Saturday, January 12, 2008

(Key) Lime Pie

When is a pie not a pie? When it is a tart, of course. I have never really understood why certain American desserts are called pies. To me, a pie has a lid. Either of pastry or potato usually. For me, anything without a lid is surely a tart? I checked on wikipedia for the definitive answer and it looks as though I am half right but also half wrong. That's ok. I need to learn to be less pernickety about these things.

I have an aunt who lives in South-West Florida, on the Gulf coast. I visit her every couple of years and always look forward to the wonderful fresh fish and great restaurants in her area. Her proximity to the Keys means there is often a hint of the Caribbean in the cooking around her parts too. It also means that my favourite dessert is on almost all restaurant menus. I just adore Key Lime Pie. In fact, I am borderline obsessive about it. Each visit I make it my mission to track down THE Key lime pie to beat all Key lime pies. My aforementioned pernickety nature comes into full swing in this task (I'm a Virgo, after all). My search for creamy lime perfection knows no bounds. At the end of my last visit I was feeling unsatisfied - I hadn't had a really 'great' pie during the whole visit. With just moments to spare before I was due to head for security at the airport, I ducked into one of Miami's top airport hotels, took myself to the restaurant and ordered a slice. I wolfed it down whilst watching the planes taxi-ing on the the runway. It was one of the best to date!

I have never attempted to re-create my favourite dessert. There are several good reasons for this. Firstly, a fairly major spanner in the works is the lack of Key lime availability over here. Key limes are different to the regular Persian limes that we get over here. They are smaller and have a more yellow skin. They taste a little different too with a higher acidity. Sadly, they have a very short season and you just can't get them over here. You can buy bottled Key lime juice, but it just doesn't seem quite right to me. I want the real deal.

Second problem is the crust. It just has to be a Graham Cracker crust. Whatever wikipedia may tell me, I am just not prepared to concede to the claim that this biscuit is like a digestive biscuit. It is most definitely different. Available in some specialist stores this side of the pond, they are not exactly easy to come by.

So, for years, I have lived an unsatisfied life. Unable to indulge in my favourite dessert without a seven hour flight to Florida. Probably better for my waistline this way (which, trust me, needs all the help it can get).

However, on Thursday, I had a change of heart. I needed to make a dessert to take to a winetasting I was hosting last night. I decided I'd have a stab at the pie of my dreams despite the lack of the two 'key' ingredients ( what I did there with the 'Key')! I struggled to find a recipe that looked right - some piled meringue on top (wrong), some smothered it with cream (double wrong). To me, Key lime pie should be pure, simple unadulterated sweet and creamy limey interior and crunchy crust. No embellishments are needed. Sweetened condensed milk is an essential ingredient. As, I suspect, are eggs. Plus something to make the crust crunchy.

I (perhaps foolishly) eshewed the various Floridian recipes that I found. I couldn't get the exact ingredients so decided it was better to go with a British recipe that compensated for the lack of correct ingredients. It was Delia, in the end, who looked most promising on the subject. She soothed my lime-induced fears, assuring me that other varieties of lime would do just as well. Crucially, she added grape nuts to the crust for added crunch. Sounded like a winning formula! I got busy, squeezing those limes.

I followed her recipe pretty much to the T. I find it hard not to dabble though and so did throw a little ground ginger into the base too. I considered using ginger nuts for the base, as in my Jamaican crunch recipe, but I changed my mind as I wanted to be as close to the original as possible. Ginger doesn't usually feature in a Key lime pie, so I'd add only a smidge to mine.

How did it turn out, I hear you ask? Good question. Was my dessert nirvana achieved? I'm sad to report, not quite. It was good. It seemed to go down very well with those who ate it. There were lots of clean plates. But (with the exception of one), they hadn't tasted the real McCoy. It was a delicious pie. But it wasn't a Key lime pie. It lacked the proper tang of my dream pie. Perhaps next time I'd add more lime juice, or perhaps the juice of a lemon or two, to up the acidity. The grape nuts sure made the base crunchy, but I thought a little too crunchy. It was also very... yellow. I used organic eggs with very yellow yolks - I guess that is why. The pie of my dreams is paler and creamier. Perhaps less eggy. I'm just not sure.

Anyway, the fact remains that this is a delicious dessert that I'd make again. I'll just call it 'lime tart' perhaps...

For the original version of Delia's recipe, click here. My version follows here...

(Key) Lime Tart

Serves 8

For the base -

100g butter

175g digestive biscuits

50g grape nuts

1 teaspoon of ground ginger

For the filling -

1 tablespoon of finely grated lime zest (around 3 limes)

Juice of 5 large limes

3 large egg yolks

1 large tin condensed milk (397g)

1. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Bash up the biscuits, either in a plastic bag with a rolling pin, or in a food processor. Tip into a bowl with the grape nuts and ginger and mix together.

2. Melt the butter and pour into the biscuit mix. Stir until evenly coated.

3. Press into a loose-bottomed 9 inch flan tin. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes until crisp and golden.

4. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Add the lime zest to the egg yolks and whisk with an electric handwhisk until thickened (around 2 minutes). Add the condensed milk and whisk for a further 4 minutes. Finally, add the lime juice and whisk briefly to mix.

5. Pour the filling into the biscuit base and then bake in the oven for 20 minutes until just set. Lightly press a finger in the centre to check. Be careful not to overcook. It shouldn't brown in any way.

6. Remove from oven and cool. Cover with cling film and chill until needed - it should be served chilled and not straight from the oven. Decorate with a little creme fraiche, if you wish. And maybe a little strip of lime zest (not lemon as in my pictures - I ran out of limes!).


Wendy said...

I'm really not a dessert person at all but I LOVE Key Lime Pie. It's not too sweet and perfectly sour. Bookmarking this recipe now!

Rosie said...

Oooh what a lovely lime pie, I adore citrus flavours and this one sounds delicious :D

Rosie x

Cakelaw said...

I love a good citrus tart - will have to try this.

Truffle said...

I haven't tried the original but yours looks and sounds delicious!

Kevin said...

Your lime tart looks good. I do not think that I have ever seen "key" limes...

Johanna said...

Looks pretty good to me - anything with condensed milk and limes attracts me - v interesting to hear about key lime pies as I have never really understood them - I was just at the market at lunchtime looking at limes for 25c each (or 10p each) - pretty amazing but not key limes I think!

Antonia said...

Wendy - I wish I could say that I wasn't a dessert person! I have a horribly sweet tooth... Glad I could tempt you with this one though!

Rosie - I love citrus too, especially for puddings. Delicious!

Cakelaw - thank you for stopping by! Do give it a try, it is a good one.

Truffle - This was delicious. Not quite as good as the real thing, but pretty good all the same.

Kevin - I don't think that Key limes make it outside of Florida. I've certainly only seen them there. Thanks for stopping by.

Johanna - yes, I love condensed milk too. That seems a great price for limes. Key limes look a bit different - they are smaller and have an almost yellow skin. Thanks for stopping by.

Falco said...

Great fan of Key Lime Pie. I use a mix of gingernut biscuits and digestives for the base and like to add more lime, (cheek succingly sour is not to everyone's taste but I like it).