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 shortbread crust and dusted with powdered sugar—homey yet sophisticated.
Passion fruit’s flavor and acid notes keep luring me back again and again. 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.
The fruit grows wild on vines and has a thick shiny shell. The kind I’ve found is green at first and turns to a lemon yellow when ripe. As the fruit ripens more, the shell shrivels and puckers, but the fruity insides are perfectly fine to eat. The fruit in the basket shows fruit in various stages of maturity. I wound up using all of them for the recipe.
The inside of the fruit is filled with a seedy pulp, and it’s all edible. The green fruit is much tarter than the yellow, but I use both ripe and unripe fruits in baking because sugar mellows the acidity.
For baking, I need a seedless pulp. A 30-second whirl in the 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. The ¾ cup of juice came from 12 lilikoi.
Passion Fruit (Lilikoi) 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. If you want to make lemon or lime bars, substitute either for the lilikoi juice.
Brown Sugar Shortbread Crust
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry measuring cups to overflowing and level off)
½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ sticks (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, sliced into 12 to 15 pieces
Passion Fruit (Lilikoi) Filling
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
¾ cup fresh passion fruit juice
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Powdered sugar for dusting
Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a 13 x 9 x 2-inch ungreased baking pan.
For the shortbread crust, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, and salt and add the butter slices.
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 ungreased baking pan.
Press firmly and evenly on the bottom to make a compact layer. You’ll see pieces of butter here and there.
Bake for 20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.
While the crust bakes, whisk the eggs in a medium bowl to combine well. Add the granulated sugar and whisk in well. Add the lilikoi 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. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and continue baking until the filling is set, about 30 minutes.
The odd spots here and there are from large bubbles that popped during baking. Not to worry, they’ll be hidden under a dusting of powdered sugar.
Cool the pan 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.
Loosen the sides of the dessert with the tip of a sharp knife, going around the pan more than once if necessary. The top of the filling is sticky. To make cutting easy, I rub soft butter on the blade of my knife. It cuts through the bars without tearing. I make 24 bars.
Remove bars from the pan, dust with powdered sugar, and serve.
How do you get unsweetened passion fruit juice or puree if you’re not in Hawaii? I’ve found several sources, and all come frozen. Goya brand is the least expensive, and Hispanic markets often carry it. Check the package to see if any sugar has been added. If it has, decrease that amount from the recipe. Passion fruit is also known as Maracuja or Maracuya, so check for that name, too. Whole Foods markets, I’m told, carries frozen passion fruit juice or puree. Call first to make sure. Amazon.com is also a good place to search for passion fruit puree. Click on the Groceries & Gourmet food link and type in passion fruit puree. You’ll find several pricey sources because it’s frozen and must be shipped overnight.