It’s rare that when I’m researching a dish or writing up a recipe I become panicked that I might find myself at the sharp end of a legal suit.
It’s not like I’m dealing with terribly contentious issues on a regular basis writing as the Vintage Chef (although even I was surprised at the amount of vitriol levelled against the humble battenberg recently by an online crowd of marzipan deniers).
So I was somewhat panicked when I spotted a note on a history of the key lime pie which stated that in 1965 Bernie Papy Jr, a Florida representative, had brought forward a bill for a $100 fine to be levied against anyone who advertised a key lime pie made without key limes. I eyed my non-key limes nervously.
You see, the key limes which give their name to this pie are exceptionally difficult to get hold of in the UK, but this hasn’t slowed my craving for a key lime pie. Fear not, the bill failed, and my blood pressure is slowly returning to normal.
Key limes are found in Florida Keys in the US, and are smaller than the limes we tend to use in the UK. Views vary as to how they differ taste-wise, but there is general agreement that thau are less astringent than our usual variety, and both a little more bitter and a little more floral. To account for this complexity, when I sub in ‘normal’ limes, I use the zest as well as the juice, which holds the aromatic oils inside the lime’s skin.
Key lime pie is the official pie of the state of Florida (which, of course, is a thing in the US, where they take their pies very, very seriously). It is a little like a cheesecake in taste and design, only without the cheese. Instead, it uses sweetened condensed milk, tooth-achingly sweet and sticky. The anti tarte au citron, it is much sweeter, and less shockingly citrus than the elegant French pastry – perhaps more of a crowd pleaser. It’s sometimes found in a traditional pie crust, but I’ve leaned into the speed and ease of the filling, and gone with something a little simpler: a biscuit crust.
Graham crackers tend to be the biscuit of choice in the pie’s homeland; we have no direct equivalent here, the crackers falling somewhere between a digestive biscuit and a hobnob. I use hobnobs because I love their nubbly texture and salty-sweet flavour, which gives a little balance to the rich interior.
The biscuits are crushed and combined with melted butter, pressed into a tin and baked just long enough to give the crust it depth and crunch. It is then topped with a mixture of condensed milk, egg yolks and lime juice, mixed together to combine and thicken. A brief spell in the oven, and your work is done. The dish is served chilled, which makes it perfect for a no-fuss do-ahead summery pudding. A punchy amount of juice and zest cuts through the sweet, sticky condensed milk, and it sets into a cool, smooth tart, somewhere between a baked and no-bake cheesecake.
Traditionally, the pie is topped with a little softly whipped cream, but to be honest, I don’t think it needs it. If you fancy it, though, whip 200ml of double cream with 2 tablespoons of icing sugar to soft peaks, and then spoon over the centre of the tart.
Key Lime Pie
Makes: 1 9 inch pie (serves 8-10)
Takes: 10 minutes, plus chilling
Bakes: 30 minutes
250g hobnobs, crushed
75g butter, melted
1 tin (397g) condensed milk
4 limes, juiced and zested
4 egg yolks
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan.
- Blitz the hobnobs and melted butter together until they form a damp crumb. Press that crumb into a 9 inch tart tin, building it up at the edges to create a crust. Bake for 10 minutes, to set the crust.
- Whisk together the condensed milk and egg yolks until combined, then add the lime juice and zest, whisking for another couple of minutes – the mixture will thicken a little. Pour the mixture into the crust and bake for 15 minutes. Leave to cool completely before serving.