Persimmon Gems in the Middle of Winter

I was born in the Soviet Union in Moscow, where January and February are the coldest months of the year. My first winter at school: -20C/-4F, dark mornings, my mother would put me on the sledge and drag me on the crispy white snow all the way to school. On the way back, we would stop near a small hill for me to sledge a few times with my schoolmates.

It was an interesting time... the fall of Soviet Union was marked by empty shelves in stores and lack of goodies. But people were very kind and grateful for even the most simple natural pleasures. My major enjoyment and all year anticipation was the chain of celebrations in first days of January. This was also that time of the year when I would see my uncle. He was usually coming from long holidays with his wife and my father and I would always go to meet him at the railway station to get my presents: branded jeans, chocolates and fresh persimmons and pomegranates from the South of Russia.

My memories of these fruits are so fresh as if I ate them yesterday. Every year I would get the whole sack full of juicy, very sweet, yummy and summary gifts. In those days they reminded me big, golden gems in the overall grey and white pallet of the Soviet winter. They were a symbol of hope and the coming soon warm summer.

Persimmon Cheesecake Recipe

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Serves: 8 people

There are not that many desserts with persimmons. However, they are very healthy and make your desserts delicious and naturally sweet without adding sugar. They will also make the texture of your cheesecakes creamier.

Cake ingredients:

4 ripe persimmons

180 g (6.3 oz) ricotta

65 g (2.3 oz) mascarpone

2 tbsp of honey

300 g (10.5 oz) fresh blueberries

Sweet pastry dough ingredients:

125 g (4.5 oz) plain flour

75 g (2.6 oz) butter

1 egg yolk

50 g (2 oz) powder sugar

Making the cake:

1. Sweet pastry dough is widely used for baking tarts and there are lots of variation of how to prepare it. Below is a Le Cordon Bleu recipe for making the base of the famous French Saint Honore. Even though it is not mine, having made it at least a dozen times, I've come up with some tips to help you prepare it quickly and without any problems. The secret to the good sweet pastry dough is the butter because it makes almost 1/3 of the dough. That is why your butter should be bloody tasty, but not too rich and not too creamy. Another secret is keeping your hands cold so that your dough does not get too soft. If you feel that your hands are getting too hot from mixing the dough, just put them under hot water for a few seconds (to prevent from overheating your body will stop pumping too much blood into your extremities).

Mix together the flour, butter and powder sugar in one bowl. You can use caster sugar in case you do not have powder sugar, but you should avoid regular sugar because its granules are too big to dissolve quickly. Once the three ingredients are in the bowl, start mixing them with your hands, crumbling the butter into fluffy flakes.

Now add one middle yolk and past everything together until the dough gets soft and smooth. Use your fist to beat up your dough. When ready, roll the dough into a ball.

2. Take the sweet pastry dough ball and put it onto a piece of a baking paper (no need to add flour in between). Your baking paper should be able to cover your baking tray up to the edges. Then start rolling out the dough. turning clock-wise the baking paper after each roll. Your dough should be 3-4 mm thick in the end. You can make it thicker if you like to taste more pastry in your cake.

3. Put your backing paper on the baking tray and align the edges. The good thing about sweet pastry dough is that it is like plasticine. If it breaks in one place you can take a piece from another place and fix the slit.

4. Preheat the oven (150C/300F/fan) and then put the tray into the oven on the lowest level. The dough will get golden-brown color in about 20 minutes. Then you can take it out for a few minutes, while you are finishing the cheesecake mixture.

Baking trick: air bubbles might start creating under the dough. To avoid that, you can make a few holes in the dough with a fork or put baking stones on top of the dough.

5. Carefully mix ricotta, mascarpone, honey, and two pureed persimmons with a whisk. Do not use a blender, because mascarpone and ricotta are too fragile and need a bit of air. Also, it takes ten seconds to mis these ingredients.

6. Gently spread the mixture on the baked dough, leaving 1 cm for later decorations. Put the tray back into the oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes. If you put a tooth stick inside the cheesecake, it should come out easily and cleanly. It means it is ready.

7. Now all you have to do is let the cake cool down. When hot, the pastry is very soft, so you should keep it in the tray untouched. Once it cools down, it will harden and become less breakable.

8. Blend the other two persimmons and spread them on top of the cake. Fresh raspberries or blueberries will cut off the sweetness and add a pinch of wilderness to the taste.

The cake is good on the same day or on the next day. If you want to eat it on the next day, keep it in the fridge open! Your cookie pastry is still very soft and fresh. If you cover it, it will become moisturized.

Today is a special day for many reasons, so a double portion of this yummy winter persimmon cheesecake is going to my colleagues right now!

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