Xi’an-Style Persimmon Cakes

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Fall has always been my favorite time of year. The air is crisp, the leaves are changing, boots and scarves are for sale. But now that I live in China, there’s another reason to look forward to the season: persimmons.

Starting a few weeks ago, the fruit began popping up all over the markets—showcased as the prized product by every vendor. They are being sold on street corners, in grocery stores. The woman I kindly refer to as “the fruit lady” behind my apartment complex has been shoving bags full of them into my hands, demanding that I buy them. I tell you, the Chinese have a certain charm.

I didn’t always like the sweet tomato-like fruit. It has a particular taste, one I find hard to describe, and has the consistency of pudding once you remove the skin. But much like my favorite things in life (red wine, dark chocolate, tteok), the persimmon has grown on me, and I can’t get enough.

All week, as I was sucking down persimmons as snacks, I thought about what I could make with the sweet fruit. I wanted something comforting, something warm. Then I thought back to my time in Xi’an, when I visited the Terracotta Warriors. I was there for winter break while teaching in Seoul in 2009. It was cold, and the city was lit with Christmas lights. The warriors and the city were fascinating, and the food is something I won’t soon forget.

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Sure, the noodles were good, the soups warmed my tummy during the cold nights. But what I remember most are the persimmon cakes on Beiyuanmen Street in the Muslim quarter.

Otherwise known as Shi Zi Bing (柿子饼), these deep-fried persimmon cakes are a Xi’an street food staple. The dough is made simply from the fruit and flour, and usually filled with red bean paste, black sesame paste, or ground walnuts. They are addictive.

I was hesitant to try making them on my own, as I don’t often fry things. I also wasn’t sure which filling to buy. So, feeling daring and creative, I decided to put my own spin on things. And surprisingly, it worked. Here’s how I did it:

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I removed the skin from two medium-sized persimmons, then mashed the fruit with a fork. I added a couple drops of liquid stevia for added sweetness.

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Then I slowly added whole wheat flour (you could use any flour you like) until it was a thick paste. The mixture was really sticky and hard to handle, so I ended up using more flour than I planned. I rolled the dough into balls, coating them with flour, and let them sit in the refrigerator for 2o minutes so they were easier to flatten and fill. This definitely will take some practice.

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Instead of the typical fillings, I decided to use a berry mixture I had in my freezer (cranberries, strawberries and blueberries). I added about a cup (this ended up being too much) to the pot, a little water, and let it simmer until it was thick. Then I added a little maple syrup and cinnamon.

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Then, it was time to fry! This always makes me nervous. I’m never sure how high the heat should be, or how much oil to use. But the breakfast gods were smiling upon me this morning. I coated the pan with about 3 tablespoons of coconut oil, put it over medium heat, and flipped the cakes after about 2 minutes.

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You can eat them straight from the pan, like this (as you can see, I couldn’t resist a bite), or you can show some restraint and top them with the remaining berry compote and maple syrup.

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They were crispy on the outside, soft and gooey on the inside, just like I remember from the streets of Xi’an. Only I didn’t have to leave my apartment, or change out of my PJs.

3 thoughts on “Xi’an-Style Persimmon Cakes”

  1. How creative! I think I will have to make them here in Florida and compare them to the real thing when I travel to Xi’an in April. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Jacqui, they actually tasted a bit like hotteok! I may have to play around and make some hotteok since I won’t make it to Seoul for the cold season. 😉 Thanks for reading! xo

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