In 1993, dpaul and I moved into an apartment on Dolores Park, on the edge of the Mission District. At the time, the area was pretty edgy. There was gang activity nearby and drug dealers in the park. The windows on either side of the front door of our building were pocked with bullet holes.
Needless to say, this had a negative effect on the commerce of the neighborhood. On the corner was a grim little restaurant called Real Good Karma that served cheerless bowls of brown rice and tofu. A friend remarked that it was the site of countless lesbian breakups; so much for that good karma. At the opposite end of the block was a produce market where fruit lay molding on the shelves. In between stood another storefront, a corner market called Bi-Rite, which we'd hit up for the occasional can or box, but otherwise its offerings were meager.
So it was until 1997, when Sam Mogannam, the nephew and son of Bi-Rite's owners, took the place over. By this time the dot-com boom had brought young money into the Mission, and the neighborhood was ripe for gentrification. Sam shuttered the market for a remodel, and when the paper (and bars!) came off the windows, the neighbors came out in droves. At last, a real market! Look, gourmet cheese! Ohmigod, a deli case! Hey, fruit that isn't rotting!
Before long, we were spending a sizable portion of our take-home pay at this new food shrine, routinely making dinner from ready-made salads and entrees from their case, or cobbling together fancy cheeses and charcuterie to go along with their (very reasonably priced) wines. And in the early days, one of the things we bought most often was a pear skillet cake made by Sam's mom, a spice cake with pears and a sticky caramel edge. It was pure crack, and regularly stood in as both dessert and breakfast.
Bi-Rite Market has since become the anchor tenant of one of the foodiest blocks in the city. Real Good Karma blossomed into Dolores Park Cafe. The sad produce market is now the very good Izakaya Yuzuki. Across the street is the famed Tartine Bakery and the much-beloved Delfina Restaurant and its spinoff Delfina Pizzeria, which helped pioneer the Neapolitan piza movement in San Francisco. Bi-Rite itself has expanded to include Bi-Rite Creamery, where they make marvelous if super-rich ice cream, and 18 Reasons, a non-profit that explores the intersection of food, art, culture and community. Adjacent is Korean fusion pop-up turned brick and mortar restaurant Namu Gaji, and in the former 18 Reasons spot across from Yuzuki on Guerrero is artisan knife sharpener Bernal Cutlery. All this in one short block, and all because of Bi-Rite's influence. (Fun fact: Bi-Rite Creamery is the #1 most-Yelped business in the world.)
At some point, mom's pear skillet cake stopped appearing in the store, and not long after that we moved to a new neighborhood, reducing the amount of time and money we spent at Bi-Rite. Today, the recipe is available in Sam's book, Bi-Rite Market's Eat Good Food, which is highly recommendable (or you can find it on The Kitchn). But in the years in between we missed the cake dearly, and researched recipes so we could make it at home. By and by, I tinkered with it and made my own adaptation, using fuyu persimmons instead of pears, as they have a flavor that naturally resembles spice cake.
You know I'm a cursed baker, right? Well, I'm here to tell you that even I can make this cake, and have made it on many occasions. It's got serious wow factor for very little skill or effort.
Persimmon Skillet Cake
1/2 c. (1 stick) plus 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 c. plus 1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
2-3 fuyu persimmons, peeled and sliced into thin wedges
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 c. each molasses and light corn syrup
1 c. boiling water
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp each ground cinnamon and ginger
1/4 tsp each ground cloves and nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350F.
Melt three tablespoons butter over low heat, spreading evenly in a 10" non-stick or cast iron skillet. Sprinkle 1/4 c. brown sugar evenly over the butter and cook about three minutes; do not stir. Arrange the persimmon slices in a spiral pattern in the skillet and cook another two minutes, again without stirring. Remove from heaat and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and spices, and set aside. In a small bowl combine molasses, corn syrup and boiling water; set aside and allow to cool. Using a paddle attachment on an electric mixer, whip the remaining brown sugar, butter and egg until creamy. Reduce speed to low and mix in the flour mixture and the molasses mixture, alternating one third of each at a time, until smooth.
Carefully spread the batter evenly over the persimmons. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool about five minutes, then carefully invert the cake onto a plate and gently lift off the skillet. Use an offset spatula to replace any persimmons or crust that stuck to the skillet. Serve warm with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.