I don't consider myself a baker. As a matter of fact, I had never made any desserts (other than crepes, but I usually fill them with ham and cheese) up until a couple of years ago. The reason is simple- I'm not a fan of sweets. I will eat a light fruit dessert, but I seldom have a sweet tooth. When I tell this to people, usually their first reaction is to ask me if I'm kidding.
Growing up, I was the odd kid for not liking chocolate and sweets. When I got candy for Easter, Christmas or other special occasions from relatives and friends, I would just save them in my drawer and later trade them for fruit or sell them so that I could buy savory things. My sister was OK with this as she always got to eat my piece of cake. We fought a lot as kids, but it was never over dessert.
The situation hasn't changed much to this day, except now my girlfriend gets to eat all the chocolate and sweets in the house. Desserts are never a topic that we argue about. In her book, no dinner is complete without something sweet at the end. She doesn't have a sweet tooth, but rather a sweet megalodon.
As you might have guessed key lime pie isn’t exactly a dessert I had growing up in Eastern Europe. I first tasted it a few years ago and instantly liked it. The creamy texture of the filling combined with the crunchiness of the crust was something that got my attention. I found it to be my type of dessert- not too sweet, tart, and with an added citrus kick from the lime zest.
Although I knew that I found my favorite American dessert, It never actually crossed my mind to try making it on my own, thinking that it required some sort of special baking skills. Also, I feel like baking leaves me with little room for creativity. Baking is chemistry and bakers are very precise, something that I can't say about myself even though I'm an engineer. If you mess up the ratios in a cake recipe it is very likely that your dessert is either going to look like crap or taste like crap, if not both. Neither scenario is encouraging to me.
It was just this year that I made my first key lime pie. The inspiration came when we were visiting Roni's mom while she was recovering from surgery. I was warned that her sister would bring a key lime pie. THE key lime pie, as her family refers to it. What I wasn't warned about was that the pie would disappear within the blink of an eye. Suddenly I realized how different my life would've been, had I actually liked sweets as a kid. It would have been a struggle having to fight over every piece of dessert with my sister in the same way I now had to fight with Roni's family to get a bite of THE pie.
"I can totally make one of these”, I caught myself saying aloud and then started to browse the internet for recipes. I studied recipe after recipe and to my surprise none of them sounded that difficult. Why had I been so scared about baking it? This particular time I was scared because I have the bad habit of talking before thinking and found myself promising my girlfriend's family to match THE pie both in taste and presentation.
And I did! I did match it and honestly think that I topped it. It wasn't easy, but by no means was it difficult.
I prefer to use key limes (obviously), because I feel like they are less tart and a tad more bitter and smoother than the Persian ones. If it's difficult for you to get a hold of them, use regular Persian ones, but maybe reduce the amount of lime juice to 3/4 of a cup, unless you like your pie really tart.
My twist to the traditional recipe is the use of two secret ingredients: sea salt and walnuts. They will make the crust even crunchier adding more texture to the pie. The crust will contrast well with the smooth and creamy filling and the fluffiness of the meringue.
KEY LIME PIE WITH WALNUTS, SEA SALT AND MERINGUE
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
- 1 1/2 cup graham crackers
- 1/2 cup English walnuts
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
- 3-4 egg yolks (pasture raised)
- 1 TBS lime zest
- 20 oz condensed milk
- 15-20 key limes, juiced (about 1 cup)
- 3-4 egg whites
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt (a pinch)
- 1/2 TBS lime zest
- 1 TBS lemon juice
- 2-3 TBS white sugar
- Preheat oven to 375F (190C).
- Whiz the graham crackers and walnuts in a food processor. In a bowl mix the crumbled crackers and walnuts, brown sugar and sea salt. Slowly add melted butter and mix well until the crumbs are evenly coated.
- Press mixture firmly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie dish. Put it in the oven to bake for about 12 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let it cool to room temperature. Don't worry too much if it doesn't look cooked yet, as it will return to the oven soon.
- Lower the heat in the oven to 340F (170C).
- In a separate bowl combine egg yolks and lime zest. Beat the mixture until the eggs become thick. Pour in the condensed milk and whisk for about 2-3 minutes. Finally add the lime juice and mix until well blended and smooth (another 2-3 minutes).
- Pour the filling into the cooled crust to the top edge. Return the pie to the oven and cook for not more than 10-12 minutes.
- In the meantime, mix egg whites, salt, lime zest and lemon juice in a bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until foamy. Turn the mixer on high and slowly pour in the sugar. Beat until stiff and glossy peaks form. A good test to see if they are stiff enough is to slowly turn the bowl sideways or upside down without the meringue slipping out.
- Remove the pie from the oven then raise the heat to 375F (190C) again. Cover the pie with the meringue and return it to the oven for about 8 more minutes until the peaks become golden brown.
- Allow the pie cool down to room temperature then chill it in the refrigerator for about 2-3 hours. Serve cold and enjoy!