I’ve mentioned before that I’m a little obsessed with passion fruit. The flavor, the concept—even the name. When I hear “passion fruit” in my head, it’s invariably being said by someone with a sultry accent, all slow esses and coy head tilts and eyebrow wiggles. It’s a name that’s basically begging you to love it, and when you combine the wink-and-a-nod name with the tart tropical taste, how could I not feel passionate about it?
Last week I posted a picture of some frozen passion fruit puree on Instagram and Facebook, and got several questions about what I do with it. Gather round, friends, I am happy to spread the gospel of the passion fruit! It’s a pretty easy ingredient to use. Basically, since it’s so tart, I substitute it in baking recipes where I might use lemon juice instead.
So, for instance, in the past I’ve used it to make passion fruit curd, and passion fruit pound cake, and passion fruit tarts. Instead of the pure sour pucker of lemon juice, it has a lovely balance of tart and tropical flavors. It makes everything just a little more interesting, and I knew it would be the perfect way to shake up traditional lemon bars.
Everyone has their ideal lemon bar, and everyone’s ideal is a bit different. Slim and dainty, or a tower of curd piled sky-high? Crumbly shortbread crust or crispy buttery crust? Extra-sour flavor or moderately sweet? Firm or soft? Zest or no zest? The questions, they are endless.
So in addition to boasting my favorite fruit flavor (call me, passion fruit!), these bars are also my dream texture. The base is a super-crispy buttery crust that comes together in a minute and doesn’t require any chilling. (Chilling is way too high maintenance for me. Hello, you’re the crust, basically the curd delivery system. You don’t get special treatment!) They have the perfect filling-to-crust ratio, and they set enough to easily and neatly cut, but not so much that you feel like you’re chewing gummy worms. In short, purrrrrr.
I knew that I loved these bars, but the real test came when we served them to a few friends. Some of them thought they were lemon bars before they tasted them, and were so surprised—and happy!—to find a whole new flavor waiting for them! They were a universal hit, and I think I made a few more passion fruit converts that day.
Here are my two secret weapons for making these bars: frozen passion fruit pulp and non-melting powdered sugar. The passion fruit pulp is from a local Mexican grocery store—if your area has a sizable Latino population, chances are the freezer section might have a similar product! You can probably substitute the pulp of fresh passion fruit, but those are much harder for me to track down, and I haven’t tried it myself. If you use the frozen puree, just make sure it’s defrosted (duh) before making the recipe.
Non-melting powdered sugar is one of those professional tricks that I think everyone should know about. If you’ve ever made a dessert and sprinkled a gorgeous layer of powdered sugar on top, only to find that it’s absorbed moisture from the dessert and turned into a wet, gloopy mess, this is the product for you! It’s basically powdered sugar microscopically coated with fat, so that the sugar doesn’t absorb any moisture and stays pristine for days. It is a lifesaver for desserts like these bars, which often start to get damp and gross-looking in a matter of minutes. The texture is a little finer than powdered sugar—maybe a cross between powdered sugar and corn starch?—which you can kind of tell in the close-up pictures. Taste-wise, I can’t tell a difference between regular powdered sugar, especially since it’s usually used in very small amounts as a garnish.
These bars taste like rainbows and happiness and small woodland creatures frolicking in dappled sunlight….or maybe just like really good, really spring-y treats. Either way, give them a try!
Passion Fruit Bars
Crust recipe from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert
yield: 9×13 pan
For the Crust:
8 oz unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups (9 oz) all-purpose flour
For the Filling:
8 large eggs
2 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups passion fruit puree (I used one 14 oz Goya pouch)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
To Make the Crust:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9×13 pan with foil so that it extends up the sides, and spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
In a bowl, whisk together the melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Once mixed, add the flour and stir with a spatula until combined and no streaks of flour remain. Scrape the dough into the pan and press it into an even layer. It might seem a little greasy—this is normal.
Bake the crust for 25-30 minutes at 350 F, until it’s golden brown on top. While the crust is baking, prepare the filling so it’s ready to go as soon as the crust is done.
To Make the Filling:
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, granulated sugar, and passion fruit puree. Sift the flour on top of the egg mixture, and whisk it in as well.
When the filling is done baking, slide the rack part-way out of the oven. Pour the filling over the hot crust and slide it back into the oven. Reduce the temperature to 325 F and bake for 25-30 minutes. It’s done when the center barely jiggles when you tap the pan.
Once done, remove the pan from the oven and let it cool until it reaches room temperature. For the cleanest cuts, refrigerate the bars and cut them when completely cold. To cut, remove the bars from the pan using the foil as handles. Use a large sharp chef’s knife and wipe it off often between cuts. Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar before serving. Store Passion Fruit Bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
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