AJ and I took the month of July off, packed our bags and went to paradise (ie. Maui). I called it “my sabbatical” as I had grandiose plans to do many things that I can’t seem to do when I am at home, in my apartment, with the numerous distractions that come with being at home. In theory it seemed like a good idea, but in reality, I haven’t really had a chance to do all the things I wanted to do, as I’ve been too busy going to the beach and going to the beach. Oh and going to the beach. But I also have been utterly inspired by all the tropical fruit here in Maui, and, when I’m not at the beach, I find myself dreaming and scheming about what to make with the fruit that I normally don’t pick up in San Francisco. One of the first things I made here in Hawaii was a Mango Strawberry Macadamia Nut Shortbread Bars.
We arrived July 1st, a month full of promise and sun. We knew three people on the island, but we were sure we would make friends. AJ and I are fairly gregarious that way. We had not done a lot of planning, figuring we had a month here to figure it all out, and we had been to Maui once before, for a friend’s wedding. Through circumstances, we ended up renting a *cough* well loved, slightly older car with only a 150,000 miles on it, that was half the price of renting a new car from a big name car rental agency. We knew we would blend in with the locals with our beat up Toyota with the ubiquitous turtle sticker and Bob Marley decal on the back window (AJ hates reggae but don’t tell anyone that).
The condo we rented was no frills but clean and really conveniently located. The kitchen was rather sparse in truth. Though coming from my San Francisco kitchen, where I had everything I wanted, I knew any vacation condo kitchen was going to be a challenge. I tweeted, asking people what I should bring to a tropical island, and received some great advice, though a few impractical ones (I knew as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t bring my KitchenAid mixer or food processor). In the end, I brought a large rubber spatula, a paring knife, a chef knife, a microplane zester and a digital thermometer.
Our second day here, our friend Brian (1 of the 3 aforementioned friends) had invited us up to the West Maui, where his Taiko drumming group was performing for an O-Bon festival, a traditional Japanese ceremony and dance. Not really having much else to do, we went, and watched as the Japanese Buddhists light candles and set them afloat into the sea for their ancestors. It was a moving beautiful affair and afterwards Brian taught us how to dance with the others who were there, as he drummed and sang in Japanese. I likened the experience to country line dancing, but Japanese style and more celebratory.
A couple of days later, after hanging out on the beach, we were invited to a local’s 4th of July Potluck party for the gays (okay, really we found the party online, but a person we met on the beach, who was going, totally said it was going to be fun so we took his word for it). We had hemmed and hawed about going as we didn’t really know anyone, but hey, how are we going to meet anyone if we just stay at home? So we ran to the store, picked up some supplies and I made the strawberry mango bars (along with another baked good that I’ll post about later on).
With all bars like these, I really needed to let them set up overnight in the fridge, but I didn’t have time, so they arrived at the party all sloppy and loose – much like some of the party goers, who had been there for a couple hours knocking back jello shots. Whether it was the jello shots, or the fact that the mango strawberry bars were tasty, the messiness didn’t stop people from scarfing them down. In fact, they seemed to be quite the hit, and whenever we introduced ourselves and someone found out I was the one who made the bars, inevitably they would exclaim “OMG. So YOU’RE the pastry chef! I heard that there was a pastry chef here. Those bars were so good…”
I tried to explain to people that I wasn’t a pastry chef, but after the third time it happened I gave up (I’m not sure who started the rumor that I was one, but I’m not going to complain). The host of the party was incredibly sweet and his house was amazing. Like AMAZING amazing. With an incredible view of South and West Maui, he and his partner retired in Maui a few years ago from Los Angeles and they built their place with a deck overlooking the ocean. The view they had was quite literally stunning. What a way to watch the sunset and celebrate Independence Day, with new friends and a month ahead of us, to relax and enjoy, full of promise for things to come…
Similar to a lemon bar, these mango strawberry bars really need a good chilling overnight. I wouldn’t bother dusting them with powdered sugar, as it will obscure the gorgeous neon colors that the mango and strawberry curd make, but I’ll leave it up to you. The hardest part of making these bars is that you have to cook the curd ahead of time, unlike a lemon bar where you can just pour the curd on uncooked and let the oven do the work. The reason you cook the curd ahead of time is so that the curd is thick enough to swirl together on top of the shortbread. Be sure to let the bars sit overnight in the fridge, or they’ll be a mess when you cut and serve them.
Strawberry Curd Filling
450 g (1 lb) strawberries, hulled and chopped fine
100 g (1 cup) white granulated sugar
2 large eggs
38 g (1/4 cup) all purpose flour
55 g (4 tablespoons) salted butter
Mango Curd Filling
450 g (1lb) Mango, about 1 medium mango, pit and skin removed and flesh chopped
100 g (1/2 cup) white granulated sugar
60 g (1/4 cup) fresh squeezed lemon juice, about 1 medium lemon
6 large egg yolks
1 large egg
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean
Macadamia Nut Shortbread
225 g (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose unbleached white flour
55 g (1/2 cup) confectioners’ sugar
170 g (1 1/2 sticks or 3/4 cup) salted butter (if you only have unsalted, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt) at room temperature
80 g (1/2 cup) Macademia nuts, roughly chopped to 1/4” pieces
1. Make the strawberry filling by combining the strawberries and sugar together and cooking them in a medium pot on high heat, until the strawberries start to fall apart. Remove from heat and move them to a nonreactive metal bowl snuggly fit over a pot with a small bit of water in it (make sure the bowl isn’t touching the water). Add the eggs and flour to the bowl and cook in the double boiler with the water simmering, continually whisking the strawberry curd until thick, about 6 to 8 minute. Remove from heat and press curd through a fine meshed sieve. Add the salted butter to it, stirring to melt and incorporate. Set aside to cool.
2. Make the mango filling by combining the mango and sugar together and cooking them in a medium pot on high heat, until the mangoes start to fall apart. Remove from heat and move them to a nonreactive metal bowl snuggly fit over a pot with a small bit of water in it (make sure the bowl isn’t touching the water). Add the lemon juice, egg yolks, egg, salt into the metal bowl. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the mixture. Cook in the double boiler with the water simmering, continually whisking the mango curd until thick, about 6 to 8 minutes or so. Remove from heat and press curd through a fine meshed sieve. Set aside to cool.
3. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Lightly coat a 9” x 13” baking pan with cooking spray, and then line with parchment paper, allowing for the paper to overhang by a few inches (the cooking spray will help the paper stick to the pan).
4. Place the flour into a medium size mixing bowl. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a bowl, breaking up any lumps. Using a wire balloon whisk, vigorously stir the flour and sugar together until they are evenly distributed. Cut up the butter into 1/4” cubes and sprinkle into the bowl. Using your hands, mix the flour and butter together, squeezing the butter and dry ingredients together until a smooth dough starts to form. Add the chopped macadamia nuts and squeeze them in by hand until evenly incorporated and you have a smooth dough.
5. Press the dough into the baking pan with the parchment paper. You want to spread the dough evenly on the bottom and up the sides ever so slightly (about 1/4” to 1/2” if you can). You can use the bottom of a flat drinking cup to just flatten out the dough all the way around to help facilitate even baking. Line the crust with parchment paper again, and then fill with dry beans, dry rice or pie weights if you have them. If you happen to be staying at a not as well equipped condo kitchen, you can do what I do, and put some old butter knives over the parchment paper to bake. Bake the crust in the oven for about 25 to 35 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown, rotating halfway through to make sure the crust bakes evenly.
6. Reduce the oven temperature to 300˚F. Remove the parchment paper (with the weights/knives inside) and then pour the mango curd onto the hot crust. Then spoon the strawberry curd on top of the mango curd randomly. Take a knife (make sure it’s a cold one, not the one you just baked in the oven) or the handle of a spoon or fork (because you might have forgotten to save a knife to do it, and had baked all of them) and swirl the curd around decoratively. Place back in the oven and bake for an additional 25 minutes or until the sides of the pan look dry and stiff, and only the center of the pan is a little wobbly (but not too much). Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight to set up.
7. Once the bars have set, grab the sides of the parchment paper and pull straight up and move the bars to a cutting board. Cut and serve to your new friends at a party and wait for the compliments to come in.