Pistachio Persimmon Cupcakes
Do you remember when the cupcake was just a lowly children’s birthday party treat—just yellow Betty Crocker cake with some shelf-stabilized, not-even-sure-if-it-contains-cocoa chocolate frosting? It was simpler then, before New York’s Magnolia Bakery threw down the first whisk in the cupcake wars. There was no sneaking off into the bathroom to eat a Sprinkles carrot cake cupcake where no one could see you lick off all the cream cheese frosting first, no hiding the pink cardboard boxes from your coworkers in the bottom drawer of your desk, no snatching the paper-wrapped delights out of a little girl’s hand saying you just want a bite…
My cupcake conversion began while I was an editorial assistant at Harper Collins in New York City. I had left my job managing Le Zinc, a TriBeCa bistro owned by Karen and David Waltuck of Chanterelle fame, to become an editor. I wanted to cultivate poets and edgy fiction writers over two-martini lunches, but ended up answering phones and writing flap copy for books I had never read and didn’t want to. I struggled to pay my rent with the smallest monthly paycheck I’d earned since manning the Moonbounce on a ranch in the eighth grade, and dozed at my desk after waiting tables until 3 a.m. in an effort to make ends meet. I toiled under the flickering fluorescent lights 12-hours a day, even though I finished my work in six, filing, answering phones and writing rejection letters. And I watched intently as the people I wanted to be, the Editors, shuffled miserably from marketing meeting to marketing meeting, lunched with agents, ate dinner with writers and used vacation days to actually edit the books they bought. I could see my workaholic life unfolding before like an origami prison. In fact, there were only three things I liked about my job—the audio department, my proximity to the cookbook editor’s office, and afternoon forays to Buttercup Bake Shop on 2nd Avenue between 51st and 52nd Street.
I liked Buttercup better than Magnolia, then considered the Holy Grail of New York cupcakeries. Where Buttercup cupcakes were moist and airy, Magnolia cupcakes were sweet and dense, the kind of confection that makes your teeth feel like 80 grit sandpaper. Paired with a hot cup of coffee or a cold glass of milk a Buttercup cupcake could make you forget your boss yelled at you in front of dozens of people for something you didn’t do, forget that you hadn’t written or read anything of substance in months, forget that you were much happier working 70-hour weeks at the restaurant where you were, surprisingly for an industry that’s known for its brutality, treated with some respect.
These days I don’t need a cupcake to wipe out the gloom of my workaday life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t crave them now and then, dream about them even. About a month ago I dreamt about these deliciously light, not too sweet, pistachio persimmon cupcakes. And since that dream I’ve been trying to figure out how to make them.
The first trick was picking the right persimmon, which are in season right now. I generally prefer the Fuyu, which looks a bit like a dusty tomato and doesn’t have the astringency of the Hachiya, another common variety. But I also like it for its firmer texture so pureeing it didn’t seem to make sense. I used pistachio flour from the Santa Barbara Pistachio Company, but you could also grind pistachio kernels to a fine powder on your own. For my first batch of cupcakes I chopped it up and folded it in like apple cake, but they tasted much more like a quick bread. I needed to get more lift out of my batter and I wasn’t quite sure how to do that, so I talked to Alan over at the Cook’s Library and read up on leavening. In the end I decided to increase the baking soda and add another egg. I was also careful to fully cream the butter and sugar and to fold in the dry ingredients by hand, so as not to overwork the cake. On my fourth attempt I finlly hit the jackpot. I iced them with a simple buttercream (using real butter and just a little almond extract) and fresh chopped pistachios (which are deliciously fresh, having been harvested over the past few months). But be warned: these slightly fruit cupcakes are addicting. I ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner until they were gone.
Pistachio Persimmon Cupcakes
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup), room temperature
¾ cup persimmon puree
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
¾ cup sugar
½ cup pistachio flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
½ cup toasted, chopped pistachios
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cupcake trays with your favorite cupcake cups.
In a medium bowl sift together the dry ingredients (except the sugar) and set aside. Then, in another bowl, combine the persimmon puree, milk and vanilla.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. By hand, alternate folding in the flour mixture and puree until just incorporated; be careful not to over mix.
Fill cupcake cups about three-quarters full and bake in the center of your oven about 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden and a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean.
Let cupcakes cool before icing with a simple buttercream or cream cheese frosting and roll in toasted, chopped pistachios.