I’m not usually a fruit dessert lover. My philosophy is that if it doesn’t include chocolate, then it’s not worth it. However, there is one fruit desert that I absolutely love, and that is Passion Fruit Pie. Passion Fruit is a tropical, exotic and seeded fruit native from South America, specifically from Brazil. The passion fruit in Venezuela is known as parchita or maracuyá, and it can have either a yellow-orange or a red-purple skin. Its shape is oval and the skin is tough and smooth. You can tell when it is ripe because the skin gets softer and wrinkled. So don’t pick the prettiest ones when buying passion fruit, on the contrary, pick the ugly ones. Just make sure they don’t smell sour or have any dark or bruised spots. On the inside both the yellow and the red versions look the same. The inside of a passion fruit is filled with black oval shaped seeds surrounded by a yellow gooey pulp. The flavor of the passion fruit is a bit sour and the aroma is very powerful. The pulp is used to make juices, mousses, cakes, ice cream, jelly and jam and to prepare different kinds of sauces, vinaigrettes and salsas. It may be hard to find passion fruit at your regular supermarket store, so try to call them ahead of time and make sure they have some ripe ones available. The fruit is available year-round so it shouldn’t be too hard to find some. Your best bet is places like Whole Foods, the Fresh market or even any farmers market near you. I would go for the farmers markets first, because the other places may be expensive, I had to pay around $3 per each fruit (crazy!).
The passion fruit comes from the passionflowers plant called Passiflora. It is said that the passionflowers’ name came to be around the sixteenth century, when the first Christian missionaries came to South America and found these flowers to be a good sign that their mission would be a successful one. The name came to be because they believed that the flower symbolized the death of Christ (the Passion of Christ). The flower itself has five petals and five sepals, which they believed to represent the disciples without Peter and Judas. The flower also has two rows of colorful filaments, which they believed to signify the halo around Christ’s head or the crown of thorns. The flower has five stamens and three spreading styles with flattened heads, which they believed to represent the wounds and the nails respectively. The flower has tendrils that look like the whips used to afflict Christ. Finally, the leaves look like fists or handgrips, believed to be those of the soldiers. Weather you believe in all this symbolism or not, you have to admit it’s a pretty cool name for a fruit.
A long time ago, my paternal grandfather used to own a restaurant called TACÚ back in Caracas. I used to work there as a hostess. My mom used to make whole desserts and sell them to TACÚ to be resold by the slice. She used to make all kinds of delicious Venezuelan desserts, and one of them was this Passion Fruit Pie. One time, our oven at home wasn’t working so my mom had to bake her desserts elsewhere. She went to my paternal grandparents’ house to bake the desserts there. My grandpa, being the passion fruit lover he is –he eats one almost every morning for breakfast– said the passion fruit pie my mom was finishing up didn’t look too presentable, and that she should leave it at his house and make another one again to be sold at the restaurant. The truth is he just wanted to keep the pie at home, and eat it himself, which he did. So now I am sharing with all of you my mom’s famous and secret Passion Fruit Pie recipe that all the clients at TACÚ (and the owner himself) loved.
What you need:
For the Crust
– 1 whole package of Galletas María Puig (María Cookies) – 250 gr.
– 180 g. Margarine or Butter
– 2 tbsp. Sugar
– ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
For the Filling
– 2 c. Passion Fruit juice (freshly squeezed)
– 5 tbsp. Corn Starch
– 3 egg yolks
– 1 cup sugar
For the Meringue
– 3 egg whites
– ½ cup sugar
– ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1. Preheat your oven to 350°.
2. Use a food processor or blender to grind up all the Galletas María Puig until they are finely ground. The Puig brand is a Venezuelan brand, and the Galletas María, or María Cookies are a staple in traditional Venezuelan brands. I understand it would be hard to find the original Galletas María Puig, however you can purchase other brands that are not the exact same, but they are very similar to the original María Cookies. Some of the other brands of María Cookies can be found at Wal-Mart, Publix, and Sedanos. The other brands are Goya, Iberia, La Fé, Conchita, Rio and Gullon among others. Just make sure that the entire package amounts to 250 gr., which means for some of the brands you may have to buy 2 packages.
3. Melt the butter or margarine at low heat in a small pot.
4. In a large bowl combine the María Cookies, the melted butter, the sugar and the ground cinnamon. Mix well with a wooden spoon, and also with your hands to make sure there are no large pieces of cookies left behind and no clumps in the mix.
5. In a round 9-inch pie Pyrex add the mixture and press gently with your fingers to mold and shape the mixture evenly into the Pyrex.
6. Bake for 15 minutes at 350°. Once done, let it cool down a bit and then put it in the fridge while you make the filling.
7. First you must make the fresh passion fruit juice. Take each passion fruit and cut it in half, then with a spoon, scoop out all the pulp and seeds into a food processor or blender. After you have taken the juice of all the passion fruits you have (I used about 10), blend them as much as you can. The seeds will create these black spots on the mixture when you blend them, but don’t worry, that just makes your pie look even better, because it was made with fresh fruit and the seeds are edible. I did strain it a bit after I blended it, just to remove any big pieces of seeds left behind, and I used a very tight strainer. After you make the juice, it will be very strong and sour/bitter so you will have to add some water to water it down. I ended up with about 1½ cups of juice concentrate, and then I added ½ cup of water to complete the 2 cups of juice. There is no telling how much juice concentrate you will end up with, or how much water you will have to add, but you can guestimate with these measurements I provide from what I got.
8. In a medium saucepan, add the sifted cornstarch, the sugar, and mix in at medium heat. Little by little, add the passion fruit juice, and mix constantly. Add the 3 egg yolks (lightly beaten), and continue to mix. Cook the mixture at medium temperature until it comes to a boil. Cook for one more minute and then remove from the heat and let it cool down.
9. Take the crust out of the fridge and add the filling mixture on top. Be sure that the crust isn’t hot when you add the filling on top of it. Let it sit for a bit and then put it in the fridge one more time for it to harden while you make the meringue.
10. Making the perfect meringue can be a bit tricky, so if you have already mastered this task, you can just go ahead and use your own meringue recipe. There are all kinds of rules that people believe you must follow to create the perfect mile high meringue, but I am just going to tell you, I am no meringue expert, and the two times I have made it, it has come out just fine. I just whipped the egg whites with an electrical handheld mixer and then added the sugar slowly until I reached the desired consistency. However, you can Google the steps to creating the perfect mile high meringue and you can follow them, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t come out just right. Here is a good blog post on Meringue.
11. After you make the meringue, using a pastry bag and tip, decorate the pie top with the meringue making swirls to create dollops with tips all around the pie top. Sprinkle the cinnamon on top just to decorate. Then bake the whole pie again for 15 minutes at 350°. You just want to brown the meringue, so keep an eye on it.
12. You can store it in the fridge after it cools down a bit. Serve cold.
¡Gracias Mami & Mariale!
This post is very special to me, and I dedicate it both to my mother (the owner of this recipe), and to my sister for helping me throughout the whole process from searching for the right parchitas all over town up to tasting the first bite and taking us back in time when we lived in Venezuela and ate my mom’s passion fruit pie when she used to make it a long, long time ago.