24 June, 2013

Key Lime Bars

The ultimate summertime dessert. 

Lemon bars have always been one of my favorite sweet treats.  I love the tartness, sweetness, and bright yellow color.  They look, feel, and taste like summer.

So why not key lime bars? 
Key limes are more tart and aromatic than your traditional supermarket lime, and a bit sweeter than lemons. These little fruits have been around for thousands of years and have been traced back to the Indo-Malayan region, North Africa, Palestine, and Mediterranean Europe.  Key limes now flourish in the Florida Keys, hence the origination of their name, though they have also been called the Mexican lime and West Indies lime. This is why the Florida Keys allegedly have the best Key Lime Pie! 

I was looking for a quick and easy dessert to bring to a small farm picnic.  I'm part of a group at a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and we participate in a workshare.  In English, we work for 2 hours a week on a farm, and in return receive a bag with farm fresh produce. This is an excellent way for a farm to gain some help without having to pay for workers, and we get the pleasure of getting my hands dirty, learning all about gardening, weeding, and farming in general, AND we get to harvest my own vegetables.  I've been harvesting tons of spinach, swiss chard, kale, mizuna, lolla rossa, misc lettuces, radishes, and turnips.  We're still waiting for the tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and tons of other veggies to be ready. 
We are so excited about the gorgeous lettuces we've been harvesting that we decided to have a farm picnic after we work at the farm. We make a big salad with just-harvested greens, bring a few sides and a few beers, and enjoy the farm! This past week I brought these key lime bars, and they were a hit. Creamy, tart custard on a graham cracker crust, topped with fresh whipped cream. How can you go wrong? I baked them on parchment paper for easy removal from the pan to get pretty bars.
This recipe does make a tart key lime bar. I like tart.  If you desire a less tart, sweeter bar, reduce the amount of lime zest by half, and add an extra 1/4 cup sugar. These are fast and easy to make, but remember they must be refrigerated at least 4 hours after baking, preferably overnight, so allocate enough time for yourself.  Although I consider these a great BBQ/picnic dessert, they should be kept cool, so keep them in a cooler unless you want key lime soup  ;)
Happy picnicking!

Key Lime Bars
This is based on Martha Stewart's recipe
Makes about 16 bars

1 cup finely ground graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup plus 3 tbsp sugar, divided
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp finely grated lime zest
2/3 cup fresh Key lime juice (about 23 limes)
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk 
Parchment paper

1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Key limes, thinly sliced, for garnish
1 tsp grated lime zest, for garnish

  1. Make the crust. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the parchment paper to line a 8 inch glass baking dish- leave two sides hanging over the dish so you can easily lift the bars out. In a bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, 3 tbsp sugar, and melted butter. Dump this mixture into the baking dish and firmly press the crumbs down until an even layer is formed. Bake for 10 minutes, let cool completely on a wire rack, leaving the oven on.
  2. Make the custard filling. Use an electric mixer to whisk the egg yolks and lime zest. Whisk on high until the mixture is very thick, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add the condensed milk in a slow, steady stream, mixing constantly. Raise speed to high and mix until thick, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed back to low again and add lime juice; mix until just combined.  Spread mixture on top of cooled graham cracker crust. Bake 10 minutes, rotating halfway, until the top is set and barely jiggly. Cool completely on wire rack. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight.
  3. Make whipped cream. In a large bowl or electric mixer, whip cream until large peaks just start to form.  Add the confectioners sugar and vanilla and beat just until stiff peaks form. 
  4. Get bars ready for serving. Remove bars from refrigerator and use the parchment paper to lift the entire square out of the baking dish. Use a large, sharp knife to cut bars into desired size. Wipe the knife after every single cut you make to achieve pretty, clean bars. Decorate with whipped cream in whatever fashion you desire. I cut the tip off a ziploc bag and used a decorating tip to pipe the whipped cream on top of the bars, sprinkled some lime zest on top, and finished the bars with a thin slice of lime. 
  5. Refrigerate.  The bars can be kept for up to 3 days in a airtight container before they are topped with whipped cream. Once topped with whipped cream, they should be eaten the same day. 

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