our favorite key lime pie
Pardon the cliche here, friends, but the last few weeks of 2018 are flying right on by me while I wave from the side of the road. It’s been all I can do to keep my wits about me while getting places (almost) on time. On nights with no plans, I lean all the way into the hunker down vibes and leave the house only when I have to.
It’s actually been really nice because we recently turned a corner with our apartment setup, and it finally feels like home. (Another cliche but true, 2.5 years into living here no less.) Things will continue to evolve the longer we stay but it feels settled as is. And with the Christmas tree up and new tchotchkes from our recent trips on the walls and shelves, staying in just feels right. Hosting is my new favorite excuse to try something new and a little indulgent. It’s admittedly easier than ever because we won the neighbor lotto, and walking across the hall is all it takes to have a low key dinner party situation where not a single person has to leave the building. But I’m pretty much trying to convince everyone else I know to come to me until further notice too.
I make it worth it, though. When Shannon and Andrew came over for dinner the other night I decided on a whim to make this good looking and even-better tasting key lime pie. For dinner I’d planned the “We’re Here, We’re Gruyere, Get Used to It” burger from the Bob’s Burgers Cookbook, with tater tots and roasted kale for good measure. And what’s better at the end of a borderline hedonistic meal of cheesy, crunchy, umami realness than a slightly sweet, perfectly tart *chef kiss* of pie? Literally nothing. I’m not saying anyone would ever turn down a brownie, but after we collectively swan dove into this pie, nobody was thinking about chocolate.
It does a better job than any key lime pie I’ve ever met of balancing of tart, sweet, and creamy, the KLP trinity. In part, that’s thanks to swapping out some of the butter in the crust for coconut oil. It makes the texture of the crust more crisp and gives the flavor more oomph without actually making it taste like coconut, similar to the way coffee in chocolate cake makes it taste more chocolatey. (In case you need proof on that: Cos h8s coconut in sweets and he didn’t notice it all at.) Adding a little creme fraiche or sour cream to the whipped topping lightens it up with a tiny bit of tang, but not to the point that it competes with the tartness of the lime custard. Which, by the way, is flecked with zest and made with sweetened condensed milk, only the most swoonable pie ingredient of all time.
If you’re looking for a dessert to make for an upcoming party or celebratory meal, my vote goes to this one. It’s classic but also fresh and interesting, and it makes for a nice change of pace from all the sticky sweet flavors that come with the season. Maybe even bake it as a congratulations to yourself for another year well-lived, because I promise whether you feel like it or not, you’re doing amazing sweetie!
Our Favorite Key Lime Pie, inspired by lots of googling with maj hat tips to Alison Roman’s recipe for Jen’s Key Lime Pie
Serves 6, but 4 dinner guests could absolutely take the whole thing down.
10 graham crackers (one sleeve plus a few more)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 pinches kosher salt
2 tablespoons coconut oil
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
Zest of two limes, plus more for garnish
3 large egg yolks
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
⅔ cup fresh lime juice (about 8 regular limes)
1 cup heavy cream
⅓ to ½ cup creme fraiche or sour cream
2 to 4 tablespoons confectioners sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Make the crust: Using either a food processor or your hands, grind the graham crackers until they are a coarse crumb. If using your hands, make sure that no crumbs are larger than a lentil. [I took AR’s suggestion of using my hands and did really enjoy the texture of the non-uniformly ground crumbs, but it legit hurt my hands. Then again, it was nice to not lug out the food processor. Choose your own adventure.] Once ground, add the salt, sugar, and melted coconut oil and butter. You can also melt them right in the bowl of crumbs. Mix well, until all crumbs are moist, like wet sand. Press the crumbs into a 9-inch pie plate and bake until the crust starts to brown around the edges, 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Make the filling: Zest two limes into a large bowl. Drop in the egg yolks and whisk vigorously until they are pale and ribbony, 3 minutes. Add the sweetened condensed milk and continue whisking for another 3 minutes, or until the mixture is light and airy. Then add the lime juice and whisk until smooth. Pour the filling into the partially baked (and cooled) crust and return it to the oven to bake for another 15 to 20 minutes. Our oven takes 20-22 minutes, but start checking at 15 minutes. You don’t want the top to brown at all. A mostly set top with a barely jiggly center is perfect. Allow the pie to cool completely before adding the whip topping, overnight if you’ve got the time.
When you’re ready to serve, make the cream topping: In a large bowl, whip the cream and 2 tablespoons of confectioners sugar until it forms medium peaks (ie, stands up on the end of a whisk). Add ⅓ cup creme fraiche and whip until well incorporated. Taste it and decide whether it tastes too tangy or not tangy enough, and whether it could stand being a little more sweeter. To increase the tang add more creme fraiche, a dollop at a time; to balance the tang add more sugar, a tablespoon at a time. Don’t be worried about it being too sweet because the pie is quite tart; just make the topping taste good. Slather it on and garnish with more lime zest. (Grated white chocolate is great too if you have some laying around.)