The ideal dessert for Christmas dinner
Desserts are always tricky at Christmas. You can go the bûche de Noël route or serve lots of little cookies, but those are pretty involved undertakings, and well, you just roasted a giant porchetta and already made fruitcake. You’re tired. I’m tired. Everyone’s just eaten a big meal, so keep dessert simple. Also, because it may be the one time of year that you get to really indulge in an over-the-top, rich dessert, go for something really cozy that you can tuck into by a fireplace or perhaps the fire pit in your backyard.
For that, I turn to pudding. But it’s pudding in the British manner, meaning it’s a warm, soft and gooey cake. And for my Southern-ish, Italian-ish dinner, that means resuscitating an old Southern dessert that brings back memories from when I was a child — because that was the last time anyone’s had it — persimmon pudding.
Made with puréed, ripe Hachiya persimmons, it’s an almost spoonable cake that’s often eaten warm out of a baking pan and topped with a boozy sauce or ice cream. It’s also often very sweet and very spiced, so much so that the flavor of the persimmon gets completely lost in what is, in essence, a gingerbread cake.
For my take, I still serve it warm, but I bake it in a Bundt pan to give it some shape beyond a blob of brown dug out of a pan. I take down the sugar — though, I won’t lie, it’s still plenty sweet — and get rid of most of the usual spices, save for nutmeg and a lighter handling of cinnamon. Orange and lemon zests and juice help perk up the cake batter even more, helping to balance the rich sweetness of the persimmons. And, of course, a little booze never hurts during the holidays, so there’s orange liqueur in there as well.
To serve with it, I slice up Fuyu persimmons — the firmer, less sweet cousins of Hachiyas — and macerate them with a pinch of brown sugar and salt and a splash of lemon juice for a tart, salty counterpart to the sweet cake. The cold fruit pairs perfectly with the warm, soft cake, especially when bookending a big dollop of freshly whipped cream spiked with more orange liqueur.
It’s the kind of dessert I’ll plate at the table or compose casually in a deep bowl for my guests if they move to the couch — we’ll see how the night goes. If the warm cake, booze and cream do their job, my guests will sleep peacefully once they make it home. And instead of them dreaming about sugar plums, I’m hoping they’ll be thinking about porchetta, fried potatoes and persimmon pudding, dishes that speak to what Christmas dinner should be about: outrageous indulgence, a little unexpected extravagance and a hearty dose of unpretentious comfort food served at the most elegant meal of the year.
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