New food discovered on road trips do just as Fannie Farmer’s 1912 cookbook says – they inspire me. In the span of a month of mostly local road trips, I’ve discovered panforte and persimmon bread, tackled one of them, eaten a lot of the other, made a mental investment on how the two lack the exaltation they merit, and arrived at this conclusion: panforte is to fruitcake what persimmon bread is to quick bread.
Fruitcake is made with things I don’t want to nibble while in the process of making it. What exactly is candied peel other than chunks and bits of glycerin color that show up on grocery shelves for a few weeks of the year in plastic containers that can’t be recycled? The only thing that makes fruitcake marginally palatable for most is a generous soaking of whiskey and a shot of the same thrown back with every bite.
Panforte on the other hand, is an epiphany.
Panforte (pan-FOHR-tay) is a dense, chewy, traditional Italian dessert created around 1200. Fruit, nuts and spices are suspended in a peppery, mahogany lava of sugar and honey that’s cooked to a candy consistency before troweling the concoction into a shallow round pan and sliding it into the oven. Yes, I said “peppery”, as in black and/or white pepper, and plenty of it. Confectioner’s sugar is dusted liberally on both sides while still warm. You won’t know whether to pour yourself a glass of sherry or yank out the milk jug.
Persimmon bread, or the persimmon bread I’ve been making, has a quick bread ease, but further comparison to quick bread halts there. The batter has the eye popping color of a 64-count box of Crayolas. The texture is complicated – heavy and damp, with the grain of the bread fine and light. The distinguishing ingredient, persimmons, conveys something rare and misunderstood – an uncommon fruit with a bad rap. Maybe the confection is so memorably good because expectations are low going in. But maybe it’s so good, because it’s ambrosial. The ancient Greeks knew the fruit as that of the gods.
Buy either the hachiya or fuyu persimmon, roast some nuts, and get to stirring!
I first posted a persimmon bread recipe when I wrote about the persimmon seed being a harbinger of winter. I’ve since adapted that recipe because that’s what I do. No recipe comes into my kitchen and exits unscathed. Here’s my version adapted from James Beard’s Beard on Bread.
Recipe: Persimmon Bread
- 3½ cups sifted AP flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2½ cups sugar
1 cup melted butter, cooled
4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2/3 cup cognac, bourbon or whiskey
2 cups persimmon puree (from about 6 squishy-soft Fuyu persimmons)
2 cups walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped
2 cups dates or raisins
- 1. Butter 2 full size loaf pans. Line the bottoms with a piece of parchment paper or dust with flour and tap out any excess. If you want to use the paper loaf pans, the recipe will make several of these, depending on the size of the pans.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Sift the first 5 dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
4. Make a well in the center then stir in the butter, eggs, liquor, persimmon puree then the nuts and raisins/fruit.
5. Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.