Saturday, December 18, 2010

Individual Key Lime Pies/Tarts - AKA Dan's Pucker Pies

So many of my friends may not believe this, Laurie isn't the only one in our family who likes to bake. I mean, I actually chose to take Home Economics instead of Wood Shop one year in middle school because I really liked the 1/3 of the year we spent doing cooking and baking. But obviously, given Laurie's culinary talents, I leave most of the heavy lifting to her and just handle Sous Chef duties when she needs me to.

However, she just had her birthday, and I usually try to bake her something for that occasion. Last year I tried an Apple Cobbler that I'm glad will never end up on this blog. This year, I decided to try and make her a Key Lime pie, which is one of her absolute favorites. I found this easy-sounding recipe over at Our Best Bites  for Individual Key Lime Tarts (mini-pies) and decided to give it a shot.

It's a real simple recipe, which you can find in full over at Our Best Bites (linked above) if you want to check it out. I followed it exactly--though if I made it again, I'd change a few things.

First, you combine a container of sweetened condensed milk (which by the way I have never worked with before, and it is weird and looks gross), 5 egg yolks, and 1/2 cup of lime juice in a bowl. I also added 2 dots of green food coloring. Sue me, I like my key lime pie green. As per the recipe, since I couldn't find actual key limes, I just used regular limes. I needed about 2 1/2 medium sized limes to get 1/2 cup of fresh lime juice. I didn't strain the juice, so there was a bit of lime pulp in with the juice. You can see if it you look closely at the pie without the cream above. I'd suggest straining the lime juice so you're just getting juice and not lime pulp.

Anyway, you just mix that all together for a few minutes. I'd suggest a whisk to make sure you break up all the yolks completely. It will go from something like this:

To something like this:

Now you can see we've got our nice smooth key lime filling and it's got the traditional (artificial) key lime pie color. It will be pretty liquidy at this point, but that's OK. It cooks up great.

Pour that into the mini pie shells. I did use the store-bought ones mentioned on the recipe. I'm sure Laurie would have made them from scratch and they would have been better. I know my limits. I used an ice cream scooper to portion out of the filling liquid into the pies and that worked really great to keep them all basically even. Into the oven for about 11 minutes and they were cooked perfectly.

I also made the sweetened whipped cream that was linked from the recipe instead of just using Reddi-whip or Cool whip. This was easy and quick and made me feel like I did something. Powdered sugar + heavy cream + hand mixer + patience led to a really nice light sweet whipped cream made from scratch. I mixed it to soft peaks like suggested, but really make sure its mixed thoroughly and evenly throughout. Mine was soft peaks in the middle of the bowl, but around the edges it was still a bit runny since I was using a hand mixer in a narrow bowl. Tip from Laurie--don't mix it too far past soft peaks or you could curdle the cream and turn it into a grainy, buttery mess.

Once the pies were out of the oven, cooled to room temp, and then further cooled in the fridge, I tried to pipe the cream onto the pies. Results were, well, kinda sloppy. I chalk that up in part to my total lack of piping skills and part to the fact that the cream wasn't that firm, so it's definitely not easy for a novice like myself. I did manage to make a vaguely swirl pattern with a peak using a large star tip, so it wasn't a total failure.

That's about it. The recipe was almost perfectly sized--for 10 pies. The store-bought packages have 6 pies each. So I had the exact right amount of filling for 10 pies, though I did run out of the cream halfway through pie #9. But I had 2 leftover mini pie crusts, and nothing to do with them. So perhaps scaling the recipe up by about 20% for filling and 25% for cream would probably give you just the right amount of both and you wouldn't have 2 leftover mini pie crusts, calling out in desperation to be filled with delicious key lime filling.

Anyway, after all this work, I served them up to Laurie for her birthday. And here we get to the title of the blog post. Key lime pies come on a scale from a little bite to a serious pucker. And the ones I made were right up at the top of said pucker scale, thus they've earned the nickname Pucker Pies in our house. They're actually pretty tasty once you realize it's going to have some serious bite to it. If you like a smoother key lime pie rather than one with a lot of pucker, cut back on the lime juice a bit. Or find actual key limes.

In general I'd say that this is a really great and simple recipe. If you love key lime pie and want to be able to make it at home, it doesn't get much easier than this recipe. And if you just use Reddi-whip and a store-bought crust, all the "preparation" you really have to do is crack some eggs, separate the yolks, pour various things into a bowl, whisk it for a few minutes, and then pour it into pie crusts.

Dan's Lessons Learned (apparently I have those now):
1. If you juice your limes, strain the lime juice to remove as much pulp as possible.
2. If you can't find key limes, cut down on the amount of lime juice slightly. Maybe try adding a bit of zest. Unless you love a sour, pucker-inducing key lime. Then just go with the recipe and use regular limes. Again, it's not bad, it's just heavy on the pucker. I also saw a recommendation to do half lime juice and half lemon juice to substitute for key lime juice, which I think might be a good idea.
3. Really make sure you whip the cream thoroughly so you can pipe it. Or just buy Reddi-whip cause that might have been even better.
4. Scale the filling recipe up 20% and the cream recipe up 25% if you've using the store-bought mini-pies so you can just use all 12 you'll have. Unless you have a really good use for 2 extra unfilled mini graham cracker pie crusts. (And if you do, please share that idea!)

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