My sister Elena's visit to Colombia coincided not only with the end of the year festivities but also with her birthday. Because my sister is my sister, when I asked her what kind of cake she wanted, her response was, hey, how come I have to pick just one? Given that she did fly a couple of thousand miles to come see me, this seemed like a reasonable question. I had also already picked out the perfect gift for her, until I realized the shipping was just fatal:
I also thought the tentacles might not quite fit in her dorm room. And that there was the vaguest possibility that people entering her room might find the Doctor Evil-meets-Salvador Dali on a Jules Verne kick vibe just a wee bit creepy? Oh, and also that she might never trust me with anything again, like making her birthday cake(s) for example.
She requested a flourless chocolate cake and, to take advantage of the abundance of tropical fruit around here, a passion fruit meringue tart. Because I find typical dense flourless chocolate cakes a little boring unless they involve large quantities of bourbon (the incredible Boca Negra cake from Baking with Julia, for example), I made this layered flourless chocolate cake, which while being perhaps a little bit too bitter for most of the Colombians present for Elena´s birthday lunch (South Americans seem to tend to prefer sweeter milk and white chocolates), was perfect for us. The passion fruit tart went down easier for them, sweet-tart curd topped with drifts of golden meringue. That is to say, it went down as well as could be expected after beans, rice, sweet plantains, avocado, ribs, beef and sausage for the meat eaters, corn fritters and fried plantain chips. We all cleaned our plates anyway. Nothing like a birthday coma to start your twenties out right.
Passion Fruit Meringue Tart
This recipe looks more complex than it actually is-- the only thing that can be a little tricky is making sure the curd doesn't, uh, curdle, but as long as you go slow over low heat you should be fine, and you can strain out any lumps afterwards. Afterwards it´s just a matter of assemblying the components and sticking the thing under the broiler, and you´ve got a beautiful thing on your hands.
1 tart shell, par-baked: I always use this recipe for tarts because it´s ridiculously easy and delicious.
For the passion fruit curd:
¾ c. passion fruit puree (Cut 4-5 passion fruit in half and scrape out the pulp including the seeds into a blender. Blend well and then strain the seeds out; measure out ¾ c. and use any remaining puree for juice-- just blend with some additional water and sugar to taste)
¼ c. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 c. sugar
4 oz. butter
pinch salt (if using unsalted butter)
3 egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
Combine all ingredients but the eggs and egg yolks together in a medium saucepan. Heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until everything is melted and well mixed. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks together. Add the passion fruit mixture bit by bit into the eggs, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan and stir constantly over low heat until it coats the back of a spoon. If you end up with lumps you can pass the curd through a sieve.
Fill the cooled tart shell with the curd, leaving at least a ¼ in. to the top of the sides. Return the tart to the oven for around 10 min. or just until it sets on top. While the curd cools down, make the meringue.
For the meringue topping:
3 egg whites
3/4 c. sugar
Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Add in the sugar little by little while you continue beating the egg whites until you have stiff peaks. Spoon your meringue over the cooled passion fruit tart, spreading it around to make as many peaks as you like (don't overwork it). Stick the tart under the broiler just until the meringue browns (don't go far, it shouldn't take long). If you're not going to serve it immediately, you can store it in the fridge for a couple of hours.