BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Plight of the Persimmon

Browning, bruised, and overlooked, the rare half-dozen persimmons nestled on the grocery store shelf hardly looked like winners. Though far from blameless, these overgrown orange berries don’t deserve the cold shoulder that consumers give, turning away to more common fare. Myself included, few understand the full culinary potential hidden within those mysterious fruits, and much of that stems from misunderstanding. Though I never did have the jarring experience of biting into an unripe Hachiya, an mistake sometimes likened to sampling industrial strength cleaner for all of its astringent, mouth-numbing properties, neither did I have the luck of eating a truly transcendent specimen. While some food writers waxed poetic about this oddball piece of produce, hundreds of recipes outnumbered those few, suggesting the least painful ways to bake and otherwise get rid of an unwanted surplus. So which was is: Pest or prize?

Last year, stumbling around one winter market in western Germany, I had the odd impulse to buy one. Smooth, plump, and as large as a softball, it seemed different from previous persimmons. Sporting an acorn-like point at the bottom, it was clearly an entirely different genus. A Fuyu, much firmer and easier to eat out of hand, provided my persimmon revelation. It was the best I had ever had, and still haven’t stumbled across one half as luscious since.

Much of the trouble centers around availability. Only Hachiya have appeared on shelves in my town, and by the time they arrive, it’s likely been weeks since they last saw sunshine. Though the wait allows them to fully ripen, it also gives them more time to be damaged or spoiled. Their flavor is subtle at best, sweet and vaguely floral, but now I understand why so many dessert recipes abound; While you’re searching high and low for that one perfect persimmon, here’s what to do with the rest of them.

When Hachiya persimmons are so ripe that their skin easily peels off and they practically puree themselves, that’s when you know they’re ready. Don’t rush your persimmons or they won’t be nearly sweet enough. Run them through your food processor briefly before use, just to smooth out the puree. Extra puree can be stored in an air-tight container in the freezer for up to 6 months. Should you have an overabundance of the goo, this small batch of soft, lightly spiced oatmeal cookies can be doubled, too.

Persimmon Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Whole Pastry Flour
1 Teaspoon 5-Spice Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats
1 Tablespoon Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
3/4 Cup Persimmon Puree
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Cup Toasted, Chopped Walnuts or Pecans

Icing:

1 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
2 Tablespoons Persimmon Puree

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a sheet pan with a silpat or piece of parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, 5-spice, baking powder, salt, and ground flaxseeds, mixing thoroughly to combine the dry goods. In a separate bowl, stir the persimmon puree, sugar, oil, and vanilla together until smooth. Pour the wet goods into the bowl of dry, mixing with a wide spatula just until the batter begins to come together, being careful not to overwork it. Add in the walnuts, folding to distribute them evenly throughout.

Use a medium cookie scoop or two large spoons to drop between 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons of batter per cookie on the prepared sheet. Allow at least an inch of space between the cookies, to allow room for them to spread. Pat the mounds down with lightly moistened fingers if they’re particularly heaped up in the centers.

Bake for 11 – 14 minutes, until golden around the edges and just barely set in the centers. Remove the silpat from the hot baking sheet, and let the cookies cool completely before preparing the icing.

For the icing, simply whisk together the confectioner’s sugar and persimmon puree until smooth. Drizzle generously over the tops of the cookies, and let air-dry for at least 12 hours to achieve a hard finish. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Makes About 1 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe


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The Second Storm

“This is the worst winter ever!”

“You do realize it’s still early November, right?”

To that I could only groan, burying my frozen face as deeply into my wind-whipped hair as the paltry jacket hood would allow. Flecks of snow and tiny, sharp pieces of hail battered us head-on as we climbed uphill. It was a silly mistake, really, underestimating the power of the latest apocalyptic weather predictions while overestimating the strength of the car’s tires. Everything would have been just peachy if we had stayed inside, tending the pumpkin seeds in the oven and putting off our trip to the store until morning. We were just too ambitious.

Our grave error in judgement came into clear focus as the car slid slowly down hill, hugging the curves just fine but continuing along without consulting the driver. It was this very Curve of Death that got me last year, so my mom smartly stepped up to man the wheel. Thus, we were in this together, assessing the situation minute by minute with carefully chosen words, attempting not to alarm one another. Eventually the bottom of the slope met our gently free falling vehicle, and it was game over. Nothing could have convinced those wheels to grip and carry us home. The only choice was to set the hazard lights blinking, abandon ship, and trudge a mile home. There are certainly far worse outcomes, but I can’t say it’s exactly how I wanted to spend my evening, nor the most fun challenge to tackle in open high heeled shoes.

Naturally, the pumpkin seeds we left for “just a moment” were roasted to an extra-dark shade of doneness… Otherwise known as burnt.

So what was it that compelled me to suggest leaving the warm, safe house in the first place? Some matter of pressing urgency, a critical need that needed to be addressed immediately?

Oatmeal. Pre-cooked and frozen steel-cut oatmeal from Trader Joe’s, if I must be humiliatingly precise. I never meant to get so impossibly hooked on the stuff, regarding it as a novelty at first but now depending on it for a daily fix. Every single day for at least three years now, this is the stuff that gets me out of bed in the AM hours. Proper oatmeal cookery continues to elude me, and the time required for this morning meal would otherwise be prohibitive. At least, that’s what I tell myself as I reach for a 4th and 5th box on my weekly Joe’s run.

No more. After this little incident, I’m determined not to be completely dependent on Joe to satisfy my craving. Better yet, I can make something that he can’t put in a box, something that can’t be bought, and will hardly take any additional time. It’s all thanks to my handy pressure cooker that it’s possible, and completely painless. Toss ingredients in, set the timer, and in mere minutes the oats are tender, pleasantly chewy, and creamy all at once. A crisp caramelized sugar topping puts standard steel-cut oats on a whole new level, perfect for a holiday breakfast, brunch, or just any day that a treat is in order. Straddling that fine line between healthy oats and indulgent custard, its far richer than the stuff from the freezer aisle, but still something to feel good about getting a second helping of. With or without the added thrill of a brûléed top crust, oats have never had it so good.

Steel-Cut Oat Brûlée

1 3/4 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Raw Cashews
1/2 Cup Quick-Cooking Steel Cut Oats
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Brûlée Topping:

3 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Water

First, place the non-dairy milk and cashews in your blender and thoroughly puree, until completely smooth. This will create a thicker, richer “milk” to cook the oats in. If you don’t have a high-speed blender, soak the cashews for 4 – 6 hours beforehand so that they break down more readily. Otherwise, you may also substitute 2 cups of full-fat coconut milk or vegan creamer for the two ingredients and skip this step altogether.

In your pressure cooker, combine the blended cashew creme, oats, salt, and maple syrup, and stir well. Bring to high pressure and cook for 11 minutes, and then let the pressure fall naturally (natural release) until the seal is broken and the lid can be opened. Mix in the vanilla extract.

Divide the cooked oats equally between 4 – 6 ramekins, and let cool to room temperature. The oatmeal can be refrigerated and stored for up to 5 days at this point, frozen for 3 – 4 months, or Brûléed right away. If using frozen oats, allow them to fully thaw first, and if using chilled oats, allow them to come back up to room temperature.

Mix together the brown sugar and water to create a thick sugar paste. Spread 1 – 2 teaspoons over the tops of each ramekin filled with oats, to evenly coat the surface. Place the ramekins under a hot broiler set to high, and cook until the sugar bubbles and caramelizes. Serve immediately, with berries or sliced bananas if desired.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe

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