I have mentioned in the past that my husband, Eric, is not much of a dessert eater. He rarely dips into cookies or ice cream at home, other than the occasional bowl of Breyer's Mint Chocolate Chip (which, by the way, is the best kind.) When he goes out to a restaurant, he'll only order dessert if Key Lime Pie is offered. No matter how many courses he has gone through, he'll always find room in his stomach for the citrusy custard in a graham cracker crust.
Something about Key Lime Pie hits all of the right notes with men. It has always been a favorite of my dad's, and Eric's dad even baked one for us during one of his visits (yes, I actually allowed someone else to cook in my kitchen.) Perhaps the connection to the Florida Keys makes them think of Jimmy Buffet and his stress-free island escapism lifestyle. Or maybe the lime flavor is reminiscent of the twist that they add to their Coronas. Who knows? It's not that women don't enjoy the dessert too, but for most of them, chocolate trumps lime every time.
Eric is about to come home from a trip to Asia, so I decided to make this key lime variation of lemon bars for him to enjoy after he sleeps off his jet lag. The filling for these bars is actually a bit lighter and airier than the traditional Key Lime Pie filling, as it doesn't contain the sweetened condensed milk that is found in most recipes. The crust, with toasted macadamia nuts and coconut, adds a nice subtle tropical flavor. Here are just a few extra tips for these citrus-flavored sweets:
- Lemon can be easily substituted for lime in this recipe. Use the same amount of juice and the zest of one large lemon. You can also do a lemon-lime combination, using the lemon juice and lime zest, or vice-versa.
- For easiest and cleanest cutting, try chilling the bars for a few hours after they have cooled to room temperature. This will firm up the filling as well.
- Whipping eggs that have been brought to room temperature results in higher volume. To quickly bring eggs to room temperature, run them under warm water for a few minutes or soak them in a bowl of warm (not hot) water.
- Almonds would make a good substitute for the pricier macadamia nuts that are use in the crust.
Tropical Key-Lime Bars
Makes sixteen 2-inch squares
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
1/3 cup toasted macadamia nuts
1/8 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup key lime juice
Zest of 2 limes
Confectioner's sugar for dusting
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, coconut, confectioner's sugar, macadamia nuts, and salt. Process until the nuts are finely ground. Add the butter pieces to the flour mixture and pulse until the pieces are very tiny. Process the dough until it wraps around the blade, about 1 minute. Turn the dough onto the foil-lined baking pan and press it to form an even layer on the bottom. Bake the dough for 20-22 minutes, until light golden on the edges. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool while you prepare the filling.
Prepare the filling: Place the eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip the eggs on medium-high speed until they thicken, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the sugar while continuing to whip on medium-high, until the mixture is very thick and pale colored, about 5 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder and stir together to blend well. Add to the egg mixture and blend together on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Add the lime juice and zest to the mixture and blend well. Pour the filling over the top of the crust and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is set and light golden, and a cake tester inserted into the center emerges clean or slightly damp. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Lift the cooled bars from the pan using the foil and place on a cutting board. Peel the foil away from the sides and cut into 2-inch squares. Dust with confectioner's sugar and serve.