Friday, December 17, 2010

Key Lime Pie

I know what you're thinking, this post seems a little out of season, right? Well, it is. But, over Thanksgiving I visited my grandmother in Florida and she has a great key lime tree in her backyard. Most of the key limes end up going to waste, so before leaving we went crazy and picked enough to fill a large trash bag. It was time to make my first ever key lime pie.

A little background: key limes are smaller than your average lime and have thinner rinds and a stronger aroma. They are known for their tart and bitter flavor, which is what gives key lime pie its distinctive tang. Traditional key lime pies are made with condensed milk and topped with meringue and cannot be refrigerated, but some newer variations use fresh milk or cream and are served cold. I prefer my key lime pie chilled, so I looked for a recipe with a whipped cream topping instead of meringue (because meringue is made with egg whites, it cannot be refrigerated).

Key limes are yellow when ripe, but are typically picked when green

Martha Stewart has a great cookbook dedicated to pies and tarts that contains two key lime pie recipes, one of which is made with cream and must be refrigerated. This recipe is pretty minimal and doesn't require a lot of time, which I appreciate. The down side is her recipes aren't always accessible to beginners, so I tried to make my instructions more detailed.

A couple of tips: first, make sure not to get any egg whites in the filling. They will form solid white chunks when you heat the mixture. If this happens, try to pick out as many chunks as possible, you don't want those in your pie. Secondly, give the pie plenty of time to chill. The recipe suggests 24 hours, but I found the pie tasted better after the second and third day than after the first, so don't be afraid to let it sit in the fridge for a while.

A key lime from my grandmother's tree

Once again, a big thank you to my fabulous photographer sister, Shelby.
Bon appetit!

Key Lime Pie
Serves 6-8 
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp granulated sugar
Dash of salt

1/3 cup fresh key lime juice
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 tsp freshly-grated key lime rind
2 1/4 cups heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 375° F. To make the crumbs, put graham crackers into a food processor and process until fine (or you can do it by hand). Add the rest of the ingredients for the crust and mix well. Press mixture into a buttered 8-inch pie plate and bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

In the top of a double boiler, combine the egg yolks, sugar and lime juice. Cook the mixture over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, until it coats the back of a spoon (i.e. a spoon dipped in the mixture and removed should be covered in a thin film and running a finger through the film should leave a clear path).

The white chunks are egg whites that got mixed in with the yolks. Try to avoid this.

Remove from the heat and stir in the grated rind. Pause to enjoy the yummy lime smell. Chill until the mixture thickens, but do not let it become stiff. I left mine in the fridge for about 30 minutes, but I think it could have stayed in longer. Use your discretion.

Whip 1 1/2 cups of cream in an electric mixer until it forms soft peaks (When you lift the head of the mixer out of the bowl, the cream should form a small curved peak that will fall over on itself. If the peak stands straight and does not fall over on itself, it is called a stiff peak). Fold into lime filling. Spoon mixture into the prepared crust and chill, covered, for 24 hours (or more). To serve, whip the remaining cream until it forms stiff peaks and decorate. I used a pastry bag, but a plastic bag works just as well. Just clip off the corner of a plastic bag and you're good to go!

Source: Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts

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