As the days of the year shorten and darken, some of the brightest fruit comes into season. With a burst of vibrant color and juicy succulence, both mandarin oranges and persimmons can quench a longing for sweetness, literally and figuratively. I’ve devoured and celebrated mandarins many a winter, and I’ve long loved persimmons, both fuyu and hachiya. It was the latter that called to me this year; I wondered if I could showcase them in a new dessert without doing much to alter their already luscious form.
I decided on an icebox pie with a buttery gingersnap-pecan crust, and a decadent topping of either meringue or whipped cream (both proved to be delicious). The filling would consist primarily of super-ripe hachiya persimmon pulp (no astringent skins allowed!), with some brown sugar and mandarin oranges for subtle complexity and complementary tang. The result was a delicate fruity filling, sandwiched with scrumptiousness.
Even when I tried this pie without the oranges (an all persimmon filling), the fruit somehow mellowed into a whisper of fragrant flavor and sweetness. Perhaps this lack of robustness comes from avoiding the skin, which can be so oddly bitter that your tongue feels fuzzy, but which also tends to house the bulk of any fruit’s signature flavor. In any case, the final version of this bright fruit dessert got rave reviews. While the recipe looks long, it is actually pretty simple and goes quickly.
Mandarin Persimmon Pie (makes a 9″ pie, serves 10)
For the crust:
- 2 ounces shelled pecan halves (about 1/2 cup)
- 7 ounces hard gingersnap cookies
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup+ melted unsalted butter
- dash of salt
Preheat oven to 350 F. Mince the pecans and crush the cookies into fine/medium crumbs. Whisk in the flour and salt, stirring until no longer visible. Add the melted butter and stir until evenly dispersed and until the mixture holds together when you squeeze a small handful. If crumbs are stubborn about holding together, add a little more melted butter. Transfer into a 9″ pie pan, preferably glass. Press very firmly and evenly into pie pan, using hands and/or the back of a spoon, holding up to light to check for thin spots. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until fragrant and edges look toasty. [If crust has puffed up or slid down (this can happen depending on gingersnaps and amount of butter used), press it firmly into place with the back of a spoon while still hot.] Let cool completely before filling.
For the filling:
- 2.5 pounds (about 6 medium) hachiya persimmons, extremely soft and ripe (my local grocer says “they should feel like a bag of jelly”)
- 1 pound (about 4 medium/small) ripe seedless mandarin oranges, such as satsumas
- 1/4 – 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1.5 tablespoons (2 envelopes) unflavored gelatin powder
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
Pull the leafy tops off the persimmons and discard; slice persimmons in half with a sharp knife. Use a spoon to scoop the fruit out of each half, carefully avoiding skin. Transfer fruit pulp into the clean bowl of a food processor, feeling and looking for wayward seeds as you go. (In my experience, a hachiya persimmon will occasionally nestle up to four oblong black seeds; they are pretty large and easy to spot.) Discard skins and any seeds.
Peel the mandarin oranges and separate the segments, picking off as much white pith as you can (a little is OK). Squeeze narrow sides of segments to check for wayward seeds, removing any you might find. Add orange segments to food processor. Blend for 30 seconds; pause and scrape down bowl. Repeat twice. Leave mixture in food processor, turned off. Place the lemon juice in a measuring cup and add water to make 1/2 cup total liquid. Heat until scalding (a minute in the microwave will do). Working quickly, add the gelatin and brown sugar to the hot liquid, and whisk vigorously for about 30 seconds or mixture is no longer grainy. Quickly pour into the fruit puree and turn on food processor for two more 30 second intervals. Pour mixture slowly through a slotted spoon, into the cooled pie crust. (You want to catch any large strands of orange segment peel but include its smaller pieces and all the pulpy goodness of the puree.) You may have some extra filling to use as you wish. Place the pie in the freezer for 30 minutes to activate the gelatin immediately, then transfer to fridge for at least 3 hours before topping. To serve, let chilled pie sit at room temperature for 15-30 minutes, perhaps while preparing the topping, then top and slice.
For the topping (two options):
Option 1: Cinnamon whipped cream (rich, creamy, not too sweet, quick and easy):
- 1 cup chilled whipping cream
- 1 – 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Place all ingredients in a cool bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until medium to firm peaks form. Keep chilled. Slather over pie just before serving.
Option 2: Meringue (light, fluffy, sweet, toast-able)
- 3 egg whites
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- ground cinnamon for sprinkling (optional)
Whisk egg whites and sugar in a large heatproof bowl (preferably the bowl of a standing mixer). Place bowl over a pot of simmering water, without letting bowl touch surface of water. Whisk constantly, about 3 – 5 minutes, until mixture feels hot to the touch and sugar granules have dissolved. Remove from heat, being careful of hot steam, and beat on high with an electric mixer for 6 to 8 minutes, until shiny peaks have formed and meringue has cooled to room temperature. Spread over pie in a decorative fashion. If desired, toast with a kitchen torch and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Full of succulent texture and delicate fruit flavor, mandarin persimmon pie brings sweetness and brightness to a dark and chilly season. With its crisp, flavorful crust and its creamy, fluffy topping, it enrobes its seasonal fruit filling with utter deliciousness. The nutty gingersnap shell is rich and subtly spicy; the gooey center is sweet, fragrant, and gently fruity; the cool topping — whether cream or meringue — is rich and velvety. This is truly a trio of luscious layers in every bite.
Maybe next time… Feel free to play with the ratio of fruit in the filling; maybe even add a lemon! A few dashes of spice in the puree could also make a nice addition. This crust will work just as well with other nuts in place of the pecans: almonds or hazelnuts are especially appealing. Similarly, graham crackers would work fine instead of the more robust gingersnaps. To make this pie dairy-free, choose the meringue topping, and use a dairy-free gingersnaps and a butter substitute for the crust. Vegetarians may reach for agar agar in place of gelatin, though I can’t offer advice on how to activate its thickening power. (Despite my bit of research and experimentation with it, I’m afraid I lack enough success to advise anyone how to use agar. Otherwise, I’d use it in place of gelatin regularly.)