When I meet someone new and they discover that I practice as a solicitor, the usual question that will usually come up in conversation is: “What made you want to do law?”
My running joke is that I thought at the time that law looked cool thanks to that iconic movie, Legally Blonde – which always gets a chuckle. But in all honesty, I chose it because it was the highest ranking degree that I was eligible for with the results I had. I had been a little foolish in agreeing with my folks to ditch the “un-helpful” subjects I did well at – i.e. Food Technology (which I topped for two years in a row) – and took up a variety of subjects known for their higher-ranking qualities, among them Chemistry and Three Unit Mathematics. Words cannot quite explain how much I hated these subjects.
I was allowed a semi-concession, and for this I went with Ancient History. Our primary case study was Ancient Persia (or otherwise now known as Iran), and I remember being greatly amused in hearing about their war formalities, particularly the carrying of a staff with a solid gold persimmon on top. The persimmon is a very well-respected fruit in the Middle-East, Mediterranean and Asia, and is ranked 14th in the world as the most consumed fruit after cherries and before avocados. In Japan, people like to wait until the first snow starts before picking it from the tree, cutting the top off and scooping it with a spoon like a sorbet. In Australia however, it’s less known and considered a minor crop. It’s such an unfamiliar fruit that when I was invited to a Persimmon appreciation evening I was rather at a loss thinking of what I could do with a persimmon in regards to baking or cooking, as I had never before tasted the fruit.
That was soon to change. We gathered at Newtown’s The Stinking Bishops on a mild-weathered Monday evening and were introduced to two varieties of the fruit: the astringent persimmon and the non-astringent persimmon (also known as Fuji fruit). The astringent persimmons are more oval in shape, and these are best eaten when it’s fully ripe to allow the tannins in it to slowly mellow out, while non-astringent persimmons are rounder (and look a little like orange tomatoes) and can be eaten crunchy, softly ripe, or anywhere in-between.
We were to try them paired with a few of The Stinking Bishop‘s signature cheeses: a Venus Blue from Australia (a hard, crumbly blue), the delectable soft Brillat Savarin from France, a washed Brebbirouse again from France, and the interestingly curly Tete Di Moine from Switzerland as the hard cheese. I actually thought it looked like the Chinese white fungus but was delighted to discover that it was a beautifully creamy-flavoured hard cheese, and the way it had been cut meant it melted on the tongue.
We were trying it with slices of a hard persimmon, crisp and similar to how you would use slices of apple on a cheeseboard, dried persimmon slices, and a wonderfully soft and gelatinous segment of very soft persimmon.
It was amazing the differences in flavour that accompanied the variances in texture. The dried persimmon pieces were chewy and slightly tart, similar to dried apple pieces, and went well with the soft wash cheese and the blue cheese. The hard persimmon slices went well with the Brillat Savarin, while the near-jammy characteristic of the soft persimmon went amazingly with either the pungent blue or the sharp notes of the Tete Di Moine.
It was a fascinating and rather eye-opening evening, and I left with my mind whirring with ideas, a promise of a tray of non-astringent persimmons to be delivered later in the week, and a single perfectly ripe astringent persimmon to do what I liked with in the meantime.
I had a couple of figs left over in the fridge and with the jammy qualities of the persimmon, I decided to make an almond yoghurt cake, topped with slices of fig and persimmon – baked until it caramelised down into the most beautiful, soft topping over the buttery cake. It’s based on Ottolenghi’s Fig & Almond Yoghurt Cake, with added slices of persimmon and a few drops of rosewater into the cake mix to complement the fig and persimmon’s Middle-Eastern fan-base.
Recipe: Fig & Persimmon Almond Yoghurt Cake
- 200g unsalted butter;
- 200g caster sugar, plus 1 teaspoon and 3 tablespoons extra;
- 3 large free range eggs;
- 180g ground almonds;
- 100g plain flour;
- 1/2 teaspoon salt;
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste;
- 1 teaspoon rosewater;
- 100g Greek yoghurt;
- 5 figs;
- One very-ripe astringent persimmon, peeled and cut into thick slices;
- 6 tablespoons red wine;
- Greek yoghurt, to serve.
Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius. Line the bottom and sides of a 24cm springform cake tin with baking paper. Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric beater until they turn light and pale. Whisk the eggs lightly with a fork, then with the machine going on medium speed, add them gradually to the bowl – a bit at a time – adding more only once the previous addition is fully incorporated. Once all the egg is in, mix together the almonds, flour, salt, vanilla and rosewater, and fold into the batter. Mix until smooth, then fold in the yoghurt.
Pour the batter into the lined tin and level with a palette knife or a spoon. Cut each fig vertically into four or six long wedges and arrange with the slices of persimmon on top of the cake, just slightly immersed in the batter.
Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 170 degrees Celcius and continue baking until it sets – about 45-50 minutes longer. Check this by inserting a skewer into the cake – it is done when it comes out clean. Take the cake out from the oven and allow it to cool in the tin completely before taking it out and sprinkle with a teaspoon of reserved caster sugar.
You can have it as it is, but I decided to turn Ottolenghi’s red-wine tossed figs into a glaze to moisten the softened fruit on top. Put three tablespoons of caster sugar in a small saucepan and put on a high heat until it just starts to caramelise. Remove from the heat, then carefully add the wine (it will spit) and return to the heat, letting the caramel dissolve into the wine. Allow to cool slightly before using a pastry brush to brush this red wine caramel over the fruit topping.
Spoon a generous dollop of Greek yoghurt over each slice of cake – it’s best served while warm.
For more delicious persimmon recipes, visit the Persimmons Australia website!