Autumn is such a Tween.
We have vacillated between nippy mornings and warm days (apparently, we were in the middle of an autumnal heat wave in Sydney, but you wouldn’t know it at 6am); grey skies and yellow-gold sunsets. The weather, like a girl-child hesitating between two stages of life, can’t make up its mind to put away summer’s strapless dresses and bring out winter’s tea cosies and mittens.
The only certainty is the shorter days that herald every winter. More and more often, I’m leaving work in the dark, and waking up to a dimmer sky.
Poets of every age have written about autumn. Its tempestuous weather, ravishing colours, just-ripened fruits and harvests of grains. The words autumn and fall evoke images of bucolic plenty, but also ideas about the fleeting passage of time. No wonder autumn is such a fickle character.
It wasn’t until this morning that I had time to sit down, reflect, and notice, I mean really notice, the colours of the season. At the end of a crazy-hectic week, sitting down at the dining table with a large weekend-sized mug of tea was … a moment of quiet gladness.
I had made a persimmon bread-cake during the week. Persimmon seems the right kind of fruit to have in the house while we are surrounded by such gorgeously red leaves falling from neighbouring trees. I love how the fruit becomes soft, squishy, a bag of orange-red goo that you can spoon and slurp. With porridge, yoghurt, or by itself by the spoonful, so I lose none of its unique, slightly buttery yet crisp flavour. Perhaps it’s because persimmons were one of the hallmark fruits of autumn and winter in my part of China, their bright orange-red a reminder of festivities past and to come. Tied with string, they looked like little lanterns.
The bread – made in a 3/4 sized bundt pan – was both like a quick bread and a moist fruit-laden cake. A tween, like autumn itself.
I used the well-beloved James Beard persimmon bread recipe, but subbed some plain (AP) flour for wholemeal (whole wheat) flour. Instead of walnuts or pecans, I used macadamia nuts and chopped bits of dark chocolate. The macadamia nuts, because I always thought their texture and buttery flavour goes well with persimmons. The dark chocolate, well, because I can.
The flavours are beguiling rather than in-your-face. There is an undercurrent of honeyed sweetness from the best dried apricots and jam-like persimmon, the lightly toasted macadamia nuts provided a buttery crunch in contrast to the otherwise moist and dense bread-cake. The dark chocolate bits? They adds unexpected bits of almost-bitter intensity, which worked surprisingly well against the milder flavoured fruit and nuts.
I used more persimmon purée than the recipe asked for, so that the bread-cake came out of the oven denser than Mr Beard intended. There was almost more fruit than bread-cake, but this is how I like all things persimmon – a little over the top, a little imperfect in appearance, and a little gooey-happy all the way through.
The cake kept well for a few days, though from day three, I’d want to toast it like banana bread. And slather it with persimmon jam.
Note: there are two common varieties of persimmons. The round-bottomed one is the Fuyu (or Fuyu Fruit), which can be eaten while it’s still hard, but is also good when it has become squishy. There’s also the oblong Hachiya, which is incredibly astringent unless they are squishy and over-ripe.
(Adapted and halved from this wonderful James Beard recipe)
1 1/4 cups (approx 170g) sifted plain or AP flour
1/2 cups (70g) wholemeal flour
1/3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup sugar (the original recipe allows you to use 1 to 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup brandy
1 1/2 cups persimmon purée (the original recipe asks for 1 cup)
1 cup macadamia nuts, lightly toasted and chopped (the original recipe asks for walnuts or pecans)
1 1/4 cups diced dried apricots (the original recipe asks for 1 cup)
1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate, I used 65% cocoa chocolate (my addition)
1. Butter one ¾ sized bundt pan and 3 texas muffin pans. Dust with flour, and tap out any excess. This would probably fit into one full-sized bundt pan.
2. Preheat oven to 350 F / 180C.
3. Mix the first 6 ingredients together in a mixing bowl, and make a well in the centre.
4. Combine the butter, eggs, brandy, persimmon purée and add to the flour mixture. Fold through the nuts, fruit and chocolate.
5. Pour into the bundt pan and muffin pans. Bake the bundt pan for about 45 minutes, and the muffin pans for…about 35 minutes. (If using a full sized bundt pan, probably bake for about one hour.) After about 35 minutes, I kept an eye on the pans until a skewer inserted into the centre of the bread-cakes came out clean.