November 5, 2020

Sara Bir

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How to Make Persimmon Blondies

Seasonal baking inspiration from southeastern Ohio

If you’re not hep to the American persimmon, don’t feel out of the loop. Few are. The persimmons that hail from the Midwest are entirely different from the Asian varieties you may see at well-stocked markets, and even those aren’t exactly mainstream. Those fruits—typically Fuyus and Hachiyas—are bright orange and glossy. Our native Diospyros virginiana produces small, wrinkled orbs that are too squishy to sell in stores. Their flavor is reminiscent of date and apricot, with a hint of woodsy smoke. They are quite sweet, with a dense, gelatinous texture.

Folklore swirls around our native persimmons, as around other foods of the woods. Not all of it is correct. The most persistent myth is that you should never gather persimmons before a frost. Not so! When the persimmons drop from the tree and are squishy, they’re ready to use—frost or no frost. Eat them any earlier and you’ll grimace. A persimmon harvested too soon will be packed with tannins and eat like chalk.

How to Make Persimmon Blondies - Quote

Their flavor is reminiscent of date and apricot, with a hint of woodsy smoke. They are quite sweet, with a dense, gelatinous texture.

I first read about native persimmons while I was living on the West Coast, in an issue of Saveur. The magazine ran a traditional recipe for persimmon pudding from Indiana librarian Eva Powell. It was delicious with pulp from local Hachiyas. Then, I came back to Ohio and blundered across an American persimmon tree growing in a neighbor’s yard, just half a block away. When I finally got a chance to make authentic pudding with real-deal native persimmons, I found it cloying. So I started looking for other ways to use one of of the Midwest’s sweetest wild harvests.

I gathered pounds and pounds and gave them to my brewing friend, who fermented them into a tart, crisp, and very pleasant ale that tasted nothing of persimmon. (Persimmon beer has a long history in the U.S. Thomas Jefferson shared a native persimmon beer recipe with an acquaintance in 1805.) I baked cakes and breads. I dehydrated the pulp into fruit leather. I made an amazing but finicky native version of Japanese hoshigaki—slow-dried persimmons frosted with their own natural sugars—following directions from forager and author Marie Viljoen,

Currently, I’m excited about making persimmon blondies—a sort of compromise between cake and pudding. They’re dense, butterscotchy, and fudgier than anything made with fruit has a right to be. The idea for persimmon blondies came from Garrett McCord’s blog, Vanilla Garlic. Being a Californian, Garrett uses Hachiyas. As they’re not totally interchangeable with native persimmons, I altered the recipe quite a bit.

To make these blondies, you’ll need processed persimmon pulp. My favorite persimmon tree is on the perimeter of a local college campus, and I tell myself that gathering fruit there is a public service, that I’m protecting students from slipping on a sidewalk slicked with persimmon goop. Each year, I get one or two weeks of feverish collecting. I wash the persimmons, pluck off and discard their dark, leafy caps, and do the messy work of extracting any seeds. I used to force the pulp through a sieve, but it was time-consuming and the yield was small. Now, I just remove seeds and questionable spots and leave the delicate skins on. The resulting pulp will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to five days, or frozen for a year or longer.

Persimmon Blondies

Persimmon Blondies

Makes about 16 2-inch blondies

These are like a cross between gingerbread, persimmon pudding, and regular old blondies. They’re lightly spiced so that more persimmon flavor comes through.

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ginger
½ tsp. table salt
⅛ tsp. baking soda
1 stick (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter
¾ cup dark brown sugar
1 cup American persimmon pulp, pureed or not*
2 eggs
1 tbsp. rum or bourbon** or 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F and position a rack in the center. Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with foil or parchment paper, letting several inches hang over two opposite sides to create handles. Grease the pan and foil and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

Next, brown the butter: In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Continue cooking the butter until the foam subsides and the milk solids at the bottom of the skillet turn a toasty brown color and smell nutty. At first, the melted butter will sputter and steam. Just be patient and keep an eye on it. Once the butter is finished browning, remove the skillet from heat.

To make the batter, whisk the brown sugar and persimmon pulp together in a large bowl. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, and then whisk in the butter. (The mixture might look curdled. That’s okay). Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the flour mixture until the batter is smooth, with no streaks of flour.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until slightly puffed, about 25 minutes. The center should feel soft but not squishy when you press it lightly with your fingertip, and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out with some crumbs, but no wet batter.

Cool the pan on a wire rack. The blondies will collapse and pull away from the sides after a few minutes out of the oven, and the tops may seem to darken. That is normal. If you cut into these while they are warm, the blondies may have a slightly mealy texture. I prefer to refrigerate the entire pan, uncut, overnight. On the next day, they’ll be rich and fudgy. It’s worth that wait. Please trust me.

When you’re ready to cut, place a cutting board over the pan, invert it, peel off the foil or parchment, then invert the uncut blondie again and slice.

You can store these at room temperature for several days. You can also wrap these well in plastic wrap and freeze them for several months.

*If you prefer smooth blondies, puree or sieve the persimmon pulp. Blondies made with more intact persimmon pulp are laced with slightly chewy bits of the fruit, almost like fragments of tender dried apricot. I find it very appealing.

**I actually used bourbon-based sassafras bitters. So if you just happen to have bourbon-based sassafras bitters, use that.


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