Spiced Persimmon Ginger Cake

Apparently I have suddenly become a persimmon person. This was not a thing that I expected, now or frankly ever. I had precisely zero encounters with persimmons until about a month ago, which I was perfectly okay with. They have never looked appetizing to me, and I’m sorry, what-now? I have to wait until they’re squishy to use them? The horror of handling such squishy fruit was not at all on my calendar. One thing I’ve always been clear on is that I like my fruit firm and crisp, and I really don’t feel like changing my mind about that. But… when a baker friend brings you two kinds of persimmons AND half a loaf of persimmon bread he already made… like what is a girl supposed to do, except roll up her sleeves and deal with squishy fruit? So suddenly I had six persimmons sitting on my counter top, which I eyed suspiciously and not without a slight bit of resentment, if I’m being honest. And then I tasted the persimmon bread… Yeppp, persimmons and I were going to be friends. I *may* have written them off a little prematurely. (Fine, a lot prematurely.) I waited almost two weeks for them to ripen into swollen, slightly translucent orbs that I didn’t want to touch, but that meant they were perfect and ready to use for baking.

I haven’t really bothered buying much stuff during the pandemic. Why do I need new clothes? God knows I don’t need more housewares. But cookbooks? Well… there are just so many good ones coming out, as they do every year. That is one thing that has continued to stay pretty steady, and working from home has given me the flexibility to spend more time with my book friends. And suddenly whilst persimmons appeared in my kitchen for the first time, I noticed persimmon recipes everywhere. They were popping into my IG feed, and some of my favorite bakers featured them prominently in new books. If you had told me that the first recipe I would make from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person would be her Spiced Persimmon Cake, I would be giving you the side-eye that I had previously reserved for those persimmons. And yet… here we are. It’s not my first pandemic baking surprise, but perhaps the most unlikely thus far. The other recipe I considered using was Adeena Sussman’s from her gorgeous Sababa cookbook of Israeli cuisine. I had one very ripe persimmon that I had already scooped out and put in the freezer, two more that were almost ripe at the same time, and a fourth one that hadn’t budged. So I figured I would make the recipe from Dessert Person with the two equally ripe persimmons and the frozen pulp, plus I also had a Fuyu persimmon for the ruffly garnish on top. I also decided to add some chopped crystallized ginger because I especially liked that bit from Adeena’s recipe.

One more thing about persimmons– there are two kinds in the Saffitz recipe, Hachiya and Fuyu. The Hachiya variety are the squishy ones that I had previously found repulsive. (Okay, I still have to take a few deep breaths.) You want to wait until they practically look rotten– she describes them in her recipe intro as “squishy and swollen like a water balloon”. They will turn a darker shade of reddish-orange, and they will feel heavy and look slightly translucent. I kept thinking I had waited too long to use them, but they were just right; seriously I would have long thrown out any other fruit. The smaller, flatter Fuyu persimmons, on the other hand, do not get squishy when they ripen. To be honest, I don’t know how to tell with these ones, but I kept them for the weeks that I waited for the Hachiyas to soften, and they were just fine. I loved how they ruffled at the edges when baked– a lovely and effortlessly decorative topping!

I’m still not really sure how to describe the flavor of persimmons, but I’ll definitely be baking with them every year going forward, and I’m excited to explore further. They pair beautifully with warm Fall and winter spices, and of course vanilla makes everything tastier. My persimmon-loving friends are doing wild and crazy things like eating them in salads and oatmeal, so apparently there’s a wide world of persimmons out there waiting!

On another note… it’s been, like, a lot of months since I’ve written anything. I used to write weekly, and over the past couple of years, I have spent a lot of time doing the baking part, but had little motivation to write up blog posts and edit photos. I’m asking myself why this is, since when I do sit down to write, I remember right away why I love it. I think that in the earlier years of Stellina Sweets it served a therapeutic purpose that I don’t need it for anymore. Now I’m working on more original recipes, but they haven’t made it here yet. I have always posted holiday recipes and baking reflections and “resolutions” at New Year’s, which I didn’t do for 2020/2021. I don’t really have that many organized thoughts around it this year, though I’ve loved having so much baking time. It was an opportunity to experiment more with recipe development and tweaking, which brought me joy because for years I’ve been knocking on that ceiling of moving from adapting to developing. That is always a work in progress of course, and I have to say that 2020 was a year of significant progress in that regard– silver linings! What I didn’t have any appetite for was complex, multi-step projects like layer cakes or babka. I spent sooo many weekends about three years ago making different flavors of babka, but haven’t touched that since before I moved to Israel. I can’t say I’m dying to take those up in the near future (not as fun with fewer people to bake for), but maybe later this year. For now, my biggest goal is to get back to writing in this space– I have so many delicious things to share with you, starting with this plush and deeply flavored Spiced Persimmon Ginger Cake!

Spiced Persimmon Ginger Cake

Adapted from Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz

Yields 8 servings

  • Neutral oil & demerara sugar for the pan
  • 2-3 large ripe Hachiya persimmons (enough for 1 cup/256g persimmon purée)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ¾ cup (228g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon*
  • ¾ teaspoon ground ginger*
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves*
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • ½ cup (113g) neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • ¼ cup (57g) fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (115g) walnut halves or pecans, toasted and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 ripe medium Fuyu persimmon, cut crosswise into about 8 very thin rounds
  • Demerara sugar, for sprinkling on top

*The original recipe calls for 2 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice powder, which I didn’t have on hand, so I used Claire’s substitution suggestion (cinnamon, ginger, cloves), and it was excellent, so I may continue using that going forward, but feel free to omit those three ground spices and use 2 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice powder.

Preheat an oven to 350°F and set a baking rack in the center position. Line a 9×5″ loaf pan with a large piece of parchment paper, leaving an overhang on all sides. Grease the bottom and sides of the pan with oil, then scatter the demerara sugar inside the pan and shake it to spread the sugar as much as possible so it sticks to the oiled parchment.

Slice the Hachiya persimmons in half vertically and cut out the whitish core. Use a spoon to scoop out the jelly-like orange flesh. Place it in the bowl of a small food processor or blender and process to the consistency of a smooth purée. Measure out 1 cup (256g) and place it in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk the baking soda into the persimmon purée and set aside the bowl for several minutes while you make the batter. (The baking soda will aerate the persimmon and then set it as a gel solid.)

Combine the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl and whisk them together. Make a well in the center.

Once the persimmon has solidified, loosen it a bit with a whisk, then add the granulated sugar, oil, eggs, orange zest and juice, and the vanilla, and whisk them thoroughly. There will be visible bits of persimmon in the mixture, which will smooth out during baking.

Add the wet mixture into the dry ingredients, then whisk everything together, starting from the center and working your way out towards the edges of the bowl, incorporating the flour until the batter is smooth with no dry streaks. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the toasted walnuts and crystallized ginger bits until evenly distributed; do not overmix.

Scrape the cake batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with the spatula. Place the thin Fuyu persimmon slices on top, arranging them in a slightly overlapping pattern if desired. Sprinkle demerara sugar evenly and generously over the top.

Bake the cake for about 60-75 minutes, until the top is deeply golden and firm, and a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. (I ended up baking it for the full 75 minutes, and I was afraid I had over-baked it because the top was pretty dark, but it was *perfect*. Be patient!) Let the cake cool in the pan for about 30 minutes set on a metal cooling rack, then gently pull the loaf up and out of the pan using the parchment paper overhang. Cool completely before slicing, then enjoy this beautiful, moist, scrumptious cake!

Make ahead: Store the cake in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2021.

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