Key Lime Pie – An Apt Adieu to my Summer

Note: This post was originally written Aug. 31st, 2010

The weather report says that today marks the end of meteorological summer and she’s going out with more of a bang than a whimper . While not the hottest day on record, the early evening swelters with a particularly stinging heat. Today I stayed home to nurse my husband following a tooth extraction. He is cloistered in the bedroom with his laptop and pain meds, condemned to eat only soft, cold food for the next twenty four hours. I am keeping him fed on applesauce and cottage cheese.

On this hot day, the last day of summer, with the windows wide open and the bronze rays of the setting sun beaming down from above, I have decided to finally approach a pie I have been meaning to make for the past three months. Back when it was winter and I was freezing my tuckus off all I could think of was a hot beach. I had imagined the white sand, the blue waves, and a neverending picnic of cold sandwiches, salads, lemonade, sangria and key lime pie. Key lime pie embodies all of my summertime hopes and dreams. Sweet, tart, cool, creamy, looking like a slice of sunshine on the plate, it is the kind of pie that sings summer.

This key lime pie sums up the entirety of my summer. On the one hand ambitious, or at least seemingly so, as I have to confess that this very key lime pie is my first key lime pie; on the other hand, lazy and not too eager to impress. You see, I did not score a huge cache of key limes at the Farmer’s Market, lug them home and squeeze every tiny one of them for their juice. I bought a bottle of key lime juice, a can of condensed milk and a pre-made graham crust. I know you are thinking I probably should have just bought a pie at the store, but I couldn’t resist donning an apron and getting fancy with whipped cream.

The recipe is stolen from a google search, but I didn’t feel it needed to be cited as it is a pretty simple and universal recipe, I even found a nearly identical version on the inside of the graham cracker crust label.

The Lazy Girl’s Key Lime Pie

1 (9inch) graham cracker crust
3 eggs
1/2 cup key lime juice
1 (14oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 pinch salt
1 pinch cream of tartar

Whipped Cream Topping:
1/2 cup chilled whipping cream
1/4/ cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325.
Separate 2 of the eggs. Put the whites in a separate bowl. To the yolks, add one whole egg, the lime juice and the sweetened condensed milk. Whisk until smooth and set aside. With clean mixer blades or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar until it forms firm peaks. DO NOT OVERBEAT the whites until dry. Fold the beaten whites into the filling mixture. Pour filling into crust. Bake for 10 – 15mins or until set. Let cool at room temperature, then refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
When ready to serve, put whipped cream in chilled bowl and whisk until firm. Use spatula to fill decorating bag and pipe around pie. I like to use a rosette shape.

Folding the egg whites into the filling


The Final Product

Summer on a plate

The beaten egg whites really make the final product fluffy. It’s like biting into a lime-flavored cloud. If you eat it after only three or four hours in the fridge it will almost dissolve instantly on your tongue. The longer the pie sets the more firm and concentrated the flavors become. The last slice I consumed, about three days after baking, was rich and custardy as opposed to the first couple of slices that were light and airy.

Ironically, I actually went to Florida for a weekend this summer and didn’t taste a single key lime. I used key lime juice produced and bottled in Florida and bought in Illinois, which made me sit and think about the state of the global economy for about two seconds before the flavor of the citrus whisked me back to the beach and the hot sands of the Atlantic coast. I don’t know if using fresh key limes would have changed the flavor dynamic all that much. I am totally on board with the concept of freshness and buying locally, but if I took every admonition to only buy produce from within a three hundred mile radius, I wouldn’t be able to make a key lime pie. I still have about half a bottle of the juice and now I just have to wonder how I’m going to use it, key limeade? Key lime and garlic marinade for tofu or tempeh? Key lime salad dressing? Cupcakes? Oh, the possibilities.

This recipes is definitely a keeper. I think I might make this pie in the dead of winter to remind myself that summer will be on its way and the sun will shine once more.

TIPS: The eggs beat quicker and firmer if the bowl is chilled. I usually rinse a steel bowl in water and put it in the freezer for five minutes or so.
Cream of tartar (or potassium hydrogen tartrate) is a type of acid salt that stabilizes and increases the volume of egg whites. It is also used in candies and desserts to produce a creamier texture.

Also, I prefer to use local, organic, vegetarian, certified humane eggs. They are a few bucks more than factory eggs, but are less likely to be contaminated with salmonella, contain more nutrients and the hens will thank you for allowing them to have a decent life.

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