It never seems to fail that I cannot find what I’m looking for when I actually need it. The rule applies not only at home, where I’m constantly wondering where my keys are or where that bill that needs to be paid is hiding, but also with respect to things at the grocery store. I often see recipes I want to try but after searching far and wide there will be one or two ingredients that just don’t seem to be available in the stores by me. Sometimes it’s not a big deal, and substitution is possible, but other times, that ingredient is the star of the dish and it’s just not feasible to make the recipe without it. You can be guaranteed though, that 6 months or a year down the road, long after that recipe has been nixed from the “to-do” list, I’ll come upon just the ingredients I had been searching for. Like the day I found key limes when I was out shopping for our Father’s Day lunch and key limes were most definitely not on the shopping list. I couldn’t pass them up, though – they were unbelievably cute and I knew I’d have no trouble finding a recipe to make – I simply had to buy them!
I decided to make these bars rather than a pie (or another dessert) mainly because they’d be easier to transport and share. Here’s the part where I warn you though… You will have to squeeze A LOT of limes to get enough juice to make the recipe. The key limes are only about the size of ping pong balls so there’s not much juice in each. They’re so tiny that my fingers got tired after I’d juiced about 10 of them. I enlisted Shane’s help with the remaining limes – I may have fibbed and told him I had a super fun task when I called him upstairs and interrupted his video game playing :) Aside from juicing the limes, the recipe really is a cinch and it’s definitely worth the effort! The filling was rich and creamy, tart but also sweet. I loved that the little pieces of lime zest were readily apparent in the bars. I used graham crackers in my crust and thought it was the perfect, buttery complement to the filling, but the original recipe recommended animal crackers as a more neutral option if you’re so inclined. Also, no worries if key limes are as hard for you to find as they’ve been for me – you can absolutely make the bars with regular limes!
Oh, and if citrus isn’t your thing, maybe you’d prefer a dessert combining that classic combination of peanut butter and chocolate? The wonderful folks over at Betty Confidential contacted me a few weeks ago asking if I wanted to share a recipe with their readers and I jumped at the chance. I selected a recipe for peanut butter brownies with a chocolate ganache topping, which was published in Gourmet in 2007 (and, full disclosure, I’d seen on Smitten Kitchen a few years ago). You can read more about the brownies and find the recipe here if you’re interested. In case you’re a visual person like me, here’s a sneak peek!
Key Lime Bars
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
5 ounces graham crackers
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar (light or dark)
pinch table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
pinch table salt
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup fresh key lime juice (regular lime juice works too in a pinch)
Preheat oven to 325 F. Fit a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil into the bottom and up the sides of an 8-inch square baking dish (I used Pyrex), letting the ends hang over so you can use them to lift the bars out after they’ve baked. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the graham crackers until they are broken down into fine crumbs (you should have about 1 1/4 cups of crumbs). Add the brown sugar and salt and process to combine, about ten 1-second pulses. Drizzle the butter over the crumb mixture and pulse until the crumbs are evenly moistened with butter, about ten 1-second pulses. Dump the mixture into the prepared baking pan and use your fingers to press the crumbs evenly to form the crust in the bottom of the pan. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool while you make the filling.
In a medium bowl, use a rubber spatula to stir the cream cheese, lime zest and salt until softened and thoroughly combined. Add the sweetened condensed milk and whisk until fully incorporated – no lumps of cream cheese should remain. Whisk in the egg yolk. Finally, add the lime juice and whisk gently until it is incorporated. Your filling mixture will thicken slightly.
Pour the filling on top of the crust, spread it into the corners and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. Bake until the filling is set and the edges begin to pull away slightly from the sides of the pan, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cover the pan with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours. Use the foil “handles” to lift the bars out of the pan then cut them into squares before serving. Store the bars in the refrigerator.