05
Mar
09

Coconut Key Lime Pie

I was recently invited to a potluck this week, and in honor of this month’s St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), we decided on a ‘green’ theme for our food.  Since I love sweets more than anything else, I tried to think of something green I could put into a dessert… the first thing that came to my mind were limes!  I thought it would be worth a shot since I’ve never baked a key lime pie before, and I haven’t really made ANY type of pie in quite a while.  Well as anyone who’s had homemade key lime pie before (or just eaten limes in general), I remembered that lime desserts aren’t green at all (unless they contain a lot of lime zest).   Oh well, I figured the concept was alright since I associate limes with green anyway, and some food coloring could solve the visual aspect easily 🙂

Coconut Key Lime Pie

Coconut Key Lime Pie

I looked through some of my favorite books to find a nice key lime pie recipe, and decided on Dorie’s “Florida Pie”, which uses a graham cracker crust, coconut cream, traditional key lime custard, and a coconut meringue.  However, I made several changes to the recipe: I use a different type of graham cracker crust recipe which I’ve tinkered with over the past few years, and I decided to make an Italian lime meringue instead of the Swiss meringue she describes in her book.

Actually, the meringue decision occurred after two previously failed attempts at Dorie’s meringue.  Her recipe calls for warming the sugar and egg whites in a saucepan over low heat, then transferring to another bowl and whisking until cool with firm peaks, at which point you add 1/2 cup of coconut.  I tried this once and I felt that I overbeat the egg whites since they seemed crumbly and gross… so I threw that out and made another batch, carefully monitoring the temperature and beating the egg whites until soft peaks… and still, when I removed the whisk, the foam was crumbly!  It even smelled somewhat like cooked eggs even though I didn’t warm it all that much :/  Her book’s instructions actually are different than a traditional Swiss meringue, which gradually warms the egg whites + sugar over a double boiler, then bakes the meringue for a bit later.  I assume since the meringue topping isn’t baked, we need to warm it in the saucepan instead…

For those who don’t know, meringues are basically just egg white whisked into a foam with additional ingredients like sugar and/or acid to stabilize the foam.  This works because whisking egg whites temporarily break apart the protein, which then solidify around the air bubbles that the whisking causes.  Egg whites by themselves generally can only be whipped to soft peaks, but sugar and acid (such as cream of tartar or lemon and lime juice) will help stabilize the structure.  Overbeating causes the air and proteins to separate, causing the meringue to become granular and gross looking :/

There are three main types of meringues: French, Swiss and Italian.  French meringue is the simplest: you whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then add the sugar and whisk to stiff peaks (adding any other flavor component you want, like vanilla extract).  This meringue then has to be baked or poached.  Swiss meringue is similar, except the egg whites and sugar are first warmed over a double boiler until the sugar dissolves before whisking the combination to stiff peaks.  This allows the sugar to distribute evenly throughout the meringue, resulting in a firmer texture.  The Swiss meringue also needs to be baked or poached.

Italian meringue is the same meringue I used in my Cuatro Leches recipe: water and sugar are first boiled to soft ball stage (~240 deg F) as a syrup.  Then the egg whites are whisked to soft peaks, after which the syrup is gradually added to the egg whites while continually beating.  This syrup causes the egg whites to “bake”, which makes additional baking unnecessary.  I also added some acid (lime juice) for more stability and flavor.  My recipe also uses more sugar, helping with the structure.

Another tip with meringues: don’t start whisking on high speed at first!  If you do so, the bubbles you initially form will be too large and will eventually collapse.  Instead, start whisking at low speed until foamy, and gradually increase speed.  Reduce back to low speed when adding the syrup.  Once you’ve applied the meringue to your pie (or any other dessert), use a torch to caramelize the meringue.

Finally, be warned about the key lime juice.  If you’re extracting them fresh from the key limes, just be aware that this may take some time… key limes are tiny!!  I bought a 1 lb bag of key limes, and I probably used about 2/3 (or more?) of the key limes included to extract about 2/3 cup of lime juice.  Oh, I did increase the key lime juice content of the custard to give the pie some extra flavor 🙂
Coconut Key Lime Pie

adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Kitchen to Yours

Ingredients

Graham Cracker Crust:

  • 2 cups graham crackers, crushed
  • 1/3 ~ 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, finely chopped (optional)
  • 6 TBSP unsalted butter, melted

Key Lime Pie Custard Filling:

  • 1 1/3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 ~ 2/3 cup fresh Key (or regular) lime juice (about 2/3 pound of key limes)

Italian Lime Meringue:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh Key lime juice

Directions

1.  Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Place a 9″ springform pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Graham cracker crust ingredients

Graham cracker crust ingredients

2.  Mix the graham crackers, sugar, spices, and optional nuts in food processor.  Pulse until finely ground.  Add the melted butter and pulse until evenly distributed.

Food processor makes this simple

Food processor makes this simple

3.  Press the graham cracker mixture onto the springform pan and partially up the sides.  Bake for 10 minutes and then allow to cool on a cooling rack while preparing the key lime custard.

4.  Increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Coconut Key Lime Pie ingredients

Coconut Key Lime Pie ingredients

5.  Put the cream and coconut in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly.  Continue to cook and stir until the cream is reduced by half and the mixture is slightly thickened.  This will probably take about 10-15 minutes of stirring; I used a chopstick to roughly estimate when the mixture was halved (a wood ruler would probably be a bit more accurate).

Reduce the coconut cream

Reduce the coconut cream

6.  Scrape the coconut cream into a bowl and set it aside to cool.

7.  Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl beat the egg yolks at high speed until thick and pale.

Whisk the egg yolks until thick and pale

Whisk the egg yolks until thick and pale

8.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the condensed milk.  Still on low, add half of the lime juice.  When it is incorporated, add the reaming juice, again mixing until it is blended.    I also added my optional 1/2 tsp green food coloring here.

Gradually add the other pie ingredients

Gradually add the other pie ingredients

Fun with green

Fun with green

9.  Spread the coconut cream in the bottom of the graham cracker crust,and pour over the lime filling.

Spread the coconut cream on the bottom of the crust.

Spread the coconut cream on the bottom of the crust.

Add the key lime custard

Add the key lime custard

10.  Bake the pie for 12 minutes.  Transfer the pie to a cooling rack and cool for 15 minutes, then freeze the pie for at least 1 hour.

11. To prepare the meringue, begin by bringing the water and sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan.  Simmer over medium heat and cook, undisturbed, until the syrup reaches 240 deg F (soft ball stage) on a candy thermometer.

12.  Beat the cup of egg whites until soft peaks form.

13.  Gradually add the sugar syrup while continually beating (be careful not to pour the syrup on the beaters themselves).  Add the lime juice and vanilla extract and beat until stiff peaks form.

14.  Spread the meringue over the key lime pie.  Run the pie under a broiler or use a kitchen torch to caramelize the meringue until the top is golden brown.

Spread the meringue over the pie

Spread the meringue over the pie

Caramelize the meringue

Caramelize the meringue

15.  Return the pie to the freezer for another 30 minutes or for up to 3 hours before serving.

16.  Take the pie out of the freezer about an hour before serving so it can thaw.  You want it to be cold but not frozen!

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2 Responses to “Coconut Key Lime Pie”


  1. 1 dino
    March 6, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    you made two? looks like you cut it at home~

  2. 2 sciencewins
    March 11, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    the meringue needs more busted wolves


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