This is the week you have to stop denying autumn is over. Wrapped up in a new wool coat, you ride your bike in the frosty morning, snow-dusted mountains on the horizon, burrowing your chin deeper in your scarf. The leaves have fallen. Your scary fume-spewing kerosene heater is out.
But it’s okay. This autumn was a good one. Especially that persimmon tart.
Kaki flood the markets in autumn, especially in this part of Japan, which is famous for its persimmons. (It’s even rumored that perhaps the name of my town, Ogaki, once meant “big persimmon.” Which I think is far cooler than the present meaning: “big gate.” Boooring.) The kaki sold raw is almost exclusively amagaki, the rounder, more flat fruit which are eaten while they are still firm; in the U.S., they are often labeled as “Fuyu persimmons.” The longer, more pointed kaki, shibugaki — which are terribly astringent until they soften completely — are typically dried and sold later in winter, especially around New Year’s. The best part about this kaki glut is that it makes it possible to buy one persimmon for less than 100 yen (about $1), something you can’t say for apples. Thus, when the tart-baking urge struck, it was kaki I reached for.
A simple tart, it is nothing more than thinly-sliced fruit, sugar, butter and a sprinkling of spices in a basic crust. When baked, the persimmon pieces soften and meld together to become, after cooling, something gently chewy, kind of like a Japanese yōkan or a very soft Fruit Roll-Up. With some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, it will be so good you might, like me, be forced to make another one a few days later. Or, if the amagaki season has already ended, daydream about it through at least a couple cold bicycle commutes.
Kaki no taruto (Persimmon tart)
Makes 6-8 servingsFor dough:
1 stick (115 g) cold unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (155 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
3 persimmons, peeled, seeded and sliced 1/8-inch thick
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 stick (55 g) cold butter, sliced thin
Vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream
Make dough: Blend together flour, butter, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips until most of mixture resembles coarse meal, with the biggest lumps about pea-sized. Drizzle 2 tablespoons ice water evenly over and gently stir with a fork until incorporated.
When you squeeze a small handful of the dough, it should hold together without crumbling. If it doesn’t, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition until incorporated (keep testing). Don’t overwork the mixture or add too much water, or your dough will be tough.
Form dough: Divide the dough into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once across your work surface in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together with a pastry scraper and form it into a disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.
When you are ready to assemble the tart, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). On a lightly floured surface roll out dough into a 13-inch round and fit it into a 10-inch tart tin, trimming the excess. Arrange the persimmon slices decoratively on the pastry shell, overlapping them. Mix the nutmeg and ginger with the sugar and sprinkle on top of the fruit. Top with butter slices and bake for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden and the persimmon slices are lightly browned. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.