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I love seeing the words “bring a dish to share” on an event invite. Some people may dread them, but I think it’s a perfect excuse to try out a new recipe or bake something I’ve been craving without having to eat all of it. I usually just want one serving, (two if I’m being honest) but not 30. Luckily, I seem to get invited to potluck style events all of the time, so I have a lot of opportunities to try new things. This week, thanks to my daily email from Tasting Table, I had been craving key lime pie. And, as luck would have it, I needed to bring something for a party at Colin’s office.
Now, as you all know, Okinawa is a long ways away from the Florida Keys, making it pretty much impossible to get key limes here. Fortunately, most key lime pie recipes work just as well with Persian limes, the kind you can always find at the store, and, if needed, you could use bottled lime juice, although the lime flavor may suffer a little. Traditionally, other than lime juice and zest, key lime filling contains only two more ingredients, egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk. Fun fact: sweetened condensed milk is used because the Florida Keys did not have access to fresh dairy when this pie was invented. I was planning on making a traditional key lime pie until I came across Cook’s Illustrated’s key lime bar recipe, which adds cream cheese and decreases the number of egg yolks in the filling. Intrigued by the cheesecake-like filling, and knowing that bars would be much easier to serve to a group than pie, I put down my recipe books and got to work.
After zesting and squeezing six limes by hand, I was really kicking myself for having crazy cravings and acting on them. That is, until the smells of a graham cracker crust and creamy lime custard started filling my kitchen. Patiently waiting for these bars to chill was difficult, but well worth the wait. The filling is tart and creamy with a prominent, but not overwhelming, lime flavor. The graham cracker crust is a perfect match and a dollop of whipped cream on top is a must, as it lends a hint of sweetness to the tart filling.
These key lime bars satisfied all of my cravings and they received rave reviews at the party. I have a feeling that I’ll be making these again soon, although we may be purchasing a juicer before that. I’d say that’s a craving success!
Key Lime Bars
For the crust:
- 10 ounces honey graham crackers
- 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
For the filling:
- 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated lime zest, from 3 limes, plus more for garnish
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt
- 2(14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
- 2 egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1 cup fresh lime juice, from about 6 limes
- Whipped cream, fresh or store bought
To make the crust:
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
- Line a 9x13 inch-baking pan with aluminum foil, ensuring that it covers the bottom and the sides of the pan. Spray with non-stick cooking spray.
- Place graham crackers in a food processor and pulse until they are evenly fine, about 10 to 12 times.
- Add the salt and sugars and pulse again to mix, 5-6 times.
- Drizzle with butter and pulse in 1-second intervals, 15 times, or until crumbs are evenly moistened with butter.
- Press crumbs evenly and firmly into the bottom of prepared baking dish.
- Place in the oven and bake until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Take out and let it cool while making the filling.
To make the filling:
- In an electric mixer with paddle attachment, mix cream cheese, lime zest and salt until combined.
- Add sweetened condensed milk and mix until thoroughly incorporated and no lumps of cream cheese remain.
- Mix in egg yolks, one at a time, and then lime juice. The mixture will thicken slightly. Mix until smooth.
- Pour the filling onto the crust and spread it evenly, using a spatula.
- Bake until the center is set and edges begin to pull away slightly from sides, 15-18 minutes.
- Let bars cool at room temperature for at least 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate until fully chilled, at least 2 hours or overnight.
- When ready to serve, lift bars from baking pan using foil extensions and cut into 24-30 bars. Top with whipped cream and garnish with remaining lime zest.
- Keep in the refrigerator until ready to and after serving.
1. I doubled this recipe to make more bars. However, it can be easily halved and made in an 8x8 pan.
2. If you are crunched for time, like me, and need to quickly chill the bars, allow them to cool on the counter for 30-45 min. Move to the refrigerator for about 30 minutes and then the freezer for an additional 45-60 minutes. This should chill them down enough to cleanly cut them. Continue to refrigerate until ready to serve.
Recipe adapted from Foolproof Living, originally from Cook's Illustrated Magazine.
Serving Size: 1 bar Calories: 181kcal Carbohydrate: 25g Fat: 8g Protein: 3g