The weekend that the clocks go back to Greenwich Mean Time always feels like the final death knell of summer. A balmy autumn can keep the spirits up for so long, but once it becomes dark at 6pm, winter is most definitely here. This weekend, more than any so far this year, was especially turbulent, as we were all preparing for the impending storm of doom. Of course, none of us knew that it was not going to be the epic storm of 1987 proportions, as we had all feared, and were all fearing the worst. This may have explained the Mother Flipper queue at Brockley Market on Saturday – if there was a last meal to be had, well….
This weekend was also the birthday of my friend Adrienne, so we braved the blustery streets of East Dulwich to spend the afternoon drinking prosecco at The Bishop. Every year, for Adrienne’s birthday, I make her either a key lime pie or a lemon meringue pie instead of a birthday cake as she prefers citrus desserts to birthday cake and these pies give her a link to her North American homeland. I was relieved that this year she chose key lime pie as I have been having some serious issues with meringue pies lately. Every time I make one, it comes out the oven looking like a piece of cloudy perfection only to collapse completely when I take it out of the tin, haemorrhaging liquid everywhere (where does the liquid come from? the eggs?). A couple of years ago, Adrienne’s birthday lemon meringue pie was little more than slop, and I don’t think I could face that again.
Apparently if you add a layer of pulverised cake crumbs in between the filling and the meringue, it soaks up the liquid and stops this happening. I have yet to try and need to practice!
A key lime pie is an American dessert and so named as the variety of limes traditionally used were called ‘key limes’ and originated from Florida. The pie consists of three individual components, two of which vary greatly according to recipe. I am told that the traditional base for a key lime pie is shortcrust pastry, although in recent years this has been substituted with the kind of biscuit base that you would find on a cheesecake. Similarly, traditionalists claim that the original pies were topped with meringue, although many pies are now topped with whipped cream or, often, not topped at all. The filling is the only consistent component – a thick custard flavoured with lime juice and zest – although some are set in the fridge and some baked in the oven.
My key lime pie has a chocolate shortcrust pastry, which almost recreates the flavour of those chocolate lime sweets we all remember from childhood. Chocolate and lime are a seriously good combination. The pie has a baked filling that contains only four ingredients: lime zest, lime juice, condensed milk and egg yolks and is topped with whipped Chantilly cream. For decoration, there is drizzled dark chocolate and candied lime slices. I added a little extra lime than I usually would in the hope that the sharpness would cut through the richness of the chocolate, and it worked. The flavours compliment each other, rather than fighting for pole position. It takes a long time to make: the pastry has to be chilled twice and the filling chilled in the fridge for several hours, but if you plan your time well, it need not take over your weekend.
Key Lime Pie
For the pastry:
- 175g plain flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 50g cocoa powder
- 50g icing sugar
- 140g cold unsalted butter
- 2 egg yolks
For the filling:
- 397g tin of condensed milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 1½ tbsp lime zest
- 120ml lime juice
For the topping:
- 200ml whipping cream
- 2 tbsp icing sugar
- 100g dark chocolate
- 1 lime, sliced horizontally into 5mm slices
- 250g caster sugar
To make the pastry, sift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and icing sugar and pour into a food processor. Cut the cold butter into cubes and add to the food processor. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. With the motor running, add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing until the mixture comes together in a firm dough. Turn out on to a floured surface, and gently knead for a few seconds. Form the dough into a disc and wrap in clingfilm. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out the pastry on a well-floured surface and use to line a loose-bottom tart tin. Gently push the pastry into each of the grooves, but do not trim the edges. Return to the fridge and chill for a further 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6. Line the pastry case with baking parchment and baking beans and bake blind in the oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat of the oven to 150ºc / 300ºf / gas 2, remove the baking parchment and baking beans and bake the pastry case, uncovered, for a further five minutes. The bottom of the pastry case should be dry and cooked through. Trim the edges and allow to cool.
To make the filling, combine the condensed milk, egg yolks, lime juice and lime zest in a large bowl. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon or balloon whisk until all of the ingredients are fully combined and smooth. Scrape this mixture into the cooled pastry case – there should be a gap at the top, this is where the cream will sit – and bake at 170ºc / 325ºf / gas 3 for about 15-20 minutes. The filling should be firm with a slight wobble in the centre. Allow to cool completely at room temperature and then chill in the fridge for at least four hours, preferably overnight.
For the cream topping, whisk together the whipping cream and icing sugar until thick, but not stiff. Spread the cream over the cooled filling with a palette knife, filling to the top of the pastry case. Return to the fridge to chill while you make the toppings.
Heat the chocolate in a glass bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until melted. Allow to cool to room temperature and scrape into a plastic piping bag. Place the cooled pie on top of a large sheet of newspaper, snip a hole in the bottom of the piping bag and drizzled the chocolate back and forth across the pie. Be sure to start and finish each of the lines on the newspaper, not on the pie, so you don’t end up with any blobs. Return to the fridge to set the chocolate while you make the candied limes.
Place the lime slices in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Drain and repeat four times. Combine the sugar and 250ml water in a separate saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the lime slices and cook over a low heat for around 40 minutes, until tender. Use to decorate the pie.