Key Lime Pie

Last November, I had a great holiday in Florida. Most of the time was spent in and around Miami Beach, taking in the sun and the art deco, but there was a trip down US1 to Key West. This truly is one of the great drives of the world – leave the skyscrapers of downtown Miami, through grassland, then you hit a road which traverses the Keys and seems at several stages just to float on the water. A really amazing trip. Key West was also fun for the night – completely different to Miami, more like a Caribbean town. I also had some of the best puttanesca sauce and lemon sorbet I have ever had.

The sea from the islands looked like this:

In the Keys, there is also a lot of Key Lime Pie, which was consumed with great enthusiasm in great quantities. This is made using the Key Lime, a smaller yellow version of the lime which has a sharper taste, which grows in the area. With the warm weather, I thought it would be good to make a Key Lime Pie. Now, I obviously don’t have easy access to Key Limes, but from my reading it seems that the result using the more familiar Persian Limes was equally good. So, it was off to the shops I went.

When I saw them in Florida, I also notice that there quite a bit of variation in the colour of the pies. Some were pale or creamy yellow, while others ranged from light to lurid green. Knowing that lime juice is pale green, I guessed that Key Lime Pie should be lighter in colour, and avoided the bright green versions. As it turns out, my hunch was right – the colour in the pie filling comes from the use of egg yolks, and to the extent there is any green, this comes from the use of lime zest. I had originally thought of adding a little natural green food dye, but I thought better of it. I also made another tweak – rather than using digestives, I used ginger nut biscuits – a little more crunch, nicer flavour, more texture, and a beautiful brown colour. This change is also nice if you make a lemon cheesecake.

I also found that there were different versions of the pie – some bake it (causing the egg yolks to cook and set the pie), while others do not need to be cooked, relying on a reaction between the acidic lime juice and the egg yolks to set the pie. If you are confident about the provenance of your eggs, by all means use this second version, but I played it safe with a recipe that required the pie to go into the oven. Just my preference!

The result was superb – this pie sets perfectly, while still being rich and creamy, and is really bright and fresh. It was a pale yellow colour, and had a vibrant, intense lime flavour. Serve this chilled or at least cool, so that on a hot day, it makes a perfect dessert at the end of a summer meal.

For the Key Lime Pie:

• 250g ginger nut biscuits (or digestive biscuits), finely crushed.
• 90g unsalted butter
• 4 medium or 3 large egg yolks
• zest of 4 limes
• 400g tin of condensed milk (the thick, sweet stuff)
• 150ml fresh lime juice (4-5 limes)

For the crust: preheat the oven to 180°C. Melt the butter, and combine with the biscuit crumbs. Use to line a loose-bottomed flan dish (mine was 21cm diameter), covering the bottom and sides. You might not use all of the crumb mixture, as you want it to be relatively thin. Pat down and smooth the crumbs with the back of a spoon, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

For the filling: whisk the egg yolks and zest until creamy and lighter in colour (1-2 minutes). Add the condensed milk, and whisk until light and creamy (3-4 minutes). Finally, add the lime juice and stir until combined and slightly thick.

Pour the filling into the pie crust, and put back into the oven for 20 minutes. The pie should not colour, and is done when the filling feels just set when you press lightly on the centre. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then place the cooled pie into the fridge until needed.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a slice of lime.

Worth making? Yes. This pie recipe worked really well and was easy to make. No messing around with pastry, and the filling is simple to make. It can also be prepared well ahead of time and left to cool (and indeed, benefits from this). I would happily make this again.

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Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

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