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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Honey and Cinnamon Sautéed Apples with Ice Cream

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A nostalgic weekend away to visit your old college haunts should include:

-A well-loved CD played as many times as you can stand (thank you, Ingrid Michaelson)

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-Gorgeous views, foliage, natural beauty, and deep breaths of untainted air (thank you, upstate New York in general, and Saratoga Springs and Lake Luzerne specifically)

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-The obligatory visits to That Coffee Shop Where We Wrote Lots of PapersThe Bar Where We Met Boys (uh, hi mom), The Brunch Spot To Take Your Parents To, and, of course, the theater building where you spent most waking hours in college

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-The inevitable bumping into old classmates, complete with the understated but boastful (never skewed) recounting of where you live, what you do, how it fits into your goals from college, and why you’re so excited with where you are right now

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Apple pickingwine tastingbookstore wandering, thrifting, breakfast making, and maybe some salsa dancing.

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What it doesn’t need to include:

-An awkward moment where your boyfriend realizes he ordered a $30 glass of scotch while the rest of the ex theater majors sit there with their glasses of water. Oops.

-A superbly frustrating bout of misinformation from the car rental company, who claims the name on the credit card has to be the same as the primary driver. Why should they care so much where the money comes from, as long ask they get it?!?! It’s Zipcar from here on out.

-Any momentary glimpse or glimmer of a feeling approaching hunger. Every meal had an intro and a follow through. As the Rule says, upstate weekends Don’t shy away from unabashed butter consumption, Dutch cheese frenzies, or frequent pie detours. No shame, people, no shame.

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Honey and Cinnamon Sautéed Apples & Vanilla Ice Cream: The Best Thing to Do Post-Apple Picking (or, Pie Without Crust)

1-2 T salted butter (or unsalted and add more later)
2 T honey
3 apples, any crunchy variety, unpeeled and roughly chopped
1 t ground cinnamon
ground cloves, a sprinkle (or use allspice or nutmeg)
¼ t salt
vanilla ice cream (HIGHLY recommended, but use whatever makes you happy)

Melt butter in a medium pan over medium high heat. After it froths, add honey. Mix together and cook until mixture becomes bubbly, about two minutes. Add apples and stir so all pieces are covered with butter/honey mixture. This should smell amazing. Add cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Turn heat to medium-low and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, or until apples are softened and sweet but not falling apart, and most of the liquid has evaporated.

Serve warm atop vanilla ice cream and swoon.

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Pure joy.