This week: Passion Fruit Sponge Custard. Not the most elegant dessert we’ve ever made, but ignore the appearance, go for the taste, like the fruit itself. Ripe passion fruit resemble hard-boiled eggs, after the apocalypse, wrinkly red-brown ovals. But inside, oh… a pucker-sweet crazy delicious psychedelic orange pulp dotted with black seeds. (You eat that goop?! I thought nature made things in bright colors as a warning – poison! poison! poison!? Nope. Nature wants you to eat that goop, to, uh, carry the seeds away.) The flavor of passion fruit hovers somewhere between orange and mango, just as sweet, but way tarter than either. The only exotic fruit with an equal effort/pleasure ratio, IMO, is the durian, but we’ll reserve durian for another day. In the meantime, try this sponge custard, an antique English dessert that’s not really spongy or a custard, flavored with an intense sweet-sour taste of the tropics.
The main drawback to passion fruit is that you get so little edible material from each of them. In Haiti, where Jody and I recently travelled, passion fruit are common and cheap (my mother would never have approved of them). Rosa’s, a single-table restaurant in Mirebalais where we ate a couple of times, served pitchers of freshly-squeezed passion fruit juice to diners, who then added Haitian Barbancourt rum to taste.
We are not so lucky in this country, where passion fruit is neither common nor cheap. I can’t conceive of what that pitcher of passion fruit juice would cost here, unless made from frozen passion fruit pulp, which you can buy without breaking the bank. To our taste, the frozen pulp was more than a few notches down in intensity from fresh juice.
So, we husband the fresh juice as a flavoring, parceling it out in drams, as in the Chicken Livers with Passion Fruit a few weeks ago, or for this old-fashioned caky English treat. Passion fruit goes into the batter, which separates as it cooks, so that the dessert ends up with two distinct layers–one caky, one saucy–both with passion fruit flavor. Avoid the temptation to eat this as soon as it comes out of the oven–the custard will be too thin. It needs to chill to reach the consistency of a crême anglaise. The tops will deflate a bit, but what the dessert loses in pride is worth what it gains in texture. Enjoy. Ken
Passion Fruit Sponge Custard
Ingredients: Be sure all the ingredients are at room temperature.
- 6-7 ripe (wrinkly) passion fruit, enough to make ½ cup juice
- ¾ cup white sugar
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 large eggs, separated
- ¼ cup all purpose unbleached flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Cut the fruit in half and scoop the pulp and seeds into a wire-mesh sieve sitting on a bowl. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the seeds against the mesh, pushing the juice through the sieve and into the bowl. You should have ½ cup of juice.
- Take 2 tablespoons of sugar and set it aside for the egg whites.
- Put the butter and the remaining sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer. With the speed on high, beat the butter until smooth. Add the salt, then the egg yolks, one at a time, and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy and the sugar has dissolved. Turn the mixer to low, add the flour and beat until combined. Add the passion fruit juice and milk and beat to just combine.
- Put the egg whites into a clean bowl of the standing mixture with the whisk attachment. Using a moderate speed, beat the egg whites until they begin to foam. Add the remaining sugar in a slow steady stream and then increase the speed to high and beat until the whites hold soft peaks. Don’t let them get stiff or it will be difficult to fold them into the custard mixture.
- Using a rubber spatula, stir the custard mixture to ensure nothing has settled on the bottom of the bowl. Then stir a third of the whites into the custard mixture to lighten it. Gently fold in the remaining whites.
- Spoon custard into custard cups, being sure to scoop from the bottom of the bowl as the top will be lighter. Set the cups into a roasting pan. Pour warm water half way up the sides of the cups. Bake 30-35 minutes, turning halfway through. The tops should should be puffed and golden brown.
- This is best served chilled. Allow to cool, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. The tops will deflate, but such is life.
When I was in Haiti in late September working with the Zanmi Lasante/Partners In Health culinary teams, passion fruit were coming into season with a force. Marie Flore, the director of the PIH facility at Cange, asked me to show her culinary team how to make a simple dessert with local ingredients. As all of you know, dessert is not a default mode for me. I fell back on one of my old familiars, Lemon Sponge Custard, substituting passion fruit for lemon. My Haitian attempt left me unsatisfied (chefs are always unsatisfied). Back at home I tweaked the recipe to get it the way I wanted. Here it is.