The first time I ever had Key Lime Pie was when I was about 12, on winter break vacation in Lake Worth, Fla, with my family and one of my friends. I remember thinking “Wow, this is even better than Lemon or any other Citrus Meringue Pie! I think I’m going to invent a Lime Meringue Pie with this cool key lime!”
In an attempt to use up some extra graham cracker crust I had, I made the crust on these tarts way too thick. Make yours thinner.
I was not yet privy, or shall I say, innocently ignorant to the fact that thousands of chefs and home cooks had already created and nailed key lime pies, key lime tarts, key lime meringue pies, etc, along with ‘name ANY citrus fruit curd’ meringue pies. SO, when we returned home, the first thing I want is key limes, but there are none at any of our local supermarkets.
Me : “WHAT?? There are no key limes? What about the fruit stands, Mom?? I really want to invent key lime meringue pie, and I don’t want to use regular limes.”
Mom: “Oh, you can’t really tell the difference.”
Actually, there IS a difference, and quite a discernible one at that. Not only does it look different (thinner rind, and more yellow green, unlike the deep green limes you see at your supermarket) but the key lime is a little more tart than your average lime, in a good way.
Although most associate key limes with the Florida Keys, Hemingway, and all the amazing sunsets and coolness..surprisingly, it’s native to Southeast Asia and made its way to the tropical climates of North America via the Middle East. Then it was on to Italy and Africa, finally ending up in the West Indies, where it made its way throughout the Caribbean, and is now also grown in places like Mexico and California.
Having said all that, as the weather has gotten warmer, my craving for anything key lime has started to increase, so, on to my dessert; Individual Key Lime Tarts with White Chocolate Mousse, Raspberry, Candied Macadamia Nuts, and a simple syrup doused with some of the oils accumulated from macadamia nuts being ground into a paste.
I started by using *Claudia Fleming’s recipe for graham cracker tart shell dough from her book The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern . I decided to make 4-inch tarts (incorporating ground macadamia nuts into the dough) which gave me 6 filled to the top tarts total. Since I had some leftover dough, I eventually used it for what else? Graham crackers! Not your usual graham crackers, but round, lumpy ones with cocoa nibs and other toppings, like chile flakes and fleur de sel.
That’s another post, though.
Below are the tart shells (which I made way too thick in an effort to use up all of it for only 5 tarts) after being docked, and baked blind, ready to be filled and baked again. I used a basic key lime/condensed milk filling for these, which you’ll see in the full recipe at the end of this post.
Once they’re baked and filled, they go back into the oven for another 15-20 minutes. They firm up rather quickly, but still need to be refrigerated for a while before plating and serving.
There’s a ton of ways you can plate and serve these babies. At the top of this post (with a whole lot of meringue) and below, are two examples.
Other ways include whipped cream, mint, lots of other kinds of fruits and/or chocolates (like a dark chocolate drizzle across the top of the tart) or toasted coconut.
Fleur de Sel makes a nice crunchy contrast, whether it be on the tart itself, the fruits, or the mousse, as does a pinch or three of dried chile flakes or cayenne, for a little extra kick. The sky is pretty much the limit here since these tarts are your ‘blank canvas’, and a tasty key lime canvas at that!
Key Lime Tarts
Alternative (Easier) Graham Cracker Tart Shells adapted from Joy of Baking
White Chocolate Mousse courtesy of my friend, Dennis, chef extraordinaire
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- ¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ cup ground macadamia nuts
- 6-12 teaspoons of raspberry preserves or jam (optional)
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
- 3 tablespoons granulated white sugar
- 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
- ½ cup bottled or fresh key lime juice
- 1-2 teaspoons grated key lime or lime zest (optional)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 9 ounces white chocolate
- 5 large egg yolks
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 leaves gelatin soaked in cold water, then squeezed dry prior to adding to mousse mixture (or one half of a ¼ oz package of granulated gelatin dissolved in 2 tablespoons of cold water)
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 3 large egg whites
- pinch sea salt
- ½ cup white granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup whole macadamia nuts
- 1 cup white granulated sugar
- ½ cup of water
- 1 cup whole macadamia nuts
- A favorite spice or two, like cayenne pepper, or coriander (optional)
- To prepare the graham cracker shells, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the buter and sugars until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the honey and beat until well combined.2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, macadamia nuts, salt, and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in two batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions. Mix until the dough is well combined. Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form it into a disc. Chill until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
- Preheat the oven to 325 F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to ⅛ inch thick, about a 13×16 rectangle. Using a 6-inch cookie cutter or glass, cut out 6 circles of dough and press them into lightly greased 4 to 4½-inch tart pans, preferably with removable bottoms (you can use smaller tart pans if you like, just cut out smaller circles of dough and adjust the baking time. Obviously, the smaller the tart pan, the more tarts you'll get out of this recipe. You can make TWO 9-inch tarts, just double the key lime filling and, again, adjust the baking time, trimming away excess dough. Prick the dough in each tart pan all over with a fork and chill on a baking sheet for 20 minutes or more.
- Bake until golden brown, 15-18 mins. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. When they're cool, I like to lightly spread the bottom of each tart with about 1-2 teaspoons of raspberry preserves or seedless jam.
- Preheat oven to 325 F. Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and sugar. Evenly divide the mixture and press onto the bottom and up the sides of the 6 - 4 inch tart pans with removable bottoms. (Each tart will use about ¼ cup of the graham cracker crumb mixture.) Place the tart shells in the refrigerator to chill for 10-15 minutes Bake at 325 for 10-15 minutes, let cool, then fill and bake as directed.
- Raise the oven temperature to 350 F. Whisk together the condensed milk,lime juice, eggs, lime zest and vanilla. Pour the mixture into the baked tart shells and bake for 15 minutes, or until barely set. Let come to room temperature, then chill in the fridge for about an hour.
- In a bowl, over a double boiler or in the microwave, melt the white chocolate. Meanwhile, also over a double boiler, combine the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk until the sugar crystals are no longer visible and the mixture is hot but not curdled. Add the chocolate in increments to the hot egg mixture, mixing well before each addition. Whisk in gelatin.
- Either in a stand mixer fitted with a wire whisk attachment or by hand mixer, whip the cream until stiff peaks form. In a separate bowl, do the same with the egg whites and the salt. Set aside both.
- Gently fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture, then carefully fold the egg white mixture into the chocolate-whipped cream mixture. Chill at least 1 hour prior to serving.
- In small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar has dissolved and you have a slightly thick, but clear syrup.
- In a food processor, grind the macadamia nuts until they reach a paste consistency (you'll be able to see oil in the paste). Gather up the paste and oil into some cheesecloth, and squeeze some of the oil into the simple syrup. Add some of the paste too, if desired. Save the paste in a sealed container in the fridge for any recipe you'd like to add it too, or just grind it with some cocoa, sugar, and cream, for a sort of macadamia nutella.
- In a skillet or pan, melt down the sugar and water and let it cook until it's golden brown, or reaches the hard ball to hard crack stage. Quickly add the nuts, coating them in the caramel, then remove to a parchment lined sheet pan, making sure you separate them before they stick together. Add spices (if using) while the caramel is still hot, and roll the nuts around in them using a silicone spatula or spoon. Chop coarsely when cool.
- Place each tart in the center of a serving plate. Pipe or scoop a quenelle of the white chocolate mousse onto one side of each tart. Garnish with a slice or two of lime, some raspberries, the candied nuts, and a light drizzle of the macadamia syrup all over everything, so each tart glistens. Sprinkle with a little coarse sea salt, if desired,
By the way, when I made these last summer, my boyfriend threw one of them in the blender with milk and vanilla ice cream to make a key lime pie milshake! Then he threw in some booze (vodka) to sweeten the deal. I don’t drink, but I couldn’t resist!