Wednesday, April 6, 2011

ingredient: KEY LIMES

In 1492, Columbus brought mayhem to Hispaniola. He also brought key limes. When Spanish settlers continued north, they carried their limes and frankly bad attitudes to Florida. As time passed, the fruit flourished so well in the very southern islands of Florida that they received a new moniker: Key Limes.

Key limes are smaller and have a thinner skin than “regular” Persian limes. They're harvested young to preserve their unique tart flavor. It’s this tart, bright taste that makes key limes perfect for cooking, perhaps most famously in Key Lime Pie.

Growing up in the North East I had few encounters with Key Lime Pie. Mostly I’d see it in the glass pie case at old school style diners, where it was an appropriately 80’s shade of neon green and sported some kind of whipped cream trim. I never partook. (I can't help it: I hate whipped cream.) So it wasn't until recently that I realized that real Key Lime Pie is not green but yellow, that it's often topped with meringue not whipped cream, or, most importantly, that Key Lime Pie has a marvelously sweet tart flavor and a cool, creamy filling. Even eaten outside of a diner, Key Lime Pie still feels like a sort of retro dessert. But it's also an adult dessert. The acidity of key limes is pleasurable to the mature palate, and come to think of it, it'd go especially well in a daiquiri.

Key Lime Bars

Hello. My name is Carrie and I’m addicted to cookbooks. If you see my name on gmail at 2 am, you can bet I’m trolling Amazon or Barnes and Noble, clicking through titles, reading reviews, and probably breaking down and purchasing one or two little known gems. I’ll admit that sometimes when the package arrives in the mail, I'll tear open the brown cardboard and as I stare at my purchase I'm unable to remember what induced me to buy Mmmm…Casseroles or The Pretzel Cookbook: A New Twist on Everyone's Favorite Snack. Obviously there was some reason I had to have Don't Fill Up on the Antipasto: Tony Danza's Father-Son Cookbook. Right?

It was on one such recent cookbook bender that I purchased The Florida Keys Cookbook: Recipes and Foodways of Paradise. This time it wasn’t just my late night, tropical dreams or a burst of sun-starved madness. I've become interested in regional American cuisine and thanks to this book I’ve actually learned a lot of interesting things about the history of the Florida Keys. As a stop-over between the Southern States and South America, the food in the Keys is a hybrid of Southern, Cuban, and Caribbean food. Many of the recipes look delicious (Key Lime Cheesecake, Mango Bread) though others (Island Beef Stroganoff, Conch Ice Cream) less so.

I’m currently enjoying my last few days of a much needed, highly enjoyable trip to sunny California, where the tropical flavors of the Florida Keys were brought to mind. Without my new cookbook on hand, I had to search the internet for a recipe. In the end I decided to wait on Key Lime Pie and make Key Lime Bars instead. They were just what I hoped (especially after visiting three stores to find key limes.) The filling is smooth and sweet-tart. It has a crunchy meringue topping and a rich, buttery cookie crust with just a hint of salt. Despite the crust, these bars were light and almost refreshing. And let me warn you now, that's a dangerous flavor profile to have in a dessert.

adapted from Down Home with the Neely's: A Southern Family Cookbook

Makes aprox 15 bars


1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt

4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus two tablespoons fresh key lime juice
2 teaspoons key lime zest, grated

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 by 13 inch baking pan.

Make the crust:

In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the salt and the flour and beat until well combined, about one minute. Dough will be slightly sticky. Dip your hands in flour then press dough evenly across bottom of baking pan. Bake until just turning golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let crust cool to room temperature.

Make The Topping:

In a large bowl, beat together eggs and sugar until well combined, about two minutes. Beat in flour until evenly incorporated, then lime juice and zest. Pour topping over cooled crust.

Bake until the key lime mixture is set, about 25 minutes. The filling will continue to harden as it cools.

Let bars cool completely before cutting into squares.

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