A Cure for Winter Blues: The Perfect Lime Pie

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I love a good key lime pie. Like, order yourself a separate slice if we're out to dinner because I love it so much, I'm eating a slice all on my own. Well, with winter now in full swing the great news is citrus is in! And that means limes and key limes! Although I love key limes, sometimes we can't find them at the store. And especially now, there simply are some gorgeous regular limes just begging to be used other than a supporting role in guacamole or cocktails. And so make pie!

For me, the perfect key lime pie is sweet and tart, with erring more on the side of tart than sweet. I HATE a key lime pie (or lime pie for that matter) that is super sweet and amlost devoid of all acid. That's lame. I love lemons and limes because they are also very sour, so I expect to have that balance there. And another thing that drives me just nuts is the texture. I hate when key lime pies melt and disintegrate before me into a globular mess that looks more like runny nose extract than key lime goodness. Conversely, I hate it when the pie is too stiff. A good key lime pie needs to be stiff enough to hold its shape but still smooth and velvety enough to melt in your mouth.

I strike the perfect balance here with this recipe. The sweetness is derived from the sweetened condensed milk that gives the filling both sweetness and body. The acid comes naturally from the limes, and is brought out by the small pinch of salt. The essence comes from a good hand of freshly grated lime zest. And the perfet texture is achieved from the addition of cream cheese and fresh cheese combo. I love using European style fresh cheese -- it's creamy and has a tangy flavor like yogurt but more dense like sour cream. You can use French creme fraiche (translates to "fresh cheese") or just European style is fine, and if you can't find it then just use sour cream. The end result is creamy, tangy, sour, sweet, firm, velvety, goodness that will be the perfect ending to your winter meal. I love serving such a dessert after a heavier winter meal like a stew or roast for a nice bright surprise. The pie can be made a full day in advance, but make sure to hold off on the whipped cream until just before serving!

Sweet-Tart Lime Pie
1 prepared graham cracker crust
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
2 Tbsp lime zest (1 large lime or 1 smaller limes)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp cream cheese
2 Tbsp Euoropean style fresh cheese such as creme fraiche (can substitute with sour cream)
whipped cream for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove packaging from the graham cracker crust if using store-bought, or prepare your own graham cracker crust from scratch. Place on a baking sheet and set aside.

Combine the condensed milk, lime zest, lime juice, salt, egg yolks, cream cheese, European style cheese (or sour cream/creme fraiche) in a large bowl. Whisk together until smooth by hand or using a handheld electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachments. Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust shell and bake in oven for 13-15 minutes or until filling is set. You know it's set when you try to giggle it and the middle of the pie doesn't shake anymore; if the middle is still trembling wen you giggle it then cook it a little bit longer.

Remove and let stand at room temperature 2 hours. Place pie in refrigerator and chill at least another hour, preferably overnight so pie is set and nicely cold. To serve, garnish wtih whipped cream and slice of fresh lime if desired.

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