Monday, January 31, 2011

Pear, Blue Cheese and Hazelnut Tart

One summer afternoon between my junior and senior years of high school my mom and I took a walk (more of a sweaty stagger in the Woodland Hills heat) to a nearby restaurant for lunch. We managed to stop squabbling long enough to enjoy the food at Villa Piacere, and dessert consisted of cake and brandy-soaked cherries, which, to my delight, got me tipsy. I had been looking for a summer job for the past several weeks, with no luck. Emboldened, I asked the hostess about possible employment. When she handed me an application for a serving position, I explained that, actually, I preferred to work in the kitchen. She gave me a quizzical look, left again, and returned with the head chef, who smirkingly agreed to give me a shot in the pantry.

Serge had a thick, Southern French accent, and though in the midst of 4 years of highschool french classes, I could barely understand a word he said in any language. Your stereotypical, hot-tempered French chef, he would scream when things didn't go his way. One day while demonstrating how to make crème brulées, he confided that he had a daughter around my age. 'She does not go near zee kitchen,' he said, apparently perplexed, then proceeded to berate me for over-soaking the tiramisù.

I probably learned more during the two months working at Villa Piacere than I have at any other job or school, put together, including which bartenders would trade me a piña colada for a slice of cheesecake and how to make the cooks laugh by swearing in Spanish. My duties consisted of prepping all the salad makings and cold appetizers, including cooking shrimp and ripping their legs off and hacking up huge chunks of bloody tuna; making fresh pasta, including squid ink linguine; baking fresh rosemary-garlic rolls and making and plating all the desserts: tiramisu, pots de creme, cheesecake, and more. Looking back, I can't fathom how I could have possibly gotten everything done in the short amount of time I had, and I wonder to this day why Serge decided to hire slow, inexperienced me for such a challenging position (daughter issues, perhaps?).

Serge had little respect for his clientele. One day, when I asked if I could do a baked goat cheese salad ala Cafe Fanny he spat, 'Zee Americans, zay do not like zee goat cheese. Zay like zee shrimp!' and insisted instead on a large platter of seafood louis. (To my delight, I did do the goat cheese salad one night when Serge was off and it was the top seller that evening, and remained on the menu for years afterward.)

Serge once showed me how to make the blue cheese dressing, and instructed me to use both blue cheese and roquefort. 'What's the difference?' I asked. Shocked by my ignorance, Serge enlightened me, 'Zee blue cheese is Americain, zee roquefort is French.' The way he phrased it left no question as to which was the superior cheese.

You can use any blue cheese you like for this tart, and I promise not to berate you for it. This time I used a creamy Saint Agur, but a sweet gorgonzola would be tasty, too, or even a soft chèvre or a creamy brie. The recipe comes from The American Boulangerie, by Pascal Rigo, a French chef himself, and daddy of the La Boulange. Sweet, ripe pears combine with blue cheese, hazelnuts and a bit of custard in a buttery tart shell to make a richly satisfying brunch or supper. Use any nuts you like in place of the hazels, such as pine nuts, walnuts or pecans. If you want to substitute apples for the pears, peel them and slice them very thinly as they are firmer and take longer to cook than pears. I would go with a semi-firm, semi-tart apple such as fuji, gala, pink pearl or pink lady.

This tart is assembled in an un-baked crust, which makes things simpler than having to deal with pie weights and all that, but the crust does turn out softer than it would were it par-baked. If you choose to par-bake, line the crust with parchment and pie weights (or clean pennies) and bake at 400º for 15 - 20 minutes, then remove the weights and bake another 5 minutes to dry out the bottom. Proceed with the tart from there, baking the assembled tart at 350º until the filling is puffed and set, 25 - 30 minutes.

Love Pomes:
Pear-Cardamom Baked Pancake
Apple Custard Tart
Apple Upside-Down Cake

One Year Ago:
Pumpkin Challah
Oven Roasted Potatoes and Parsnips

Pear, Blue Cheese and Hazelnut Tart

One 10 or 11" tart, 8-ish servings

This tart can stand many variations. The first time I made it, I used all heavy cream in the custard in place of the crème fraîche and milk. This time around, I used a combination of quark and heavy cream. You can substitute walnuts, pecans, or pine nuts for the hazels if you prefer. If you use apples in place of the pears, slice them 1/8" thick; I would go with fujis, galas or pink ladies. Serve this rich tart with a crisp salad of arugula, beets, fennel and vinaigrette, and a glass of prosecco or sauvignon blanc.

All-Butter Pate Brisée (or use a half recipe of sourdough pate brisee)
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole spelt or whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold, in 3/4" dice
4 - 6 tablespoons ice water, as needed

Tart filling:
Adapted from The American Boulangerie

1/2 cup raw hazelnuts
2 large, ripe but firm pears (preferably Bartletts), cut off the core and sliced lengthwise 1/4" thick
4 ounces blue cheese (such as Roquefort, St. Agur or gorgonzola)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup crème fraîche
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
a few turns black pepper

For the crust:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar and salt. Scatter the butter pieces over the top and rub with your fingertips until the mixture is the texture of cornmeal with some larger, pea-sized butter chunks remaining. Sprinkle the ice water over 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with your fingers or a rubber spatula, until the dough begins to clump together and no loose, floury bits remain. Gather the dough into a ball, flatten into a disc and wrap tightly in plastic wrap or a plastic bag. Chill at least 30 minutes, or until firm.

Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 12 - 14" round (depending on the size of your pan). Fit the dough into a 10" or 11" tart pan. Trim the overhang to 1 inch, then fold it over to make a lip, pressing the sides gently. Freeze the tart crust while you prepare the filling ingredients.

For the filling:
Position a rack in the bottom of the oven, place a baking stone on the rack if you've got one, and preheat the oven to 350º.

Place the hazels on a small baking pan and toast 10 - 12 minutes until fragrant and the skins are starting to peel away from the nuts. Let cool until handleable, then rub between your hands to remove as much of the skins as possible. Coarsely chop the nuts.

Increase the oven temperature to 425º.

Measure the crème fraîche and milk in a 2-cup measure, and whisk in the egg, salt and pepper. Arrange the pears in the bottom of the unbaked, frozen tart shell. Crumble the cheese over, and sprinkle with half the nuts. Pour the custard over the pears and sprinkle with the remaining half of the nuts. Immediately place the tart pan on a baking sheet and place in the oven on the baking stone.

Bake the tart until the crust and top are golden, 35 - 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. The tart is best soon after being baked, but will keep in the fridge for a few days. Warm in the oven or toaster oven before serving.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Butterscotch Pudding

If given the choice as a child (which happened rarely with my health-nut parents), I always chose chocolate pudding over butterscotch. I'm just that kinda gal, I guess. Or at least I was. It wasn't until I worked at Farallon for a stint under the brilliant Terri Wu that I got bitten by the butterscotch bug.

One night, while I raced to finish my enormous prep list, Terri calmly worked beside me developing a caramelized bread pudding into which she stuffed chunks of roasted pear and Maraska-poached sour cherries and topped with cinnamon streusel. Batch after batch, Terri kept declaring the puddings 'bland'. At the time, I couldn't fathom how they could become any more flavorful, bursting as they were with myriad tastes and textures.

But then into one batch Terri threw a handful of Guittard butterscotch chips. She pulled the puddings from the oven and turned them out of their silicon molds and onto a plate. As we broke apart the large chunks of custard-soaked bread, the aroma of brown sugar and butter wafted irresistibly throughout the pastry kitchen. A bite of this dessert was heaven on a fork, the different components merging together in a symphony of flavors. Seeing my rapturous expression, Terri sighed. 'Put butterscotch in anything and people will love it.'

When I left Farallon, I couldn't find Guittard's butterscotch chips anywhere, and I needed a fix. David Lebovitz's butterscotch pudding sparked my curiosity. No store-bought butterscotch here, David makes his pudding with butter, dark brown Cassonade sugar, salt, egg, cornstarch and milk. I whipped up a batch using some palm sugar my friend Leigh brought back from Indonesia, but disliked that the coffee notes in the sugar gave the pudding an odd tang. Perhaps because of the acidity of the sugar, the pudding 'broke'; I blended it back together at David L's suggestion, but the chilled puddings retained an uneven texture, with molasses-colored liquid oozing from the solid pudding. I also found the puddings a bit too light in texture for me, being the spoiled-on-french-custards-full-of-cream-and-egg-yolks baker that I am, and while Jay jokes about getting me a salt lick due to my predilection for the stuff, this pudding tasted a bit heavy even for my taste.

I did some more research and found scads of different recipes. Some used only egg yolks as a thickener, some only cornstarch, some used both, and some used eggs, cornstarch and flour together. Some added in crème fraîche or greek yogurt to the finished pudding. Most used a combination of milk and heavy cream, and all called for dark brown sugar melted with butter. I tried a few batches using both whole egg and cornstarch, but I kept ending up with a grainy texture and wondered if this was due to the egg. The cornstarch must be cooked to a boil and beyond, and the egg, which usually shouldn't be heated past 170º when making a smooth custard lest it scramble, must go along for the ride, so I decided to try the cornstarch-only route. I also wondered if whisking the butter in at the end, rather than at the beginning, might lend a smoother texture and help cool down the pudding a bit sooner. (This is also called 'mounting the butter' and that's just hot.) Since I can't get enough of vanilla bean, I decided to use the fresh stuff in place of the extract, and I wanted some salt to bring out the flavors in the pudding, but not too much.

An article from Gourmet that I found via The Kitchn used a mixture of milk and heavy cream, cornstarch as the thickener, and added the butter at the end, but there was some talk in the comments of it not setting properly and becoming 'pudding soup', so I decided to develop my own formula instead. It couldn't be that hard, could it? Five batches later, certain after each that the next little tweak would make it perfect, I realized that I was closing in on the proportions in the Gourmet recipe, so I finally gave it a shot, adding salt and using vanilla bean in place of the extract. Of course, it was perfect: butterscotch heaven. I topped the puddings with unsweetened whipped cream and a sprinkle of flaky salt, and called it a day. (Right after I made another batch, you know, just to make sure it was really 'the one.')

This dessert comes together in a matter of minutes (plus some chilling time, if you can stop yourself from licking it all straight from the pot), and uses ingredients commonly found laying about in one's pantry, doing nothing, waiting to become something divine. The rich butter and deep brown sugar convey the classic flavor reminiscent of those little plastic, foil-topped containers of yore (should you have been so lucky). Unlike the real thing, however, these will actually live up to those exalted memories.

Even after nine batches of butterscotch pudding (hey, I had to get it just right - I did it for you!), I'm already looking forward to the next. I guess I'm just that kinda gal.

Pudding it to you:
Chocolate Rosemary Pots de Crème
(Raw, Vegan) Chocolate Pudding

One year ago:
Citrus Cornmeal Poundcake
Winter Veg Mac n' Cheese

Butterscotch Pudding

Adapted from Gourmet

You can (probably) use half and half in place of the milk and cream if you like. (Update, 1/21/12: half and half works, but has a higher fat content than the milk/cream mixture and results in a firmer, less creamy pudding. Try reducing the cornstarch to 2 tablespoons, and/or omitting the butter.) My favorite sugar for this was organic dark brown sugar; if you only have light brown sugar on hand, you can try whisking in a few drops of molasses to taste along with the butter at the end. Or try experimenting with more exotic sugars, such as panela, palm sugar, muscovado, or Alter Eco's unrefined muscobado sugar. If boozy butterscotch sounds appealing, add 1 1/2 tablespoons of whiskey or dark or gold rum after adding the butter. If you lack vanilla bean (which you can buy in bulk in the Mission, or order), stir in a teaspoon of vanilla extract after adding the butter at the end.

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup (3 3/4 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, in several pieces
unsweetened whipped cream
flaky salt, such as Maldon

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the cornstarch, salt, and sugar. Add the milk, cream and vanilla bean and scrapings and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently (you will have to stop whisking to verify that it is boiling; there will be fat bubbles that pop gloopily). While you whisk, make sure to scrape the entire bottom of the pot, including the corners. When you see the gloopy bubbles, reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer and continue cooking for 1 minute. The pudding should be the texture of a loose yogurt, or warm caramel sauce. Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter.

Fish out the vanilla pod (or strain the pudding into a measuring pitcher if at all lumpy) and divide the pudding into 4 cups. (You can rinse the vanilla pod, let it dry, and stick it in a bottle of booze or a jar of sugar, if you like.)

Pudding skin is an area of some disagreement, with supporters of either side, pro-skin and anti-skin, debating their points heatedly. As for me, I just cover the cups with plastic wrap (not pressed onto the surface of the pudding) and mine haven't formed much of a skin.

Chill the puddings until cold and set, 1 1/2 hours or up to several days. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a few flecks of flaky salt.

Monday, January 17, 2011

White Bean, Kale and Farro Soup with Parsley Pesto

Growing up in LA, I never experienced grocery shopping (or anything else, really) sans car. Because it is so vast and the public transportation so atrocious, you pretty much have to own an automobile in order to get anywhere. You don't take the bus unless you are extremely poor, extremely masochistic, or have had an extremely big fight with your mother and, to punish you, she has refused to drive you to your high school, which is 45 minutes away by car, or, I kid not, 4 hours by bus.

But I digress.

I will never forget the first time I went grocery shopping car-free. My parents had dropped me off at my Kresge apartment on the UC Santa Cruz campus one September, and when the leftovers had dwindled, it came time to stock the pantry. I took the bus to a large grocery chain in town, and filled a shopping cart to the brim: large bottles of olive oil and vinegar, a jug of milk, orange juice, sacks of sugar and flour, bread, yogurt, mac and cheese, cans of soup, and a houseplant, whom my housemates would name 'Angel'. I wheeled my four bulging grocery bags and Angel to the bus stop just outside the parking lot and waited. When the packed bus arrived, I hefted my purchases up in shifts, while the over-crowded passengers, and the driver, glared on. I stood at the front, blocking the entrance but unable to make my way to the back with my cargo, sweating profusely, clutching the germ-infested bar. As the bus twisted and turned up to campus, Angel toppled over, spilling soil across the floor.

At my stop, a kindly fellow Kresge-dweller, a sophomore who had likely experienced her first car-less shopping trip the previous year, grabbed two of my bags and walked me home; otherwise, I don't know what I would have done.

I wish I could say that after that point, I downsized my shopping list, invested in a large backpack and some canvas bags, and only shopped at the uber-healthy on-campus grocery co-op. But no, I merely got my super-senior neighbor to drive me and my housemates into town on shopping trips. (As a bonus, he would buy us booze, too!)

While my college days are far behind me, I now live in San Francisco, where the line for Rainbow's parking lot can snake around the corner and into oncoming traffic. The twenty-minute return-trip culminates in a long, steep hill. One breaks a pleasant sweat on a normal day, but when lugging 20 pounds of groceries on one's back, the trip can become downright onerous.

Hence, the luxury-status of heavy groceries: glass-bottled Strauss milk, wine and beer, large amounts of flour and sugar, canned beans, bottled drinks, containers of vegetable stock or ready-made soup.

Thankfully, I can have my soup and eat it, too, thanks to my soup-guru (also pancake, eggplant parmesan and poppyseed cake maven and general, all around idol) and fellow UCSC Alumna Deborah Madison, whose delectable vegetable soups make stocks of their own - just add water! I had the good fortune to pick up a copy of Local Flavors on campus during my senior year, and have been in love with her solid recipes, comforting prose and effortless food-styling (which she does herself) ever since. Her book on vegetable soups, my soup bible, is no exception.

With carrots, celery, parsley, kale, herbs and alliums in our box, this soup needed only small quantities of dried beans and grains from the store, and a can of diced tomatoes, to become a giant pot of several day's worth of sustenance. Packed with creamy beans, chewy farro, and silky kale, this soup comprises the ideal healthy comfort food for a chilly winter's day or night. Top it with a grating of parmesan of a whorl of parsley pesto, sop up the flavorful broth with a crust of bread, and you will have yourself one wholly satisfying meal. This soup reminds me of the cans of minestrone my dad used to heat up when I was a kid, only of course, much, much better.

I used my favorite beans, Rancho Gordo's Steuben Yellow Eyes, which are fresh-dried (meaning less than a year old, as opposed to other dried beans, which can be up to 5 years old) thus they cook up quickly. Stunning when dried, the cooked beans lose the striking contrast of the mustard-yellow-on-ecru color scheme, but their voluptuous texture more than makes up for that fact. The only thing I would change about this recipe would be to add the kale toward the end so that it retains some green, rather than with the farro, which needs a lengthy cooking and leaves you with dingy-looking, though delicious, kale.

I hope this hearty soup gives you the energy you need for a vigorous and possible resolution-related hike or a dance or yoga class. Or perhaps a trek to your local co-op, which, walk-assured, will be burdened by neither heavy cans of soup nor stock.

Soup shrine:
Lentil Chestnut Fennel
Smoky Tomato Bean
Potato, Spring Onion and Turnip Potage

One year ago:
Chocolate Cherry Breakfast Bars
Banana Brown Sugar Pecan Scones

White Bean, Kale and Farro Minestra with Parsley Pesto

Adapted (barely) from Deborah Madison's Vegetable Soups

Makes 3 quarts, or 8 hearty servings

Plan this a day ahead so that you have time to soak the beans and farro overnight.

The beans:
1 cup white beans (such as Steuben Yellow Eye, canellini, navy, or other white beans), soaked overnight
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
rind of parmesan (optional)
a sprig of sage
1 bay leaf
4 parsley branches
10 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

The soup:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced (2 cups)
2 medium carrots, diced (1 cup)
3 celery ribs, diced (1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, or 2 teaspoons fresh
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
splash red or white wine
3/4 cup farro, soaked for at least one hour, or overnight
1 teaspoon salt
14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice
1 bunch black kale, stems removed, leaves shredded

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, combine the drained beans, garlic, parmesan, herbs and 10 cups water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until almost tender, about 45 minutes. Add the salt and continue cooking until the beans are tender, about another half hour. Drain the beans, reserving the broth, and pull out the herbs and parmesan and discard.

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the onion, carrot, celery, herbs and garlic and saute until golden and soft, 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, lowering the heat as needed. Mash in the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, then splash in the wine. Drain the farro and add, along with the salt, the tomatoes and their juice, and the beans and their liquid. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook until the farro is mostly tender, 15 - 20 minutes. Add the kale, and simmer gently until the farro and kale are soft, another 15 minutes or so. Taste for salt, and add more water if necessary; farro is a thirsty grain and will drink up liquid.

Serve with a swirl of parsley pesto, below, or a simple grating of parmesan, drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of chopped parsley. The soup keeps well for up to a week in the fridge, or frozen for up to several months.

Parsley Pesto

By Alanna

leaves from 1 large bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup lightly packed grated parmesan
1/4 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
1/4 cup olive oil

Place the parsley leaves, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until fairly smooth. Pour in the olive oil, and blend until smoother. Taste for salt, and add more oil of you want a thinner consistency. Store in a jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for up to several months.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Persimmon Pudding

Many people I know (including myself) have at some point been traumatized by persimmons. Heart-shaped hachiyas must be eaten when squishy-ripe and the flesh reaches an almost liquid consistency, lest the tannins cause your tongue and teeth to feel like the inside of a fur-lined trapper hat; hence the persimmon’s dubious reputation. When ripe, however, hachiya flesh turns to an unctuous gelée, with a sweet, delicate flavor.

(Squat fuyus, on the other hand, don't traumatize as they lack the mouth-puckering tannins, and can be eaten when crisp, like an apple.)

By now, I've eaten and baked with enough ambrosially ripe hachiyas to (almost!) blot out the memory of that first, fuzzy-feeling bite. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still susceptible to persimmon trauma of other sorts.

In Corralitos, a tiny town outside of Santa Cruz where Jay's folks live, and home of the infamous Meat Market and Sausage Company, persimmon trees make a glorious sight come December. Naked of leaves, laden with glowing orange orbs, they put any Christmas tree to shame with their stunning, minimalist decor. Perhaps because persimmons are the last fruit to disappear before a long, stark winter of citrus and pomes, I get a little psycho about them. Driving through Corralitos, I alternate staring longingly out the car window as we drive through town, nose pressed against the glass, and cursing the greedy tree owners, selfishly hoarding their persimmons while I go without. Then I shed a tear or two knowing that no matter how many store-bought hachiyas I have ripening on my windowsill, I may never have a grand persimmon tree (or five) in my backyard, laden with fruit, begging to be picked. Time is running out, and I want them all to stave off the deprivation of winter’s dearth.

One year, sensing my wallowing, Gunars, Jay's mom's Latvian partner and sourdough waffle master, took me on a little walk. We spotted the tell-tale orange lanterns in a neighbor's backyard, and knocked at their door. No answer. Giddy with anticipation, we crept around the back, shopping bags in hand, ready for the plunder, but we came to an abrupt halt upon seeing the trees up close: they were laden with apples; rotting apples that, from a distance, oddly mimicked persimmons to a tee.

This year, however, Gunars devised a clever plan. He took us on a drive around town, with me doing the usual forlorn staring, nose-pressing and fist-shaking. Then he casually pulled up to a house with a yard filled with dozens of fruit-laden persimmon trees. After the usual rush of jealousy, I looked to the driveway. To my elation, there stood a wheelbarrow brimming with persimmons, a glass jar, and a handwritten sign that read, 'Persimmons, 4 for $1.' I greedily stuffed the jar full of cash and loaded up a bag, dreaming of the puddings and cakes that I would bake with their ripe flesh.

Jay's mom first introduced me to persimmon pudding, which she makes almost every year for Christmas dessert. The color of dark chocolate and full of robust spices, brown sugar, nuts and dried fruit, served with a dollop of whipped cream, it makes a sating finish to any winter meal. When I decided to make my own pudding, I tried some different recipes, including a lighter (in color and flavor) one from Chez Panisse Fruit. This one used white sugar, which left the color more orangey-brown, and only a bit of cinnamon and vanilla for flavor, which let the subtle taste of the persimmon shine through a bit more. I decided to tweak the recipe this time, warming the dairy (I used half and half) to help the puddings cook faster. The warm cream prompted me to steep it with vanilla bean and a cinnamon stick, and I baked the puddings in individual ramekins for faster cooking and pretty presentation. I topped the warm puddings with a pour of cold crème anglaise and some pieces of diced fuyu, enjoying the variety of textures, temperatures and flavors going on: warm, rich custards; cold, thick cream; fresh, bright persimmons.

Aside from eating the ripe flesh straight from the hachiya, or slicing up fuyus to eat like an apple, here are some more ideas for persimmon pursuits:
  •  two-persimmon tea cake, and galettes, use both varieties
  • spoon hachiya puree around a panna cotta, and top with tiny chunks of fuyus
  • persimmon fool: fold hachiya puree into some lightly sweetened whipped cream or greek yogurt
  • persimmon parfait: layer persimmon puree and diced fuyus with a vanilla pastry cream and whipped cream, or add some boozy-syrup-soaked cake bits for a persimmon trifle
  • try making persimmon pancakes; serve with extra hachiya puree or diced fuyus
  • persimmon pie, similar to pumpkin, is a wintertime staple in some parts of the world, as are persimmon cookies
  • use the chunky hachiya pulp in place of jam in a jam tart or jam crumble squares, with or without some sliced fuyus, as well
  • fuyus can be diced and folded into any muffin batter, or sliced and sauteed with butter, maple syrup and a pinch of cinnamon to top oatmeal or pancakes, or sub them for the pears in this oven pancake

Wherever you find your persimmons, be it at a farmer's market, grocery store, or brimming from your abundant backyard tree (or someone else's), I hope that you'll bring me some. Er, I mean, I hope that you avoid persimmon trauma by letting them ripen fully, and that you wow your loved ones with some tasty puddings for dessert. Though be warned: after one bite, you may be tempted to hoard them all to yourself.

Pudding it to you:
Pumpkin Flan
Chocolate Rosemary Pots De Crème
Chocolate Coconut Milk Tapioca

One year ago:
Sourdough Pizza with Chanterelles,  Shallots and Chèvre

Persimmon Pudding

Serves 6

Adapted loosely from Chez Panisse Fruit (recipe also found in Chez Panisse Desserts)

Persimmons can take a week or more to ripen, so plan ahead if you wish make this for a special occasion; they should feel 'like water balloons ready to burst' in the words of David Lebovitz. To make the persimmon puree, slice the ripe hachiyas in half, scoop out the flesh, squeezing any extra goop from the skins, and work through a strainer or food mill to smooth. The puree can be stored in the refrigerator for up to several days, or frozen for several months. Place ripe persimmons that you're not ready to use in the fridge to stop the ripening process while you wait for the others to catch up, if necessary.

If you don't have individual ramekins, bake this pudding in one large (2 quart) gratin dish. The freshly diced fuyus beautifully complement the rich pudding and perfumed crème anglaise; lacking fuyus, make a little extra hachiya puree (say, 6 tablespoons) and spoon it over the fallen puddings with the anglaise.

3/4 cup persimmon puree, from about 3 medium dead-ripe hachiya persimmons (see headnote)
3/4 cup half and half (or 1/2 cup whole milk and 1/4 heavy cream)
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 cinnamon stick (3")
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, plus sugar for coating the ramekins
1 tablespoon brandy or whiskey
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt

For serving:
creme anglaise (recipe below)
2 fuyu persimmons, diced

In a small pot, heat the half and half with the vanilla seeds and pod and the cinnamon stick until steaming, swirling occasionally. Cover and steep while you prepare the ramekins and pudding batter.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Brush 6 six-ounce ramekins with some of the melted butter and coat with sugar. Set in a roasting pan for easy maneuvering.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, brandy and persimmon puree. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then whisk into the persimmon mixture until completely smooth. Remove the vanilla pod and cinnamon stick from the milk, squeezing any flavored milk out of them, then gradually whisk the warm milk into the persimmon mixture. Re-warm the butter if necessary, and whisk into the batter until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared ramekins, filling them about 3/4 of the way full. Bake the puddings until puffed, deeply golden, and firmly wobbly when jiggled, about 40 minutes (they will rise above the rims like souffles.) Let cool for about 20 minutes; the puddings will fall. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with a pour of creme anglaise and diced fuyu persimmon.

The puddings will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to several days. Re-warm in a 300º oven for about 10 minutes before serving.

Crème Anglaise

Makes 1 generous cup, or 6 servings

1 cup half and half
1/4 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 egg yolks
pinch salt
3 tablespoons sugar

In a small pot, heat the half and half with the vanilla until steaming, swirling occasionally. Cover and steep 20 minutes.

Place a fine mesh sieve over a metal bowl and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks, salt and sugar until well combined. Reheat the milk until steaming, then dribble into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the pan, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture reaches 175º and thickens to the consistency of heavy cream, 3 - 5 minutes.

Immediately pour the mixture through the strainer and into the bowl to stop the cooking. Place the bowl in an ice bath, stirring the custard occasionally, until well-chilled.

Store the creme anglaise in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.