Key Lime Goodness

Monday, January 11, 2010

Little. Tart. Green. Goodness. All applicable when describing the Key Lime. Also known as "Bartender's Lime" or "West Indian Lime," most of us know it as Key Lime, in reference to Key West in southern most Florida where their use in pie made the town famous.

Key limes are considerably smaller than the more common limes you find at the grocer store, being between 1 and 2 inches. They are tiny but packed with an unmistakable tart flavor that make them very popular in drinks and desserts where lime juice is the main ingredient.

Key limes are originally from southeast Asia, but made its way west vis-a-vis the Middle East, then Sicily and eventually into the Americas by way of Spanish conquistadors. The lime itself has a very thin rind, making them quite easy to juice, but be careful as they can also pack a surprising amount of seeds! They are actually ripest when they turn yellow-green.

Personally, I prefer to use regular limes (aka Persian limes) for vinaigrette, chimichurris, or other sauces and last minute squeezes. I do love key limes in cocktails and of course, key lime pie. They're also super cute to decorate a table with or use in a vase arrangement. You can usually find them in mid-winter.

Can you make key lime pie with regular limes? Of course you can, but don't call it key lime pie! Here's my recipe for a super fast and embarrassingly easy key lime pie that will be sure to brighten up any cold winter day or satisfy a sweet tooth on a sweltering summer night. If you can't find key limes, then just go ahead and substitute regular limes but add another tablespoon or so of juice to make up the tartness. The sweeter-than-usual whipped cream topping is a great punch of sweet to balance out the super tangy lime filling. Enjoy it!

Easy As Key Lime Pie
1 graham cracker store-bought pie crust (or make your own)
3 egg yolks
2 Tbs freshly grated key lime zest
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup freshly squeezed key lime juice (seeds discarded)
1 cup heavy cream
3 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Set aside your graham cracker pie crust (if it requires pre-baking before you fill it, then go ahead and do that now).

To make the filling, simply place the egg yolks and zest in a large mixing bowl. Whisk on high speed with a hand-held mixer (or use a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment) about five minutes, until the eggs are light and fluffy and creamy and thick. With the mixer on low speed, add the condense milk in a steady stream then return the speed back up to high and beat a few minutes more until the mixture is nice and thick. You're whipping air into the filling which helps to make it velvety and thick, so really do take your time here and switch hands if you get tired! Once thick, lower the mixer on medium speed and slowly add the lime juice in a steady stream. Beat about another minute or so until the juice is just combined.

Pour the filling into your pre-baked pie shell and bake in oven for 13 minutes. You want the filling to be set and firm with a teeny amount of jiggle when you move it. If the middle is very jiggly then bake it a few minutes more until the jiggle is no more. Don't brown the top!

Remove the pie from the oven and let cool at room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or over night so it gets nice and cold and the filling sets in perfectly.

Before serving, make the whipped topping.

Place the whipped cream, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (you can also use the hand-held mixer again). Whip on highest speed until firm peeks are achieved (meaning, the cream has stiffened to the point where you can hold it on the end of the beater and it doesn't fall off).

To frost the pie, either layer the whipped cream in one layer on top of the filling or using a piping bag, pipe a decorative pattern around the edges or around the entire top of the pie. Use as much or as little of the cream as you like. Garnish with freshly sliced lime and serve.

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