Persimmon Bread

So, I am officially on a baking kick. Cookbook Archaeology is not on its way to becoming baking blog…but there will be a lot of flour flying in the next months.  Baking fits well in my life right now; I make delicious things Sunday and bring them into work Monday.  And sweets spread cheer on what is usually the most daunting day of the week.  Apparently I’m also on a James Beard kick, because this delicious cheer – a persimmon quick bread – is from his 1973 Beard on Bread.

I don’t want my blog to get raunchy but…I’ve always thought there was something rather voluptuous about persimmons.  Maybe it’s the way the word “persimmon” rolls around in your mouth.  Maybe it’s the fact that their texture at ripeness seems dangerously close to overripe.  Either way, I picked some of these beauties up at a streetside stand and got rather excited to try this bread recipe.

Sadly, the first step in the recipe was to take those lovely, brilliantly hued fruits and toss them in the food processor.  Persimmons form the base of the batter in this bread – as bananas do in their own loaves – rather than giving it texture.

The main texture in this quick bread comes from chopped walnuts.  I had a pang of guilt adding these – they were listed as “optional” and because I grew up with a friend with a serious nut allergy I tend to omit nuts when I’m planning to distribute baked things.  Sadly, sorry Katherine – the nuts totally make this bread.  I’m sure it would be delicious without it, but these walnuts add a lovely crunch and round out the bread’s flavor.

Before nuts could be mixed in, though, I had to make the base batter.  James Beard tells you to make a well in your dry ingredients and to pour the wet ones there.  My well totally overflowed.  My dry ingredient cup runneth over.

No matter, I got everything mixed up regardless.  Breads like these have pretty hearty batters that can stand up to a lot – changing amounts, changing flours, using oil instead of some of the butter.  They can also support a lot of yummy mix-ins.  Like walnuts.  And raisins too.  This batter could probably even handle crushed Oreos, but this is a bread not a Blizzard, so I left it at nuts and raisins.  For today.

James Beard baked his bread in small loaf pans or empty coffee cans.  David Lebovitz put this bread online about 6 years ago and recommended baking it in twin 9-inch loaf pans.  I propose a new method: bundt pan!

Try it out, whether you use cans, loaf pans, or bundt.  The cake is wonderfully moist and the persimmon – a more unusual fruit – adds a certain je ne sais quoi to an otherwise comfortingly traditional quick bread.

James Beard’s Persimmon Bread (Makes one bundt or two 9-inch loaves)
3 1/2 c. sifted flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground mace or grated nutmeg
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. melted unsalted butter
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 c. Cognac, bourbon, or whiskey
2 c. persimmon puree (from about 4 ripe Hachiya persimmons or 5 Fuyu)
2 c. walnuts, chopped
2 c. raisins

1. Butter and flour a bundt pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sift the first 5 dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
3. Make a well in the center and stir in the eggs, liquor, persimmon puree, and melted butter. Add the nuts and raisins and mix then through the batter.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake 1 hour and 45 minutes, or until a cake tester (or long thin knife) inserted in the center comes out clean.