A spiced persimmon tart for autumn

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There’s so much more to the food of the American south than barbecue, cornbread and bourbon and this tart, topped with luscious persimmons which are one of the signature fruits of the region, deserves its time in the [autumnal] sun, and to be more widely eaten in the UK.

In the USA, persimmons are usually left to fall from the tree and if you travel around the south in the autumn, it’s not unusual to see mattresses and tarpaulins scattered around the base of each trunk , ready to catch these readily-bruised fruits. They split easily, spilling out soft flesh which attracts all kinds of critters so you have to be swift.

The American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) can give you a nasty, mouth-puckering shock if you eat it before the first frost because the fruits needs that cold snap to convert their tart soluble tannins  into a sweet jelly-like mass. Because of this, there’s a Japanese variety of persimmon called ‘Fuyu’ whose fruits are sweet from the start which stores in Britain are starting to stock around now. It’s pretty hard to find American persimmons over here because they do not travel easily.

Fuyu doesn’t have much of a core and its skin is edible making it easy to prep and even easier to eat on the go. And the flavour? There’s some papaya notes, a lot of floral and a little tomato, a honeyed sweetness and something unique that defies description. It’s a fruit with flavour that deepens after cooking, becoming more than the sum of its parts and possessed of tender flesh easily incorporated into cakes, breads and puddings, made from recipes that are centuries old. Southerners still make a  persimmon bread pudding with a burnt sugar syrup which is the descendant of a recipe learned from the Delaware and Cree tribes of Native Americans who showed the pioneers who crossed the Appalachians into the Mississippi valley how to use the fruit.

For this tart, I’ve added a sliced layer of persimmon to a base I use often, made from a soft pressed-in dough, flavoured with spices. The persimmon cooks down into a soft and wobbly jelly, each slice collapsing as you spoon it up. It’s this quality that makes persimmon so useful as a filling because it creates its own juicy setting and all you need to do is add a little spice, some crunchy sweetness in the form of brown sugar and you’ll soon have autumn on your plate.

It’s vital to let the tart cool before slicing to allow the cooked persimmons to meld with the sugar and ginger syrup to produce that semi-set jelly (or jam to us Brits). So don’t worry if there seems to be a lot of liquid sloshing around the fruits as it cooks.

*Caveat* I usually test recipes at least six times. This one has only been made twice but it turned out well each time.

Spiced Persimmon Tart

  • 8 oz plain flour (all-purpose in the USA)
  • 2 tablespoons of soft brown sugar and a further 6 tablespoons of demerara sugar
  • 3 oz cold butter, cut into little chunks
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brandy
  • 3 ripe small to medium Fuyu persimmons
  • tbsp ginger syrup from stem ginger jar

  1. Switch oven to 180C .

  2. Make the pastry base using a processor or by hand: combine the flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, the mixed spice and the butter until fine crumbs form or pulse in a processor until you have that fine crumb. Add the egg yolk and whirl or stir by hand until the dough comes together in a soft ball. Press the dough over the bottom and the sides of a 4- by 14-inch tart pan with a removable base (or use a 9-inch round tart pan).

  3. Combine the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar, the lemon juice and brandy in a wide bowl.

  4.  Slice persimmons into slim rounds and check for seeds, removing if they are there. Slice the rounds in half and muddle them into the brandied sugar mixture, ensuring they are thoroughly coated then arrange fruit in 2 overlapping rows on top of the dough (or arrange in circles if using a round pan). Plaster any leftover sugar mixture from bowl over the fruit then ladle over the ginger syrup, ensuring it coats the slices.

  5. Bake the tart until the crust is golden which will take around 25-30 minutes. Check the persimmon slices for doneness and if they are still a little hard, cover the tart loosely with foil and bake until they are tender when pierced. (Another 10- 15 minutes but this really does depend upon the ripeness of your persimmons.)

  6. Remove tart from oven and allow to cool completely. Don’t worry if it seems to have some liquid sloshing around the persimmon slices. As it cools, this will set to a light jelly (jammy) consistency. When it has thickened and set, its time to slice the tart. Serve with creme fraiche, mascarpone or ice-cream if you like it even sweeter!

Little roasted pineapple and banana cakes

 

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Despite its sunny, bright and tropical image, I am perverse in seeing pineapple as an autumnal fruit especially when it is roasted to bring out those darker, more complex flavours. The sharp bite of the uncooked flesh is mellowed by the oven and if you are one of those folks who cannot eat it in its raw state (because the enzymes start to digest the buccal membranes), this method should render the fruit tamed, a nicely domesticated beast fit for the tenderest of palates.

If you yearn for the pleasure a small dose of heat gives you, then go ahead and add a tiny tiny pinch of chile to the pineapple before you roast it. But keep it minimal. You won’t need to use a whole pineapple either; in fact this recipe only requires a scant two rings of it BUT you will have the glorious leftovers to chop up and add to vanilla ice cream or serve an extra piece alongside one of these cakes with a dollop of cream, ice cream or creme fraiche. Your call.

The recipe is basically my best ever banana muffin method, slightly amended. I tried it with larger chunks of pineapple but concluded that a messy shredded pile of fruit works best and prevents the fruit sinking to the bottom of the cake. Just to add to the joyousness, the fruit moistens an already damp cake crumb in a manner reminiscent of that seventies delight- pineapple upside down cake.

Makes about eight medium sized cupcake portions.

Preparation time 15 mins + chilling. Cooking time 18-20 mins. Preheat oven to 375F / 190c / Gas mark 5

Ingredients

For the muffins-

175g softened butter / 120g caster sugar / 4 oz soft brown sugar / 1 beaten egg / 3 ripe medium size bananas, mashed / 1 tsp Vanilla extract / 250g plain flour / 1 tsp baking powder /

For the pineapple preparation-

1 small pineapple sliced into rings about 1 cm thick / nugget of butter for greasing the baking tray / 1 and a half tbsp dark rum / 1 tbsp demerara sugar / a tiny pinch of chile (optional)

 

Preheat oven to 200C. Grease the baking tray with butter and peel and slice the pineapple into rings. Place on the tray and pour over the rum. Then scatter the demerara sugar over, the chile if using and dab a little dot of butter onto each pineapple ring. Roast in the oven for ten minutes or until the pineapple has started to brown and catch around the edges and the sugar has melted. Take out and leave to cool. and turn the oven to 190C / C375F. Then when the pineapple is cool, cube two decent sized rings (leaving the rest for another meal) and then shred them into small pieces – don’t worry about it looking pretty.

Place butter and sugars into a bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the egg until it is well incorporated then stir in the mashed bananas and vanilla extract. Sift the flour and baking powder together then sift into the mixture and incorporate, making sure you don’t over mix. Lastly, add the shredded pineapple and incorporate well.

Grease a muffin pan with butter or baking spray or use paper muffin cases inside a muffin pan (we do this). Take spoons of the mixture and add to the muffin cases/pan, filling them 2/3 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until done; they can vary a little in their cooking times depending upon the size of the muffins made. Keep an eye on them and remove when golden and a tester stick comes out clean when inserted into their middle. Allow to cool for as long as you can stand to wait then eat!

Apologies for the Warholian photo editing. I just could not resist!