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Key lime pie can add a tropical twist to your holiday dessert menu

Allen Pierleoni, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Entertaining

Nellie & Joe’s Key West Lime Juice

3 egg yolks

1/4 teaspoon real vanilla extract

Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a stainless-steel or plastic bowl (not aluminum). Then add the three egg yolks, saving the whites in a separate bowl. Pour in 1 cup of lime juice and the vanilla extract.

Whisk by hand until the batter is smooth and consistent. Do not use a blender or electric mixer. Taste it. Does it need a drizzle of lime juice to add more pucker? We say yes, but you decide. Set the bowl aside.

For the graham cracker crust (read this carefully for our tweaks): Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Follow the recipe directions on the box of graham cracker crumbs, which calls for 1 1/4 cups crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/3 cup melted butter (five tablespoons). However, we need another tablespoon of butter because we’re adding 3 to 4 ounces of pecans (1/4 cup to 1/3 cup, depending on your pecan love), run through a nut grinder or finely chopped, and a dash (1/4 teaspoon) of cinnamon.

Also, instead of the recipe’s ¼ cup of white sugar, use 1/8 cup of white sugar and 1/8 cup of brown sugar. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the melted butter. Blend with a spatula until melded and pliable.

 

Follow the recipe directions to “evenly spread the mixture onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate (press it with your fingers). Refrigerate until firm.” The recipe says to “bake the crust in a 375-degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes,” but we prefer to bake it in a 300-degree oven for 12 minutes.

Remove the pie plate from the oven and keep the oven at 300 degrees. Beat the 3 egg whites with an electric hand mixer until they peak. This part is a bit tricky: Give the pie filling a few more whisks and gently fold in the beaten egg whites, using a spatula. The idea is not to thoroughly incorporate the whites into the batter by stirring, but to leave most of the lumps of the whites floating on top of the filling. Remember: Gentle does it.

Now slowly pour the mixture into the pie crust, using the spatula to evenly distribute as many egg-white lumps as possible on top of the filling. Once cooked, the pie will have a baked-in meringue which will make the filling less dense.

Cook the pie for 25 minutes. Take a look: Has the meringue turned golden-brown? If not, add another five minutes, but watch it so it doesn’t burn. Next, turn off the oven and turn on the broiler. Monitor the pie closely, as meringue burns quickly. The goal is to lightly char some of the meringue peaks, for aesthetics. Those little charred touches add drama to the presentation.

Remove the pie from the oven, place it on a cooling rack for a few hours, until it reaches room temperature. Cover with a loose tent of aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight. Serve it cold and acknowledge the applause.