasses and martini glasses. If you have a choice, go with the martini glasses–the well in the margarita glasses is just the right size to swallow your chiffon cake rather than helping to prop it up on top!
Anyways, you should have a good bit of extra persimmon puree. I thought it would be refreshing to have a layer of pure, persimmon puree mixed in with the custard, but ultimately, it (presentation-wise) didn’t work out. Why? I thought I could layer custard, puree, custard and have three distinct bands when you look at the side of the glass. Instead, I discovered the persimmon puree is heavier than still-warm custard, so it plopped right to the bottom (damn!). Ok, no worries–so I gently stirred the puree, hoping to now have two bands: one, light orange persimmon-custard layer and then a purely custard layer on top. That also didn’t quite work out (the custard mixed–so much for bands!), so what would I do next time? Put some persimmon puree on the bottom and then gently pour in the custard on top (unless there’s any other suggestions? I really wanted the banded look…). Whatever the case, it all tastes delicious, but hey, this is a good place to dress things up, so its worth a shot, right?
Anyways, once you’re done fussing over these, do your best to make room and get them in the refrigerator (a mix of 12 margarita and martini glasses in the fridge–that fit really easily!).
So now, with the custard out of the way, onto the chiffon cakes. In case you’ve never heard the term “chiffon” before, the basic thing here is that we’re going to make a cake without butter. Normally, you cream butter when making cake batter in order to beat some air (and therefore fluffiness) into the batter so that the cake bakes in an attractive way. The downside to butter batters is that the cake has a pretty short shelf-life, drying out considerably even if you store it in an airtight container.
Enter chiffon cakes. As mentioned above, a chiffon cake is different in that there’s no butter. Instead, a good bit of oil is used along with some stiffened egg whites to instill that fluffy structure and the consequence of this is a lighter, moister, longer-lasting cake. Plus, “chiffon cake” sounds fancier than just “cake,” and we all know that counts for something.
So preparing the cake is pretty straightforward. I used a cupcake pan (which accomodates 12 cupcakes, which I fit perfectly), but feel free to use any comparably sized oven-safe container (e.g. mugs). Whatever you use, grease it and line it with parchment paper or some sort of baking friendly paper (so that it doesn’t stick to the pan!).
Preheat your oven to 325?F.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl (hand mixing isn’t good enough–sift! Sift!). Then, pour in the oil, yolks, persimmon puree, orange zest, and vanilla extract. At this point, I was a little concerned as a chiffon should be light and airy, but the persimmon puree seemed kind of heavy and I thought it might weigh everything down, but no worries, it all worked out in the end. Anyways, stir all of this together just to the point of smoothing things out. Don’t overwork it.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they froth up a bit. Add the cream of tartar and now really beat it until you get some soft peaks (don’t go all the way to being able to flip the bowl upside down–that’s too stiff). Now, with a spatula, fold the beaten egg whites into the batter, repeatedly folding in long strokes from bottom to top, until everything is fairly homogenous.
At this point, your batter is good to go. Spoon the batter out and bake for about 25 minutes. Once out of the oven and cooled off, get the cakes out of their molds and keep them somewhere covered (I used a large tupperware) so that they stay nice and moist.
At this point, you’re probably tired and wishing you could just eat the damn dessert already. I understand. I’ve been there. Hang in, you can do it, so on and so forth. The end is near and this is the final flourish…which I guess you could say makes it totally optional, but really, you need the final flourish.
The caramel sauce is really simple to make and I pretty much followed an existing recipe. Get a saucepan on high heat and pour in the sugar. Periodically toss this around and clumps should begin to form. Don’t bother stirring with a spoon or a whisk (the sugar will solidify on your spoon)–just toss and shake things a little bit (carefully–the sugar will get awfully hot!).
As you approach the 10 minute mark, the sugar should be brown and somewhat liquidy. At this point, things are really hot in there. Now, we need to add in some fat to stabilize the caramel as straight caramelized sugar will go from liquid to rock solid very quickly once you get it off of the heat which doesn’t really make for a very impressive sauce (adding fat keeps the sugar from re-crystallizing into a solid).
So once the mixture is almost entirely liquified, drop the heat down to medium and very carefully add in the butter. Don’t linger around because the sugar mixture is going to really come to life as this can be a fairly active exothermic reaction (as in cause a big release of energy), and given how hot the caramelized sugar is, you really don’t want that exploding in your face. Plus, with that energy release, the mixture only gets hotter (this is why you want to add the butter just a little before the sugar has entirely melted down–you don’t want to burn the caramel as you’ll taste it). In my experience, it frothed up rapidly to nearly the height of the saucepan and then died down. Once things look safe, whisk the butter into the caramel a bit.
Once totally mixed, remove the caramel sauce from the heat and wait 10-20 seconds. Then, pour in the cream and whisk this into the sauce as well. Finally, juice your orange into the mixture and stir this as well. I wasn’t really thrilled as I thought the citrus flavor was far too subtle, so you might consider zesting an orange peel or just skipping this step entirely.
Let this cool off for a few minutes and then pour this into a container (I used a glass jar) and let it cool off in the fridge (remember, it is really hot and not ready to go in your mouth!). If you ultimately have leftovers once your done with the custards, I’m sure you can find a use for the caramel elsewhere.
Bringing it all together
Once all three of your major components have sufficiently cooled off (give them a few hours), its time to eat dessert since you saved room, right? Putting the dessert together is pretty easy: get one of your custard servings, carefully place a chiffon cake in the middle, and drizzle some caramel sauce on top of everything.
Serve and enjoy immediately!