Friday, January 27, 2017

Lemon Cake with Passion Fruit Syrup

I should just stay away from that one display in my local market. You know, the one where they put all the exotic and unusual fruits and vegetables. You readers of MLK have already been introduced to several of them, but the pesky store just keeps adding more. This time it was passion fruit.

I can’t remember ever eating passion fruit. I certainly haven’t cooked with it. I have no idea what it tastes like—tart? sweet? tangy? I don’t know how to tell if it’s ripe or not. I don’t know what it should look like—smooth and shiny or wrinkled?

So why on earth am I using it here? Curiosity, pure and simple. Isn’t that what motivates both mystery writers and readers? The “what if . . .” Maybe passion fruit will rock my world. I won’t know until I try.

I don’t think you’re supposed to eat it on its own, so I needed something to pour it over somehow. I wanted something lemony-flavored. Couldn’t find any recipes online that sounded right, so I defaulted to one of my long-time friendly cookbooks, Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells, and found a lemon cake recipe there that made its debut appearance here in MLK in 2015.

But of course I changed it up. I didn’t want two whole loaf cakes, I wanted small individual cakes, and I happen to have a lot of vintage small cake molds, which were about the right size, so I cut the recipe in half. And I cut back on the grated lemon rind a bit—I know, it gives a punchier flavor, but I wanted the passion fruit to stand out, not the lemon.

So here we go, plunging into the unknown world of passion (fruit)!

Passion Fruit Syrup

Okay, how do I get the passion fruit into my cake? I looked online, No two recipes seems to agree. What is the pulp? The gooey stuff with all those hard black seeds floating around in it? The much harder white stuff around the edges? Got me. So I took the simplest recipe and used whatever I could get out of the interior of my fruits. (Word of warning: the skin is really tough! I needed a serrated knife.)

Whole passion fruit

Sliced in half
Gunk scraped out (note black seeds)

Simmering syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup passion fruit pulp

Combine in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and boil until the sugar dissolves. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the mixture thickens. Strain! Chill in the refrigerator. (Note: another recipe I found said to puree in a blender with the seeds. I passed on that.)

Lemon Cake

Ingredients (full recipe--I used half):

2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
5 large eggs
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup crème fraîche (or substitute heavy cream)
7 Tblsp (3-1/2 oz) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
Grated zest of 4 lemons


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter your baking molds.

Combine the flour and baking powder.

In the large bowl of a stand mixer, combine the eggs and sugar and mix until well blended.

With the mixer at low speed, slowly add (in the following order): the crème fraîche, the flour mixture, the melted butter, the lemon juice, the vanilla, and the lemon zest. Beat until very smooth.

Scoop into your molds. (Mine held about one-quarter cup each, and I used an ice cream scoop. Do not overfill, because the batter does puff up in baking.) My pan holds eight, and a half-recipe of the above fit nicely. You could just as easily use a muffin tin. 

Place them in the center of the oven and bake until golden and a toothpick comes out clean--about 20-25 minutes. (Keep an eye on them so they don’t get too brown.)

Remove the pans from the oven and cool in the pans on a rack.

The Big Finish

Place a small cake on a plate (slice a bit off the top, which will be the bottom, if it won’t sit flat).

Ladle some of the passion fruit syrup around the cake, kind of like a dunking pool (Heck, you can pour it all over the thing, once you decide you like the flavor.)

What did I think? The passion fruit definitely has a flavor of its own, and doesn’t taste like any other fruit I’ve tried. It’s a little tart, and definitely perfumey. I may experiment some more. (My husband expected it to taste like papaya, but once he’d tasted the syrup he said it didn’t.)

Cruel Winter (County Cork Mystery #5), coming March 14 (but who's counting?).

There are no papayas growing in Ireland, as far as I know. And it's winter and snowing in the town of Leap, where a band of people get snowbound for a night in Sullivan's Pub. And solve an old murder, in the best Irish tradition: talking.

Kirkus Reviews said some really nice things about the book this week:

Move over, Agatha Christie: a pub owner in County Cork fancies herself a young Miss Marple. . . Connolly's (A Turn for the Bad, 2016, etc.) heroine clearly has a gift for solving mysteries, and the interesting characters she presents warts and all make for a fine read in the classic style. 

Available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


  1. This looks yummy! I've never tried passion fruit so now I know what I can do with it! I have Patricia Wells's cookbook, too!

    1. i bought my copy at the United Nations on my daughter's class field trip a long time ago, but I still use it. The most notable thing about the passion fruit is how intense and distinctive the aroma is.

  2. I'll have to try this. My oldest son's first job was at a local fresh market and he was in charge of stocking the fruit. He is the one who introduced me to passion fruit. We love it.

  3. Passion fruit is fabulous!
    We have vines growing on the fence in our yard.
    They are ripe when they get really wrinkly looking.
    You can spoon it straight into your mouth. If ripe, it will be sweet/tart.
    If you want an easier alternative (and don't want to spend the $3+ per fruit they charge around here) and some recipes, try Aunty Lilikoi's web site. I order Passion fruit syrup from them and pour a little on our fruit salad. Even the palest winter fruit perks up with that.

    1. Interesting. My husband thought he had them growing where he worked in Northern California, but I've never seen them in the wild. What's their range? I think you're right--it's such an interesting flavor, and could be added to a lot of things. (And no, the local ones weren't quite $3 each--maybe they're trying to suck us in at the store.)

  4. You're a brave woman! I've never tried passionfruit. I'm afraid I wouldn't recognize one either. It sounds like when ripe they can be cut in two and eaten with a spoon, like kiwi.

    Pat D

    1. I'd be surprised if they hang around at the store that long--I'd bet most people (like me) want to buy plump shiny fruit rather than wrinkly fruit, even though that's when they're ripe and taste best. I'll keep watching.

  5. What a fun post. I have never tried passion fruit, either. But I think Food Network may be calling because of your artful use of the word "gunk." LOL!

    1. Should be right up there with "glop" and "goo." I must admit what's inside looks kind of weird.

  6. You always take us on adventures, Sheila. I love that. Your cakes are beautiful and I am sure that they are delicious too. That's for the passion fruit fun.

  7. Just buy the pretty, shiny ones, put them on the counter, and then let them age.

    1. So wrinkly is good? And for those who suggested eating the innards with a spoon--what do you do with the seeds? Do they soften a bit when the fruit ripens? Or do you just, er, spit?

    2. Wrinkly is ideal. Smooth is not.
      We just spoon up the innards and slurp it down, seeds and all.
      So far no vines have grown out our ears from swallowing the seeds. (Is that a universal kid's fear?)

  8. Sheila, my reply from yesterday is not showing. We just scoop the good stuff out and slurp it down, seeds and all.

  9. I haven't tried passion fruit but Cruel Winter was great!