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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.

Topical, Tropical Pandan Meringue Cookies

Ok, Happy to report that the baby shower went rawther well. Everyone had, I think, a nice time; Baby Momma and Baby Daddy were suitably fete’d and got lots of weird BABY thingies; the diaper cake was gorgeous; and the food was very well recieved indeed. Go team!

Promises were made that several of the recipes would make it onto the blog, and since I need to extract the curry puff recipe from J and I kind of have to reverse engineer the peanut sauce and the banh mi bites, we’re kicking off with these lovely little meringue cookies flavored with tropical pandan.

Pandan, or screwpine, is a palm tree-ish plant whose leaves are used in SE Asian, particularly Filipino, cooking. It imparts a really lovely kind of toasty, nutty flavor and a pretty green color. (The latter may or may not be chemically enhanced, but who isn’t these days?)

I’d decided to make meringue cookies for the shower because they were light and pretty but hadn’t gotten much further than that. I wanted them to taste like SOMETHING, though, and they needed to go with the pan-Asian, tropical, purple and green color scheme because I am OCD like that.

So, I was super chuffed when I was rummaging around in the back of my baking cupboard for something to flavor the meringues and I found a bottle of dark green, deeply fragrant pandan concentrate that I’d bought a while ago and promptly forgotten about. (It was between the unopenend yuzu essence and pineapple extract, FYI.)

Hooray for my compulsion to hoard bizarre flavorings, then, because these were perfectly tasty–the pandan concentrate lent a gorgeous on-theme color and richly scented complexity to what is otherwise just sugar and egg white.
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