Key Lime Pie with Salty Cracker Crust

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Real life interference: I meant to post this recipe in mid-October, right after Daniel’s birthday. But then a Malta conference happened, a trip to Japan was embarked upon, a crazy man was elected president of my country, and I was eyebrows deep in a directing project until last week. So, big sigh, things will continue to keep spinning (sometimes out of control) and I’m still trying to figure out what this crazy man means for the future of my country, my loved ones, and myself. But hey, we can still eat pie. And so, a post.

Growing up, birthdays meant chocolate. In the form of cake, frosting, ice cream, or all of the above. A birthday was only successful if it had sticky fingers and smudgy cheeks. I remember when I switched to vanilla frosting atop my chocolate cake — the horror! I had betrayed my chocolate brethren. And to this day, for me, a birthday must have a modicum of chocolate to be considered successful — perhaps this is just a hot fudge drizzle or one bite of dark chocolate bar — but it’s still lurking. Birthday = chocolate. Simple math.

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Daniel, on the other hand, can’t seem to care less about chocolate. We obviously don’t interpret math the same way. I have made him an orange caramel birthday cake and a blueberry lemon cake and a berry cheesecake, which honestly were all delicious but didn’t scream birthday. I mean, no chocolate crumbles on the floor to sweep up or white shirts to get frosting stains out of?? What is this!?

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And this year he goes on to request a pie for his birthday. “Yeah, I’ve always liked pie better than cake.” …who are you?! So now not only no chocolate but also no frosting?! I need someone else to bake birthday things for.

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This request spawned a truckload of research of about key lime pie. Does it count if it isn’t actually made with key limes? (Mostly yes, except for a few diehard Floridians.) Do all recipes use sweetened condensed milk? (Yes.) Should you put merengue on top or whipped cream? (Up to you, whipped cream is a whole lot easier.) And in this research I found a deviation from the traditional graham cracker crust — a salty, buttery sub that swaps the ubiquitous grahams for Saltines! As I recently had some issues with a graham cracker crust, I figured why not give it a go?

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It reads like a recipe from my elementary school PTA cookbook that someone’s Grandma makes every year for July 4th . And yet, it’s a beaut! …although a beaut I didn’t completely conquer. The recipe said not to crush your crackers until they were sand-like, so I stopped at pea-like crumbles, which didn’t hold together so well after baking. This lead to luscious lime curd atop … well, buttery, pea-sized cracker crumbs, not exactly a coherent crust. Which, don’t get me wrong, is delicious! Just not particularly easy to serve. I recommend crushing the crumbs for longer than you think is necessary, and don’t be afraid to add more butter. When you pre-bake the crust, really bake it until it’s golden and keeping its shape. (I didn’t let it go quite long enough.) And yes, despite, a crumbly crust, Mr. Weirdo Birthday Boy was totally, totally satisfied. (and so was I!)

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one year ago: Guatemalan rellenitos de plátano (fried plantain heaven)
two years ago: buttermints and Indian-spiced cabbage heaven

Key Lime Pie with Buttery Cracker Crust

From smittenkitchen and food52

1½ sleeves of Saltine crackers (the salted variety) (or try Ritz!)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 stick butter (½ a cup), room temp (or more)

Zest of 2 limes
4 egg yolks
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
A generous ½ cup fresh lime juice (for me, this was 6 puny limes)

One small carton (1 cup or so) heavy cream, chilled
1-2 tablespoons sugar, to taste
Zest of 1 lime, more or less

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Crush up your crackers using your hands (or banging them with a can) until they’re uniformly small and crumb-like. Toss in sugar. Cut butter into small pieces and mix into the cracker crumbs with your fingers until well-incorporated and dough-like. Press crust mixture into an 8- or 9-inch pie pan. Let sit for about 15 minutes.

Bake for 21 minutes, or until lightly browned. Set aside and keep oven on.

Beat together lime zest and egg yolks with an electric beater for five minutes, until thickened and slightly lighter. Add sweetened condensed milk and beat for an additional three minutes. Gently stir in fresh lime juice with a spatula. Pour into cracker crust and bake for 12 minutes, or until top is set. Let cool completely.

Pour chilled heavy cream into a bowl, add sugar and beat until it’s fluffy! (It comes together very quickly using electric beaters, but sometimes it’s fun to make Daniel do it with a whisk :).) Add more sugar if you want a slightly sweeter cream. Lovingly spoon whipped cream atop your cooled pie. Decorate with zest. At this point, it is recommended to chill the whole shebang for a while, but I think that’s mostly so you can create clean lines when you slice your pie, and who the heck has time for that? We ate it immediately and were none the worse. Keep pie in the fridge, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for a few days and try not to have a spoonful with your morning coffee.

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Roasted Radish, Blistered Pepper, and Olive Pizza

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Things I’d once assumed crazy and impossible and now know are doable:

  • I successfully only wore 1 pair of shoes (TEVAS iloveyou) for the entire month.
    • Daniel: You’ve been wearing Tevas this whole time?!! Shakes head.
    • Me: hehehehe.
    • Him: Stop googling your sandals at the coffee shop.
    • Me: hehehehe.
      Mom, be so proud.
  • Bike riding from Boston to NYC. My childhood friend Lauren and her lovely manfriend proved me wrong last weekend. Not sure the 180 mile trek is something they’ll try again for a while, but sounds like it was quite the adventure. We loved welcoming them with beer, Thai food, AC, and bagels.
  • Watching all 6 Star Wars movies. Okay, I still haven’t officially completed this one (and in fact fell asleep midway through the first), but I am DETERMINED. It is high time I know what my dorky imeanlovely boyfriend and his friends are talking about.
  • Making sticky dough form the same rectangular shape as the pan you’re putting it into. My mom made pizza all the time growing up, and I had one major success in college, but this was my (our) first Adult pizza-making session. In the middle, Daniel passionately exclaimed “I am never cooking again!” (as he is apt to do in moments of frustration), but then we tried a new tactic and voila pizza making led to pizza eating led to LET’S DO THIS AGAIN NEXT WEEK! An empty threat in the end.

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Roasted Radish, Blistered Pepper, and Olive Pizza

aka Pizza Experiment #1
hand held by Smitten Kitchen’s pizza section in her book or website

  • 2 tomatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 large clove garlic, quartered
  • ½ t + 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 T white wine vinegar
  • 1 t sugar
  • 4-5 radishes, cut into thin circles
  • ½ onion, sliced thin
  • 1 small summer squash (yellow or green), cut into small chunks (optional)
  • 1 T olive oil, plus extra for drizzle
  • s&p
  • 2 peppers (I used red but your choice!)
  • dough (I am lucky enough to work at a bakery; my pizza dough came from the day’s baguette scraps. There are a million recipes on the internet to make easy dough, or ask your local pizza guy if they’ll sell you some, or just use the supermarket variety. You can’t really go wrong here.)
  • ¼ cup cornmeal
  • fresh mozzarella
  • black olives, one can (although most were eaten during prep), cut in half
  • prosciutto (totally optional)
  • fresh basil, torn into smaller pieces (NOT OPTIONAL….just kidding. But Seriously, DO this.)
  • olive oil for drizzle (fine, fine, optional).

Sauce

In a food processor, blend tomatoes, quartered garlic clove, ½ t red pepper flakes (or less), 1 T white wine vinegar, and 1 t sugar. Blend until there are no more chunks of tomato left. If you want to be totally anal you can strain it, but ours was more than smooth enough. This sauce is quite runny (don’t expect pasta sauce) but makes a great pizza base layer. As written, it is quite spicy; feel free to taste and spice as you go.

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Roast Radishes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix sliced radishes, onion, and squash together on a baking tray. Coat in 1 T olive oil and cover with salt and freshly ground pepper. We used rosemary sea salt, but any old salt will do. Roast for about 20 minutes, until radishes are tender and sweet, and onions (and squash) get soft, sweet, and a bit mushy. Set Aside. Turn oven up as hot as it will go to prepare for pizza baking.

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Blistered Peppers

To make blistered peppers, remove grate on top of a gas stove. Cut just the very end off a pepper and spear it with a skewer (or chopstick). Turn one burner to highest flame. Hold pepper in flame (without burning your hand!), turning every so often, until skin gets blackened. This will be a fairly noisy process, as pepper actually emits sound bursts as skin gets charred! Don’t be alarmed. When peppers are totally blackened, set aside to cool. When cool, use your fingers or a small sharp knife to peel off the blackened skin. Don’t worry if some small charred pieces stick! They will just add extra flavor. Cut into thin strips.

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To assemble pizza

Sprinkle cornmeal to cover the bottom of a baking pan. (We used a rimmed cookie sheet.) Take that dough and manhandle it until it covers the bottom of the pan in a basic rectangular shape a preschooler could recognize. Use plenty of olive oil on your fingers and be patient. Gently use both hands to press on dough, inch by inch, starting at lumpy parts and pushing them outwards. If holes form, pinch them closed.

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Once this is accomplished, pat yourself on the back and move on to the fun part. Daniel and I each claimed half a pizza to do with as we wished (his meaty, mine overly cheesy). Here’s my ideal: spoon a bit of sauce over dough. Cover with roasted radish mixture. Next add pepper strips decoratively. Then tear long stringy pieces from your mozzarella ball and cover liberally. Top with halved black olives. (And if you’re Daniel, add proscuitto and hot sauce.) Pop into your super hot (as hot as it gets) oven for about 10 minutes, or until the crust bakes and cheese melts. Immediately out of the oven, cover with torn basil leaves. Devour while hot, perhaps while (finally) watching Star Wars.

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