The Passion Fruits

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Tag: dessert (page 2 of 7)

Three Years in the Making: Passionfruit Curd

Despite the name of this here blog, I’ve actually only used actual passionfruits once–as a component of the faaaabulous Dacquoise Imelda, so I think that should count for twice–in over three years of writing. Given that it’s perennially in my top ten search terms, Mr. T (being a management consultant extraordinare) is always after me to cook with them so as to better capitalize on the vast millions out there googling “passionfruits”. Of course, he’s right, but… just… *sigh*

Leading search terms aside, passionfruits really are kind of magically delicious, so here we are. Although the vines grow well here in DC, and some early varieties can even squeeze out a few fruit by the end of the summer, passionfruits remain firmly in the strange exotica department, particularly with their varied, and slightly odd, looks.

While the fruit comes in a numerous colors, the ones we see most often are purple-rinded and best when slightly wrinkled. The ripe fruit are also mostly hollow, with only a tablespoon or so of seedy pulp, so the savvy shopper must ignore the ingrained habit of searching out taut-skinned, heavy specimens and instead pick the light, shrively ones.

After overcoming that moment of cognitive dissonance in the produce section, the rewards are pretty fierce. With an amazingly pungent, tartly tropical floral flavor punctuated by dark, crunchy seeds, passionfruit pulp possesses a unique taste that holds up uniquely well. Even after freezing, cooking, puree-ifying, the lovely essence of passionfruit always comes through like a champ where so many other  tropical flavors would give up the ghost.

This curd is no exception. Even with the cooking and addition of sugar and two kinds of fat (egg yolks and butter), the passionfruit flavor is still rewardingly assertive. It’s also a very basic thing to make and has SO many potential uses. Its unique flavor will add tropical juju atop your morning toast, sandwiched between cake layers, or just right off the back of your spoon.

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Dessert In the Pink: Red Currant Semifreddo

Last weekend at the Farmers’ Market Mr. T espied some lovely red currants and insisted that we get some. This is pretty much par for the course, as he is utterly mad for the magical “soft fruits” like currants and gooseberries that we almost never see in this country. Of course, there may be a few reasons for this lack of weird berries here in the U.S….

Red currants, for example, are delightful, but they’re also incredibly delicate, grow on hard-to-harvest racemes, and very close to too tart to eat out of hand. In England, they’re used to make jams, sauces for meat, and sweets like summer puddings and fools. Mr. T suggested pie, but 2 pints of berries does not a pie make, nor did I want to futz with pastry, or baking for that matter, when it was 97°F outside.

I did, though, want the currants to be the main event, not merely a garnish on the side, so I needed something that would carry the berries’ flavor without much interference. Summer pudding would have been lovely, but I had no suitable bread for the case. And then I remembered Mr. T telling me about the summer he and his Auntie had made red currant ice cream, an ice cream so delicious that they both made themselves slightly ill eating it. Now, in a family where the preferred dessert comes in a tumbler on the rocks, this was a big deal.

So, I decided to move in the frozen direction; a semifreddo would be a lovely and refreshing vehicle for the currants’ red, sprightly tartness. While there are various methods for making this frozen (or, technically, “half frozen”) dessert, they all involve softly whipped cream and stiffly beaten egg in some form or other. The air, fat, and sugars conspire to create a soft, toothsome frozen treat that–miracle of miracles–doesn’t even require an ice cream maker.

The below recipe is basically a fruit curd made with egg yolks and beaten till fluffy and cooled, then folded into some whipped cream and frozen. Lots of bowls and whisking involved, but really quite easy. And the result is very special too.

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Operation Birthday Cake: Dacquoise Imelda–a Tropical Storm of Pandan, Passionfruit, & Purple Yam

O. M. G. I have been wanting to make and write about this particular dessert for, well, it feels like FOREVER. My friend Edwin, a fabulous Filipino food scientist (say that five times fast), had seen my pandan meringues post and expressed dismay that he’d missed them. And since, as a general rule, I try to avoid dismaying my friends, I tucked our exchange under my hat and went about finding out when Edwin’s birthday was.

Of course, I’d just missed it, so I had a nearly year to come up with a riff on the pandan meringues that would be baroquely colorful enough to mark Edwin’s birthday with suitably tropical panache. Of course, the Philippines is the home of halo-halo, one of the most intensely colored, flavored, and textured sweets on the planet, so I had some serious–if self-imposed–expectations to live up to.

Starting with the pandan meringue that had initially sparked Edwin’s interest, I thought a giant pavlova would be fun, particularly if paired with some other exotic (to me) flavors. So, component the first would be meringue, tinted green and flavored with the nutty essence of pandan (aka screwpine). Quite lovely on its own, the pandan adds a toasty basso note to the otherwise somewhat yawn-inducing meringue.

Given the frequency that ube halayà, a sweet purple yam jam, is used as a halo-halo topping, involving some ube-coconut ice cream seemed a no-brainer. This, you’ll be shocked to note, I purchased from a Filipino market. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. But making purple yam ice cream from scratch was a bit beyond even me… for now. Rather surprisingly, this luridly purple confection was really, really tasty on its own. Mr. T in particular was most taken with with its creamy, coconutty, and presumably ube-y depth, proclaming it his new favorite ice cream. High praise indeed for something that comes from a tub and is the color of Barney the Dinosaur.

With that, we had purple and green and still needed one more element… a sharp, fruity one to offset the sweet meringue and rich ice cream. And thus, at long last, it was time for this PassionFruit to cook with… wait for it… passion fruits. Their sharp, tangy, tropical essence would provide the perfect high note in this slightly outré flavor symphony. Thanks to the indefatigable Maria, who obligingly dragged me all over suburban Maryland in search of ingredients, I managed to get my hands on both fresh passion fruits and the frozen pulp. I used the latter to make a fruit curd, and then mixed in some of the fresh pulp–crunchy seeds and all, thank you so much–for an amazingly fragrant, sweet-tart and fruity, fully dimensional passion fruit spread. (I’ll post that recipe later; everyone should know the joy of passion fruit curd… it’s quite transformatively lovely.)

So, having my three tasty and brightly-colored components ready to go, I decided that I needed to up my plating game a bit. I ditched the pavlova for a more impressively structured dacquoise. Three toasty sweet, palest green meringue discs would sandwich two layers of bright lilac ube ice cream–molded into 8″ rounds–and stuck together with generous slatherings of whipped cream into which was folded that passion fruit curd.

Of course, this assembly had to be done a la minute, and as the pictures indicate, the Dacquoise Imelda was an ephemeral glory. Fortunately, it didn’t need to stay upright for very long as it was demolished in pretty much record time by the birthday boy and friends. For something that started out as basically a fever dream, this was astonishingly tasty, with all the disparate  textures and flavors coming together into a harmonious, monumental whole.

Of course, meringue, ice cream, and whipped cream are not so easy to keep together, so I’m going to rethink the components if not the flavors before sharing a recipe. I’m thinking rounds of moist pandan poundcake encasing the ube ice cream and topped with a passion fruit semifreddo might be SLIGHTLY more able to stand up to the rigors of service. But until then, enjoy the pictures, and the promise of a fine-tuned version of this perfect storm of tropical wonderment.

Don’t be Triflin’ with My Strawberry-Rhubarb Trifle

At once blowsily moreish and decadently raffiné–like a freshly unmade bed at Claridge’s–trifle is the quintessenstial English dessert of summer. While summer pudding and Eton mess may come close, they don’t quite hold a candle to the trifle’s layers of boozy cake, soft fruit, rich custard, and whipped cream.

And when it’s presented in the traditional tall glass serving bowl, few desserts can command the attention of a trifle. Perfect for special summery parties closer to home… with all the cream and custardy goodness, trifle doesn’t travel all that well, so keep it it mind for those celebrations that don’t involve much movement from the grill or patio.

Of course, being me, I’ve made several fairly sacrilegious alterations to the basic English original. As with most American adaptations, I used pound cake, which is richer than the fairly lean sponge cake or savoiardi (ladyfingers) Mr. T says are de rigeur in the UK. I generally don’t have sherry on hand, so I sneak in a bit of port instead. And, while I was at it, I took advantage of the seasonally harmonious harvest of strawberries and rhubarb to get a bit more fruit in there as well.

As is usual, Mr. T just shook his head when I started arranging the strawberries with crazed precision around the sides of the bowl. But frankly, if I am going to make custard from scratch (which also merited an eye roll, but I am NOT going to use something from a tin, even if it is authentic), it’s going to be pretty too, dammit. Of course, it’s delicious too, and that’s really what matters.

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Ecumenical Party Dept.: Vietnamese Passover Macaroons

Mr. T. and I went to a “Seder” last-last weekend. While a lovely event, it wasn’t QUITE the real thing though, and not just because it was a week behind schedule. There were pork and shrimp spring rolls next to the kugel and gefilte fish, and the only bitter thing there might have been me (I kept missing the latkes). Given that our host and hostess were Vietnamese- and Jewish-American, the menu makes a bit more sense–even if it was an evening of tasty syncretism that would make the more Orthodox blanch in horror.

That’d be a shame, though, as everything was really tasty. Ok, almost everything was really tasty. The gefilte fish was… edible. And, given it’s peerless provenance, I can only shudder at the thought of rank and gefilte fish. Ech. Nevertheless, the guests demolished 10lbs of toothsome brisket, stacks of matzo schmeared with chopped liver and charoset, and fastest to dissapear were the fleets of spring and garden rolls handmade by the host’s mom and aunties. And, in an impressive feat of group adventuresomeness, even the gefilte fish got eaten.

In talking to the hostess in the week before the party, I’d offered to bring sweets–after convincing her that a) there was going to be enough food and b) kugel was going to be waaaay easier to serve at a cocktail Seder than tiny shots of matzo ball soup. The obvious choice, even for a shiksa goddess such as myself, was coconut macaroons. I also included tiny bite-sized versions of my favorite flourless chocolate torte, but more on them later.

For the macaroons, I turned of course to Rose, whose christmas cookie book (ironically) has a lovely recipe for coconut macaroons… that started out with baking a whole coconut and then shredding it by hand. *sigh* Rose, Rose, I love you, but I am NOT dealing with a whole coconut. Speaking from experience, the blood and broken crockery just isn’t worth it.

So, stepping back from that whole Robinson Crusoe ordeal, I elected to mix sweetened and unsweetened coconut and add a judicious tot of rum to the traditional sweetened condensed milk that binds it all together. Still sweet, but not throat-closingly so, they were met with serious acclaim at the party, with far better Jews than I calling them the best macaroons ever. I’ll take it.

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California Dreaming: Chocolate Avocado Mousse

When I travel for work, I’m usually headed to a state capital. Unfortunately, seats of government are rarely located in the parts of a state that one’d actually want to visit–the view is particularly bleak when one invariably seems to end up at the Holiday Inn Express on the Airport Bypass Road. But since I’m there to, you know, WORK, this isn’t that a big deal except for on the dining out front. Of my colleagues, I have the highest restaurant standards. I do not consider frozen Sysco hotwings food, and woe betide anyone who suggests otherwise.

I’m also generally the bossiest person, and the youngest, which makes me comparably adept at using the Internets on my phone (amazing!) to locate good restaurants and then chivvy everyone along for the ride. I’ve found that cross-checking Zagat, Yelp, and Chowhound recommendations gets a good list that doesn’t skew too old, too hipster, or too foodie. Even then, though, sometimes the road away from the T.G.I. Chilibees is a rough one, and I’ve had my moments of… compromise. (Graceful, naturally.)

Fortunately, my most recent trip was to Sacramento. And, while not as exciting as nearby San Francisco, California’s congenial climate and foodie culture meant that I had no problem mapping out the gustatory aspects of the itinerary. We had excellent ramen, Mexican food, and swanky Cali cuisine, but the most strinking meal was our lunch at the Magpie Café. After a smoke trout baguette, the most beautiful BLT ever, and a lushly lemony chicken salad, we felt we HAD to get the dessert specials. So, fennel blood orange ice cream sandwich it was, along with an avocado chocolate mousse.

Now, I generally turn up my nose at such hippie-dippie palaver, but everything else had been so good I figured the kitchen wouldn’t serve something that didn’t work. And lo, it was good. Dense and flavorful with no detectable avocado-y-ness, it’s more like a pudding or a pot de creme than a mousse, but very tasty regardless. And, as something of a lactard myself, it’s gratifying to have something so rich and delicious that doesn’t involve a bucketload of cream.

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New Paths to Old Puddings: Lemon Honeycomb

I came across this tantalizing English pudding recipe ages ago whilst perusing The Kitchn, and immediately put it on my to-do list… where it promptly langished for nearly a year.

Embarassing, since I actually own a copy of Jane Grigson‘s “Good Things”, in which the recipe first appeared, as well as a shame, really, since anything with such an august pedigree is bound to be good.

Moreover it involves lemon and gelatin, two of Mr. T’s absolute favorite things. I’d like to think that my tendency to be slightly sneer-y when it comes to Jell-O type things did not contribute to the lag time, but it probably did.

Although, having made it, I can say with complete confidence that no one could think for a second that this deliciously lemony whimsy came from a packet.

It does, however, bear more than a passing resemblance to the Jell-O 1-2-3 desserts of my childhood. Well, not MY childhood, but you get the idea. A thin layer of tart lemony jelly is topped by a foamy, chiffon-y, lemon mousse that crackles pleasantly in the mouth–a perfect textural compliment to its sprightly tartness.

And, since this is do-ahead and pretties up well in individual glasses, it’s a perfect ending to any big holiday meal–bright in flavor, light in texture, but still indulgently festive.

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Pavlovas: The Deliciously UN-Demanding Dessert Divas

Having been routinely thwarted in my attempts to cluster dinner guests based upon their bizarre food issues, I’ve been confronted with a growing need for gluten-free foodstuffs, particularly desserts. And while there are numerous excellent websites devoted to the topic, whose results I can only presume are quite palatable, the initial investment in GF baking can be somewhat daunting.

In place of regular wheat flour, whose gluten is literally responsible for keeping things from falling apart, a somewhat bewildering array of gums, starches, and ancient grains are pressed into service. This kind of complicated replacement seems totally worth it for people who are cooking GF all the time, but I don’t really want to have to track down and purchase xanthan gum and ground amaranth for one cake, you know?

SO. That leaves me with the more traditional GF dessert alternatives that depend on eggs or nut flour for body and structure. While I do have a store of lovely nut-based cakes, lately I’ve been utterly taken with the queen of desserts from Down Under, the pavlova. Allegedly named for the Russian ballet dancer on one of her Australian tours, the blowsily elegant combination of fruit, cream, and meringue is really just delightful in its airy deliciousness.

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