First of all, many thanks to Dianne of Dianne's Dishes for selecting Florida pie as this week's Tuesday with Dorie treat. The recipe can be found posted on Dianne's blog. I used three elements of the recipe - hot meringue, key lime filling, and the fabulous coconut cream - to come up with something just a bit more dressed up.
Unaware of the salient characteristics of good key lime pies, I was surprised to learn that true key lime fillings are yellow in colour, not green. Green filling is made with artificial colouring, and understandably this is frowned up by aficionados of this dessert.
Key limes are smaller, more tart than regular limes, and give yellow juice. These were indigenous to Malaysia and were transplanted by the Spanish to the Florida Keys during the 1500s. In the 1920s a hurricane wiped out key lime orchards. They were subsequently replaced with the easier to cultivate and harvest Persian limes, although key limes persisted in people's backyards. Most key limes on the market nowadays come from Central America.
The components of this pie reflect its history. The recipe preceded the Overseas Highway by over a century so fresh milk was unavailable. Since cows were few in the keys, cooks had to use condensed milk. It also has a quaint heritage, like many American desserts: a ship salvager named William Curry, who is a self-made millionaire and was also known as rich Bill, had a cook named Aunt Sally who created or perfected this recipe in the late 1800s.
To make the Florida pie hew closer to my taste, I substituted ground almonds for the graham cracker crust. In retrospect, I probably should have toasted the almonds to get a more deeply golden colour.
I loved the coconut cream and to me it is the best part of this dessert, so I was a bit generous with this layer. However, I omitted shredded coconut from the hot meringue (Ms Greenspan added this for symmetry of layers).
It's amazing how the tartness of the key limes was effectively counterbalanced by the normally cloying sweetness of condensed milk. The filling has just the right balance of citrus tang. The coconut cream makes this even more luscious and rich. Then, there's meringue for levity and an almond crust for a bit of crunch.
A great make-ahead, this dessert is dinner-party gorgeous when served my way and just downright homey as a true pie with a graham cracker crust. Either way, this is one truly refreshing dessert.
- These notes were updated May 29th for clarity.
- Because I wanted this served in a glass, I had to come up with a way to have the egg yolks in the filling reach a pasteurization temperature without baking. I took a chance on placing the egg yolks and half the condensed milk over a low flame and whisked gently but constantly until I reached 160°F. By this time, the filling was really thick. Then, I proceeded to add the rest of the condensed milk, followed by lime juice added in dribbles as my hand mixer was set to low.
- To get a smooth coconut cream, I used a food processor to grind the sweetened shredded coconut. On medium-low heat, my cream reduced in 15 minutes after it started to boil.
- When working with meringues, make sure utensils are scrupulously clean and that there is no trace of yolk in the separated whites. Any bit of oil or fat will break the surface tension required in forming meringue, and the result is a limp fluff that will not stiffen no matter how long you beat it.
- Because a cooked meringue is used in this recipe, this will be less likely to weep when placed in the refrigerator. Baking 911 has great tips on this subject.
- Incidentally, I love cooked meringues. So much so that I wrote an entire paean to it.
- Please head on to Tuesdays with Dorie for everyone's Florida pies.