I love citrusy desserts, especially when they retain a bit of that tart citrus bite. Lemon meringue pie, lemon curd, lemon-poppyseed muffins, and of course, Key lime pie.
Key lime pie is everywhere here in Florida, and (as of 2006) is actually our official state pie. (I guess it was a slow week in Tallahassee.)
Key limes differ slightly from regular limes. They are significantly smaller (a little smaller than a walnut), have a thinner skin, and are slightly more sour. They grow on bushy, thorny trees, which means they aren't widely farmed, and outside of Florida, are hard to find. (Heck, they're hard to find even in Florida- here your best bet is to befriend someone with a tree in their yard.)
If you don't have access to Key limes, regular limes are perfectly acceptable. However, that juice that comes from those little plastic limes is not! Juice your own limes- it builds character!
A good Key lime pie has a silky, creamy texture that is perfectly complimented by its bright tartness. It tastes like summertime- you can take a bite, close your eyes and imagine you've just gotten back from the beach. As delicious and decedant as it is, Key lime pie is remarkably easy to make- there's no baking (except the crust, and honestly, graham cracker crust is just about the easiest thing in the world to make) and only a few simple ingredients- egg yolks, condensed milk and lime juice. (Some recipes use lime zest, too, but I like my pie filling to be silky smooth.) The pie is rested overnight, and during that time, the egg yolks are actually cooked by the acid from the lime juice. I like mine topped with whipped cream, but meringue is equally authentic, though somewhat less common.
Key lime pie is naturally yellow- Key limes have yellow juice and the egg yolks boost the color. Traditionally, the pie is left yellow. Sometimes, depending on my mood, I'll add a few drops food color (as the purists cringe).
Being that there are only three ingredients, Key lime pie recipes don't really vary much. Oh, and one more note- the acid in citrus juice will eat away at aluminum pans, bowls and utensils, making your pie taste like metal. Be sure to use stainless steel, glass or plastic.
Key Lime Pie
Makes one 9" pie
4oz crushed graham crackers (about 16-17 crackers)
2oz melted butter
4 egg yolks
1 can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk
2/3c fresh squeezed lime juice
Few drops green food color (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Press into a 9" pie pan, bringing crust up the sides (I like to use glass for citrus pies). Bake for about 10-15 minutes, until just lightly golden.
In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks to break. Add the condensed milk and whisk to combine. Add the lime juice a little at a time (if you dump it in all at once, it's hard to mix in, since the milk and egg mixture is so thick). Add food color, if using. Pour filling into the pie crust. Refrigerate overnight.
To serve, top with whipped cream and decorate with lime slices.