Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Floridean Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie is one the quintessential Floridean dishes — the pink flamingo of Florida cuisine. You can always tell how important a dish is to a local culture by how heated the arguments get over the authenticity of a recipe. Aficionados of Key Lime Pie argue endlessly about the proper way to make one. Graham cracker or pastry crust? Meringue on top or whipped cream, or neither? Cooked or uncooked filling? The one thing that they do agree on is that under no circumstances should you ever add green food coloring. The filling of authentic Key Lime Pie is a light yellow.

Key Lime Pie has a fascinating story too. Key limes are not native to the Florida Keys, as many people believe. The key lime tree is native to Malaysia, and probably first arrived in Florida in the 1500s with the Spanish. 
As to who made the first key lime pie, no one really knows for sure, but it wasn't until the 1930s that the first recipes were written down. Interestingly, there was no fresh milk, refrigeration, or ice available in the Florida Keys until 1930, and so local cooks had to rely on canned sweetened condensed milk. Even though key limes may be the star ingredient of Key Lime Pie, it's the sweetened condensed milk that makes the pie so smooth and delicious. And the rest is history, but this time it really was, because in 2006, the Florida State Legislature officially recognized Key Lime Pie as the Official State Pie. It must have been a slow day.

Key Lime Pie

1 1/3 cup crushed graham crackers
8 tbsp butter
¼ cup brown sugar

½ cup freshly-squeezed key lime juice
4 egg yolks
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Meringue: (optional)
10 egg whites
¼ cup powder sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract

Preheat over to 400°F. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, butter, and brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Press gently into 9 inch pie plate and bake for 10 minutes in the oven, or until lightly brown. Take the crust out to cool slightly. 

Meanwhile, beat 4 egg yolks for 3 or 4 minutes until their color turns pale yellow. While beating, slowly drizzle in the sweetened condensed milk. Once incorporated, whisk in the lime juice and set aside. 

For the Meringue: In another bowl whip egg whites to soft peaks, then begin slowly beating in powdered sugar and vanilla until the egg whites have formed stiff peaks. Fold one tablespoon of the beaten egg whites into the key lime custard mixture. This will lighten up the filling and help the custard set. 

Pour the key lime mixture into the pie crust then gently mound the meringue on top of the custard filling. Bake in the same 400°F oven for about 10 minutes, or until the peaks of the meringue turn dark brown. Cool for one hour before chilling in the refrigerator for another hour before serving. Serve chilled with a curl of lime zest and a slice of lime on each plate.