My grandmother had a persimmon tree in her back garden in Italy and I have always loved their sweet vanilla taste and firm, shiny flesh. More exotic than apple and pear and with a warm, golden orange colour, persimmon (also known as Sharon fruit) is my favourite autumn fruit. To welcome the new season, I combined it with cinnamon and organic apple juice, two traditional autumn flavours, for a light and creamy seasonal cake.
In keeping with the Italian theme, I decided to go for a very simple Pan di Spagna sponge. Pan di Spagna is a traditional Italian sponge cake with a light and airy texture and only three ingredients: eggs, sugar, and flour. The basic Pan di Spagna sponge cake contains no butter, milk or oil, which makes it low-fat and perfect for a dairy-free diet. If you want to keep the persimmon compote dairy-free and low-fat as well, substitute the whipped cream with soya cream. Of course, you can also leave the cake naked or just add a sprinkle of icing sugar on top!
There are different methods to make Pan di Spagna sponge: this recipe, based on Giallo Zafferano’s, uses the egg-separated method. Like angel cake, Pan di Spagna cake does not need raising agent: it raises thanks to the air and steam trapped inside the egg foam. Because the mixture needs to be as light as possible to raise properly, I recommend using a low-protein (weak) type of flour, such as US (unbleached) cake flour, Italian grade 00 flour or French T55 flour.
Ingredients (for 6-8 people)
- 5 eggs
- 150g caster sugar
- 75g 00-type flour (or other weak flour)
- 75g corn flour
- 1 vanilla pod
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
For the persimmon compote
- 5 persimmons
- 250ml organic apple juice
- 2 tablespoons whipped cream
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
For the crème Chantilly
- 250ml full-fat whipping cream
- 50g icing sugar
To assemble and decorate
- 30ml organic apple juice
- 1 persimmon
- A few mint leaves
How to make it
How to make the Pan di Spagna sponge cake
1. Pre-heat the oven at 180-160ºC. Grease and line with baking paper a medium round tin (18cm diametre). Sieve together 75g 00-type flour (or other weak flour) and 75g corn flour.
2. Separate the whites from the yolks of 5 eggs; this is easier when the eggs are fridge-cold. Take care not to leave any trace of the yolks in the egg whites bowl.
3. With a sharp knife, cut the vanilla pod in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the egg yolks bowl.
4. Whisk the yolks and the vanilla seeds with 100g caster sugar until the mixture doubles in size and becomes light and fluffy (see photo 4b for how it should look like).
5. Whisk the egg whites with 50g caster sugar and ½ teaspoon cream of tartar until they make hard peaks.
6. Using a large spatula, gently mix the egg whites to the yolks mixture. Take care not to overmix: you don’t want to knock the air bubbles out of the mixture.
7. Gradually sift the dry ingredients over the mixture, gently folding them in until they are completely incorporated.
8. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake at 180ºC for 40 minutes (static oven) or at 160ºC for 30 minutes (ventilated oven). The cake is ready when it springs back if poked with a finger.
9. Once the cake is baked, turn the oven off and leave it in the oven to cool down for about 10 minutes. Then take the cake out of the oven and let it cool completely before taking it out of the tin.
How to make the persimmon compote
10. Cut 5 persimmons in small pieces.
11. Transfer the persimmons to a pan and add 250ml organic apple juice and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Slowly simmer on a low heath for about one hour, until the compote reduces to the consistency of a jam.
12. Blend the compote in a food processor until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons whipped cream and mix well. Set aside.
How to assemble and decorate the cake
13. Make the crème Chantilly by whisking together 250ml full-fat whisking cream and 50g icing sugar.
14. Cut the cake in three horizontal layers.
15. Drizzle 10ml organic apple juice over the bottom layer. Spread half of the persimmon compote and then a layer of crème Chantilly over the persimmon compote layer.
16. Place the second layer of cake on top of the first one and drizzle 10ml organic apple juice over it. Cover with the remaining persimmon compote and a layer of crème Chantilly.
17. Top the cake with the third layer and drizzle the remaining 10ml organic apple juice over it. Spread a thin layer of crème Chantilly over the whole cake and leave to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour. This layer will create a smooth surface for the rest of the crème Chantilly to be laid upon.
18. Once the first layer of crème Chantilly is set, cover the cake with the remaining crème Chantilly. Decorate with one persimmon, sliced, and a few mint leaves.
This cake keeps well in the fridge for 1-2 days.