Today I would like to dream. About how Turkish baking could be. With a bit of butter lavishness. And more experimental use of the local ingredients. Like persimmons.. like red pepper flakes..
Turks are big on sweet and salty biscuits, goods baked with yeast and anything made of phyllo dough, but it is hard to come by a good one as we speak of the cakes, tarts, brownies and alike. One by one I ruled out all the 5 pastry shops near my house in Moda, as they all proved not being able to help my chocolate cake cravings. Chocolate muffin with olive oil anyone?
What is Turkish baking anyway? The other day I stumbled upon and spend few hours marveling photos from a cooking class by Anna Colquhoun and Mia Irene Kristensen of CPH Good Food on New Nordic cuisine (if you are in London next April make sure to check their upcoming session). Movement inspired by the Noma’s chef Rene Redzepi who has made Scandinavian cuisine a talk of the town by turning food rather basic in its root into an innovative and impossibly trendy fare. I bet Mia’s “sour beetroot with cranberries, cottage cheese and horseradish” has not been around for a long time, but then it does look unmistakably Scandinavian. I think it is about the time to do the same with Turkish food. So let’s call this persimmon bread a preface to the new Turkish baking: it is based on local ingredients and was well received by all my Turks. How much more Turkish could it be?
I have eaten persimmons as long as I can remember. In Russia I was impatiently waiting for the arrival of these fruits every year: they started coming mid-November from Azerbaijan. There were two types. One rather astringents, heavy and ready to burst with its jelly-like insides (this is your Hachiya persimmon) and the other one was harder and way more pleasant in flavor (Fuyu persimmon). When bought from an open-air market they both came frozen and especially the soft plump persimmons were fun to eat. We used to put them on the radiator so the fruit would slowly start unfreezing and softening and we then would bite into that getting closer to still rather frozen core. Sort of the persimmon sorbet from my Russian childhood.
The other day I was leaving Sapanca for Istanbul with anne’s friend who came to visit us. We drove down to the village first and were astound by the amount of persimmon sold at the roadside stalls clearly targeting Istanbullus returning from their weekend houses to the city.
I recalled the chat with our weekend helper in Sapanca who was married to a Black Sea man and lived with her in-laws for a long time. ‘There‘, – she said, ‘they make pekmez (fruit juice reduced to syrup) of persimmon. Divine! Have you tried? Of all pekmez – apple, pear, grapes – it is the best!‘ ‘What do they do with persimmon in Sapanca?‘, I asked referring to the trees madly covered with fruits. ‘They sell it!‘- she replied without thinking twice. Is that not ironic how at times we tend to idealize local produce and locals making great use of it but in fact they could not care more than selling it?! Persimmon, or Tranzon hurması, is enjoyed in season and also dried (the dry version vaguely reminds dates just more chewy and dry) and besides that I have never seen any other way to use persimmon in Turkey.
Anne’s friend decided to stop and have a look. An old man, very much of a character, came out of a wooden shed to respond to her price inquiry. The deal was 2 TL a kilo and he suggested she buys a whole box of supposingly 10 kg. And if she takes the box then pomegranates – also from his garden – will come as his gratitude. So she got a box and I got a half of it. Which was 4 kilogram of persimmon (Hachiya type) so ripe that most of it did not stand being put into a plastic bag and smashed right there.
With 4 kg of persimmon close to perishing I was forced to come up with something. I pushed it through a sieve and made marmalade. But then I still had a big bowl of the persimmon pulp I could not throw away. The kitchen thrift cultivated by my mother-in-law on the fertile ground set up by my grandmother whispered to me, ‘No way, no way you can throw it to the bin’. So I used the pulp to make the persimmon bread. Three times. In fact I made the first one with the puree that I pushed through a sieve and it turned great. Bun then a really outstanding result I could achieve with that pulp, a leftover of my forced marmalade making.
Another trick which really makes this bread to stand out is whole walnuts, another fruit of the Turkish Black Sea autumnal bounty. With the overall pistachio craze about the signature nut of Turkey people too often forget about walnuts – rather royal nut if you manage to put your hands on particularly large and fresh ones. We have a humongous walnut tree at our countryside property which gives a great shade to our summer meals shared outside and wonderful organic crop of walnuts in the fall. I love using them whole in my baking because biting through one is like stumbling upon a little treasure when you least expect.
And then you know what? To make it ultimately Turkish, I could not help adding some red pepper flakes. Why Turks don’t do it more often in their baking? Why it is so Turkish to throw some in the sizzling butter and as the flavor pops up pour the whole thing ver your tarhana soup or a portion of Turkish-style pasta and it is not very Turkish to add it to your savory or even sweet bakes? In fact, no reason why it is not. At least in my dreams about Turkish baking.
Here is this week quest: If you saw a Turkish fruit loaf/cake in a bakery’s window what flavors or ingredients you’d imagine? Please, let me know your ideas with at least 3 very Turkish ingredients involved: not need for fact-checking if you think it Turkish it goes – join me in my dreaming! Early next week we’ll vote for the most exciting “Turkish fruit loaf/cake” idea on Delicious Istanbul Facebook page. Excited to hear from you in the comments below!
Savoring this packed with flavor persimmon bread is like eating a toffee with little surprises hidden inside – whole walnuts, dry figs and red pepper flakes.
Source: Adapted from David Lebovitz
Prep Time: 10 Min
Cook Time: 1 Hr 10 Min
Total Time: 1 Hr 20 Min
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour sieved
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 1/4 cups regular sugar
- 1/2 cup softened butter
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten
- 1 cup persimmon pureed in a blender (1-2 ready to burst medium persimmons)
- 1 cup whole walnuts
- 1 cup dry figs or sun-dried apricots chopped to the liking
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C/355F.
- Sieve and combine the dry ingredients (fist 5 on the list) in a mixing bowl. Then add the softened butter and with your finger tips work it into the dry ingredient mix to achieve moist sand texture. Then add lightly beaten eggs and persimmon pure and mix well. Finally, stir in walnut halves and chunks of chopped dry figs. Butter a 9-inch loaf pan and transfer the persimmon bread butter in – shake the pan a bit for batter to evenly spread. Bake for about 1 hour 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry. Cool down completely before serving.