Hand-picked Passion: Lilikoi Cheesecake

Oct 02, 2011 No Comments by

One of the things I miss the most when I’m away from the warm island of Maui is the aptly-named passionfruit. Back on the mainland, in an attempt to quench the thirst for lilikoi, I’ve sampled passion fruit juice, sorbet, tea, jelly, jam, and syrup. Take my word for it, nothing satisfies like the punch of flavor you’re hit from biting through the thick spongy rind and sucking down the soft, deep orange nectar nestled inside. The flavor is especially tart and exquisite after climbing a twisted tree to pluck the yellow hanging sphere.

While there are over 500 species of Passiflora—those eye-catching flowers that appear otherworldly—only one of the species can be called passion fruit. Of this, there are two varieties, purple and yellow. Brought to Hawaii in the 19th century from South America, the yellow-skinned fruit has spread more throughout the islands. The fruit possesses an interesting economic history: In 1951, the University of Hawaii chose it as the most promising crop for development and created an industry based on quick-frozen passion fruit juice concentrate. The yellow fruit gave four times the yield of the purple passion fruit and had a higher juice content. By 1958, 1,200 acres were devoted to yellow passion fruit production and the industry was firmly established on a satisfactory economic level. Today, due to high labor costs and rapidly increasing land value, there are no longer commercial passion fruit plantations left in Hawaii. Still, if you look hard, wild lilikoi continues to grow up fences and in groves, with many local fruit stands selling a pound of fruit for $9.

In Hawaii, passion fruit matures from June through January, with heaviest crops in July through November. Ripe fruits fall to the ground, but do not attract flies or ants. According to Livestrong, lilikoi is rich in vitamin A and C, riboflavin and niacin. There are 90 calories per 100 g of the edible nectar portion and the juice is slightly sedative. The fruit grows on vines that wrap themselves around the branches of tall trees, spreading wide dark green leaves and fragrant flowers that harden into fruit.

I love picking lilikoi–the way my arms would burn from forcing the fruit picker through the leaves, eyes straining as I squinted skyward. On my aunt’s farm, hidden away in Upcountry, the best mornings were those when we’d go hunting for fruit—wild mango, papaya, avocado, coffee. I love the satisfying snap that would through the hillside when I’d managed to pull a fruit into the basket. One morning, I picked 30 lilikoi, folding the harvest into my shirt, overflowing bag in hand.
Back seaside, we churned the lilikoi into smoothies, vinaigrette, and sugared bars. Still, all that picking left with a surplus. As a mahalo gesture on my last evening on Maui (for the time being) I baked a cheesecake for dessert. I highly recommend this strategy for giving thanks!

I adapted the recipe Jose Calpito, an award-winning Kealakehe high school student, trying my best to source local ingredients whenever possible—eggs, nuts, butter, cream, and lilikoi—while keeping things simple.

Macadamia Nut Crust
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
½ cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped
2 cups coconut/macadamia nut Shortbread crumbs
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Lilikoi Filling
1 ½ envelopes unflavored gelatin
½ cup cool water
10 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 cup lilikoi puree (about 3 lilikoi)
1 ½ cup heavy cream

Crust:
1. Mix together cookie crumbs, macadamia nuts, & cinnamon in a bowl. Then add melted butter and mix together until well combined.
2. Place crumbs into spring-form pan and lightly press the crumbs evenly across the bottom.
3. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees.
4. Set aside and let cool.

Lilikoi filling
1. Sprinkle gelatin over cool water and let it sit.
2. In a bowl, beat together the lilikoi puree, cream cheese and ½ cup of the sugar.
3. In a double boiler, whisk the egg yolks and remaining ½ cup of sugar together until pale in color. (About 3-4 minutes)
4. Cook the mixture, until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Stir in the gelatin off the heat and whisk gently until completely dissolved.
5. Beat the egg mixture into the cheese mixture until well combined.
6. Whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Then fold the whipped cream into the egg mixture until well combined.
7. Pour egg-cheese mixture into the crust & refrigerate for 5-6 hours.

Serve and enjoy!

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