The gift of fresh produce, is there anything more joyful? Give me a bag full of lemons, a box full of figs or a tray full of perfectly imperfect locally grown apples and witness the widest smile and eyes that sparkle with sheer delight.
A few weeks ago I was gifted a box that was full of figs from a tree that could tell a thousand stories and more, and in amongst these little gems sat a collection of persimmons. Having not much experience with these round, plump, tight-skinned fruits, (Their stems remind me of a of toupee of sorts, sprouting from the top), I was told that I need to wait, that patience would yield a result that was creamy and sweet. So, waited I did, checking in on them with a little squeeze every couple of days until finally the day had come. Although, as I plucked one out of the bowl into my hands it felt like a water-filled balloon and I was instantly taken back to summer days running bare foot across the hot pavements whilst dodging the threat of impending attacks from the water filled grenades that flew through the sky! If they missed their target they would explode onto the hot surface as the steam rose up. We would be forever finding the those tiny coloured knots that could only represent a good time had been had by all. Which has me thinking...Why did those summer days always feel so much hotter back then?
I'm getting off track. Back to those beautiful little persimmons. So, as I was saying, it felt like a balloon full of water and I thought to myself, have I left them too long now? I did recall the conversation though, with Rowe, where she had in fact said to me "when you think you need to throw them away that's when they are ready." So as I cut into it ever so carefully, the innards spilled out in all their creamy glory and I was treated to a rather sumptuous experience.
In the days leading up to this event, I had been concocting a number of ideas in my mind as to what I was going to create with them. The little man and I had enjoyed them swirled through our warming bowls of morning porridge, but I was determined to come up with something else, a sweet treat of course, to share with friends.
Sometimes I find my mind works like a projector screen, with each screen presenting a new idea. I can almost hear the "click" as it flashes over to the next page and I myself grabbing the nearest pen and piece of paper to quickly jot down the notes. In this case it was which flavours go with the aforementioned persimmon. Honey, hazelnuts, cardamom kept flashing up on "the screen" and after much thought an idea was born, now all I needed to do was to bring it to fruition.
The end result was this, a Persimmon, hazelnut, cardamom and polenta cake which was then smothered generously on top with a honeyed cream cheese icing. I love using polenta/cornmeal to bake with, it gives the resulting baked good a lovely texture that adds a bit of interest for the tastebuds. I used a slightly coarser grain, but if you prefer you can use a finer one. The cake itself is not overly sweet either, which is just the way I like to enjoy my treats. However, the cream cheese icing adds that little hit of sweetness that complements the other flavours quite well.
It really makes a wonderful morning or afternoon tea treat, or perhaps a sneaky little something after dinner.
Makes one 20cm cake.
4-5 small persimmons, ripe, so they almost feel like water-filled balloons. Squeeze out the insides over a sieve set over a bowl to catch the juices, then push it all through with the back of a wooden spoon.
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
220g caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
3 free-range eggs
170g cornmeal/polenta (I used a course meal but you could use a fine one too if you prefer)
1 teaspoon baking powder
For the icing
30g unsalted butter, at room temperature
75g cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 tsp honey (I used local flora)
240g icing sugar
Preheat your oven to 170 degrees/150 degrees fan-forced. Grease your cake tin with butter, rubbing it all over really well, up the sides and down the bottom. Line the base and sides with baking paper.
Process the nuts until coarsely ground. Beat the butter, vanilla, cardamom and sugar until its light and fluffy. about 5 minutes should do the trick on a medium-high speed. Beat in the eggs one at a time until they are incorporated.
In a separate bowl combine the polenta, baking powder and nuts with a whisk.
Stir the dry ingredients into the wet and then finally fold through the persimmon until its all combined.
Place the mixture into the tin and smooth out the top.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour - 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. It will feel quite soft and a little squidgy on top, this is how it should be though.
If you do find that it is browning too quickly on top, just place a piece of foil on top.
Allow to cool in the tin for 30 minutes, then run a knife around the sides and turn out onto a cooling rack, flipping back over onto its right side to cool completely.
Meanwhile, you can start creating the icing. Beat the butter until creamy and then add in the cream cheese bit by bit until its fully combined with the butter. Drizzle in the honey and vanilla and beat for another minute. With the mixer on low speed (you don't want a cloud of icing sugar coating your kitchen!) slowly add the icing sugar in at spoonful's at a time until the mixture has reached a lovely smooth consistency.
Now all you have to do is to spread the icing over the top of the cake, creating a lovely pattern if you wish. I find an offset spatula does the job quite nicely.
Place onto a serving platter or cake stand and share with friends. Adding some fresh flowers will really make it that little bit extra special too.