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California Passion Fruit Bars

The first time anyone tastes something new, the moment can become etched in memory. This is true, of course, if it’s a “Wow, I want more of that” event or possibly quite the opposite.

My Wow Moment happened in Hawaii when I bit into a passion fruit bar, a riff on the classic Lemon Bars: A smooth custardy tart/sweet filling baked atop a crunchy shortbread crust and dusted with powdered sugar—homey yet sophisticated.

Passion fruit’s flavor and acid notes keep luring me back for more. I’d never tasted anything like it—not mango, not papaya, not star fruit—and when I’m in Hawaii I always seek it out at farmers’ markets.

As I write this, I’m in southern California, near San Diego, and passion fruit grows here, too. The fruit grows wild on vines and has a thick shiny shell. Here the fruit is a dark purple color. When picked, the shell is smooth. When left in the kitchen, the shell puckers and shrivels.

The picture above shows whole and cut passion fruit. The inside of the fruit—just picked or with puckered shells—is filled with a seedy pulp, and it’s all edible—seeds and pulp.

For baking, I need a seedless pulp. A few brief pulses in a blender turns it into juice and leaves the seeds intact. I pass the combo through a fine-meshed wire strainer and voila!, I get a lovely orange-colored juice.


California Passion Fruit Bars

These are best served cold. Store the pan of baked bars in the refrigerator and cut and dust them with powdered sugar just before serving. Or, instead of powdered sugar, spread a thin layer of sour cream on top of the uncut dessert before cutting into bars.

Brown Sugar Shortbread Crust

1 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry measuring cups to overflowing and level off; 5 ounces by weight))

1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons (3 ounces) cold unsalted butter, sliced into 6 pieces

Passion Fruit Filling

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup fresh passion fruit juice (from about 8 passion fruit; pulse seedy fruit a few times to juicify the pulp into juice; strain to remove seeds) or bottled passion fruit juice (see Final Note at end of recipe)

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

 

Powdered sugar for dusting or sour cream

 

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with two 16-inch lengths of aluminum foil, criss-crossing them into the pan with the excess projecting about 2 inches above the pan edges. Coat lightly with cooking spray.

 

  1. For the shortbread crust, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, and salt and add the butter. Work the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips or a pastry blender until the butter is broken up into medium-size pieces, about ¼-inch. If your kitchen is warm, and you find the butter getting too soft while you work it, put the bowl into the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes. Pour the crumbs into the prepared baking pan. Press firmly and evenly on the bottom to make a compact layer. You’ll see pieces of butter here and there.

 

  1. Bake for 20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

 

  1. While the crust bakes, whisk the eggs and egg yolk in a medium bowl to combine well. Add the granulated sugar and whisk in well. Add the passion fruit juice and flour and whisk until smooth. Try not to create large bubbles. Pour over the hot crust and return the pan to the oven.

 

  1. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and continue baking until the filling is set, about 30 minutes. If you jiggle the pan the filling should not budge.

 

  1. Cool completely on a wire rack, then refrigerate for an hour or two until cold. If you want to serve the next day, cover the pan tightly with foil and refrigerate.

 

  1. Lift the dessert out of the pan by the foil ends and carefully peel foil away from the sides of the crust. With a wide metal spatula, carefully transfer the uncut sweet to a cutting board. Put a few tablespoons of powdered sugar into a small strainer, and dust onto the dessert. Or spread with a thin layer of sour cream. Cut into bars without a sharp knife.

 

Makes 8 to 12 bars.

Final Note

How do you get unsweetened passion fruit juice if you’re not in southern California or Hawaii? I order it in bottles from Aunty Lilikoi on the island of Kauai. A 10-ounce bottle costs $8.50 plus shipping. The company offers many products made with passion fruit, and all are excellent. Here’s the link: https://www.auntylilikoi.com/syrups-and-juices/.

 

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