Monday, March 1, 2010

Key Lime Pie

Key lime pie is one of those quirky desserts that people either love or hate. The color is always a topic of lively conversation because it’s naturally an off-yellow color, but is often colored green from added food coloring. True Key limes are generally expensive, time consuming to prepare (you need about 48 for this recipe – 12 times the cost of regular limes). They’re also not readily available. Fortunately, regular limes make fine pie and are preferable to bottled Key lime juice.
If you’d like a tarter pie, add more zest. I recently made 5 key lime pies, and I was surprised at the difference in tartness among them. The only ingredient that changed was the amount of zest, which I didn’t measure, but only eyeballed. If you really, really, care, the best way to come out with a pie that tastes the same time after time, is to weigh the amount of zest you add. Even measuring it in a tablespoon will be variable, because zest can get packed down.

You can also change the texture of the pie depending on how you handle the ingredients.  I like a firmer pie, so I beat the ingredients on a lower speed and for less time.  The directions for a fluffier variation follow, as does the recipe for a lower fat version.

Makes 10 servings

Graham Cracker Crust
5 ounces of graham crackers (about 10-12 crackers or 1-1/2 cups crushed graham crackers)
3 - 4 tablespoons sugar, to taste
5 - 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Lime Filling
3 large egg yolks + 1 egg white or an additional yolk
1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh lime juice

Green food coloring, optional

3/4 cup whipping cream, whipped to stiff peaks with powdered sugar to taste (1-3 tablespoons is common -1/4 teaspoon of vanilla is optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with a rack in the center of the oven. Lightly butter a 9-inch pie plate.

For the crust:
Grind the cookies and sugar in a food processor until finely ground, or place the cookies in a large plastic bag and roll over them with a rolling pin. Place the cookie crumbs in a bowl and stir in the sugar, if it isn’t already mixed in. Add  5 tablespoons butter to the crumbs, stirring with a fork to moisten them. Add more butter, as necessary to just hold the crumbs together when pressed with your fingers (the exact amount will depend on the cookies used and how you grind them).\

Pour the crumbs into the pie plate. Press the crumbs into the pie plate, forming the sides by pressing up with the back of the hand and then thinning and packing it down with the thumb and forefinger.  This will also tell you how thick the crust is, and will allow you to even it out.  To finish, press down very firmly on the bottom crust, either with th back of your fist or a flat-bottomed glass.

Bake the graham cracker crust for about 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

In a medium mixer bowl, place the yolks, egg white and zest. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, or until well blended. On medium-low, beat in the condensed milk.  Beat in the lime juice a little at a time (it will start to thicken as you add the juice). If you are unhappy with the color, add a tiny drop of green food coloring.

Pour the lime filling into the crust. Bake until the center is set, 15- 20 minutes. Let the pie cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 3 hours.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Garnish the pie with the whipped cream, either spreading it over the entire pie, piping it into a design, or spooning cream onto each serving.

To make a richer, creamier pie, follow the above directions, but beat the egg yolks (no white) until fluffy (2-3 minutes), beat in the condensed milk for 3-4 minutes and then beat in the lime juice, a little at a time,  on low. Bake at 325 degrees F. until set.

To make lower fat key lime pie, use non-fat sweetened condensed milk and only ¼ cup of whipped cream, piped thinly over the pie.

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