The fruit in Spain never fails to astonish me. It is just so good.
I grew up in Southern California, and I’ve also lived in the Bay Area and Seattle — all places known for good-quality (though expensive) food selections and thriving local markets. So, you know, I never really thought much about the quality of the produce I grew up eating; I just always assumed it was top-notch. (Though there was that first summer after I moved to Seattle when I realized how sweet blueberries could really be and how awful an avocado that’s been picked too early and ripened in a cold truck will taste.)
But here in Spain, so long as you stick to buying produce that’s in season*, and you make sure to choose your mercados and fruterías well, you’re going to be consistently floored. And not just by the quality — the fruit in this country is dirt cheap. For a few euros, I come home from the market every few days loaded down with kilos and kilos of fruit that is often so ripe, the only thing I can do before it spoils is make jam. Or cake.
Recently, I came back from the market with two persimmons that the vendor urged me to eat immediately. I assumed immediately meant “as soon as you get home,” but he apparently meant “this very minute.” When I got home, they looked like this after I poured them out of the bag:
So a few days later, when I came home with more persimmons that managed to maintain their solid state during the commute but weren’t going to last much longer than that, I remembered a recipe for James Beard’s Persimmon Bread I’d seen on David Lebovitz’s site years ago that I’d always wanted to make. Luckily, I had nearly all the other ingredients on hand already and a free morning on my hands.
A few notes about this recipe: first, it’s huge. Beard (via Lebovitz) calls for using two loaf pans, but since I’d just sparkjoyed one the week before (¡gracias!, teeny tiny Madrid kitchen) I used a 9-inch round cake pan along with the loaf pan. I ended up freezing the round cake for a few weeks, and it defrosted beautifully. If you can’t freeze or give away one of the two cakes (and you aren’t going to eat them both immediately — though if you are, I’m not judging) then consider halving the recipe.
I made a few substitutions to the recipe that included adding cinnamon, using a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flours, opting for rye instead of Cognac and going with the lesser amount of called-for sugar. This cake just wants to be adapted to whatever you’re in the mood for — dried cranberries, apricots or currants; walnuts or pecans; any type of whiskey or rum you have on hand. I’d even like to try swapping in a port or sweet sherry like Pedro Ximénez.
Be prepared for your home to smell absolutely incredible while the cakes are baking — like everything wonderful about the holiday season with none of the crowds. And since it freezes well, it’s a great recipe to make in large batches for gift-giving. In short, I can tell already that it’s going to be a good one to have on call all persimmon season long.
Persimmon Cake (or Bread)
Adapted from James Beard via David Lebovitz
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour, sifted
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2/3 cup rye whiskey
- 2 cups persimmon purée (I used three large persimmons and quickly pulsed the flesh in a blender)
- 2 cups walnuts, chopped and toasted
- 2 cups raisins
- Butter the pans and line the bottom of each with parchment paper.
- Heat oven to 350ºF (180ºC) degrees.
- Add the flours, salt, baking soda, spices and sugar to a large mixing bowl and combine well.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the eggs, whiskey, butter and persimmon purée; stir well.
- Fold in the nuts and raisins, and then pour the batter into your prepared pans. The batter will be pretty wet.
- Bake for one hour, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.
*Yes, just like in the US, the large supermercados here have strawberries, tomatoes, asparagus and the like available year-round. And just like in the US, if you buy a plum in February, you are going to get what you paid for.