When you’re at your wit’s end with winter—ready to send your scarf through the paper shredder at work; shuddering at the term “root vegetable”; shaking the very last penny out of your piggy bank in order to book a one-way ticket to Maui—do this: take a deep breath, slowly back away from the Orbitz “buy now” button, say no to the shredder and make yourself a Key lime pie.
With one bite—one silken, puckery, refreshing bite—you’ll be transported, if only mentally, to the kind of place where palm fronds swish in the breeze, where socks are a distant memory, and where you will recall that you actually love root vegetables and can’t wait to eat them again next winter. A slice of Key lime pie, you see, is a little bit like blinding sunshine—nestled right in a nubbly graham cracker crust. And, in these last gasps of winter, that is nothing to sneeze at.
So gather up a bag of key limes, a can of sweetened condensed milk and some graham crackers and you’ll be halfway to summer. For a pie that’s a kissing cousin of lemon meringue pie, key lime pie is a heck of a lot easier to make. Forget weepy meringues and needy pate brisee. All you need is a little elbow grease for juicing the limes (and patience; those suckers are small). Aside from that, it’s a snap.
Grind up some graham crackers in the food processor and swirl in a bit of melted butter, some sugar and a pinch of salt. Press that heavenly mixture into the bottom of a pie plate—flat against the bottom and up the sides of the plate.
While the crust is baking, whisk together the eggs and milk until the mixture is smooth and a little reminiscent of eggnog (Shame on me! We’re trying to escape winter, not harken back to December! Still, the resemblance is uncanny.). Whisk in the lime juice and zest, which will give you a pale green (SJP might call it “barely mint”) cream, speckled with threads of zest.
Pour the mixture into the pie shell—and enjoy this part, the way the filling falls in broad, lazy ribbons—and bake it up. All that’s left is the hard part: waiting.
It’s got to cool and chill for at least a few hours, but when it has, it will have been worth the wait, I promise. Just as I’m sure the wait for winter’s end will seem worthwhile, once we get that first perfect spring day.
Key Lime Pie
Adapted from Gourmet
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs from 9 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
pinch of salt
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
zest of two Key limes
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed, strained Key lime juice
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, butter and salt in a bowl with a fork until combined well, then press mixture evenly onto bottom and up side of a 9-inch (4-cup) glass pie plate.
Bake crust in middle of oven 10 minutes and cool in pie plate on a rack. Leave oven on.
Make filling and bake pie:
Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until combined well. Add juice, zest and whisk until combined well (mixture will thicken slightly).
Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes. Cool pie completely on rack (filling will set as it cools), then chill, covered, at least 8 hours.
* The one quibble with the recipe was the crust-to-filling ratio—the amount of filling left the pie only about half full. To fix this, you could probably almost double the filling. That said, I kind of liked the more restrained, thin layer of filling. It was more a visual thing, than a taste thing.