Saturday, 4 July 2009

For the sweet-toothed buccaneer...

It's July 4th, and I don't know about you but I LOVE Independence Day. Normally sceptical about the hullabaloo and fanfare of nation states celebrating their independence, or in England's case some dude named George, I suspend all critical faculties and embrace the swashbuckling, tea-dumping, free-wheeling spirit of America's most eagerly anticipated holiday. All that red, white and blue decoration, the earnestness with which Americans celebrate their independence and freedom, the singing, the food, the flags!

If you love the 'West Wing', 'Seinfeld' or 'M*A*S*H' as much as I do, you are mandated to love July 4th, there is just no point denying it. You can't consume the cultural exports of America, then turn around and sneer at its so-called lack of cultural sophistication, or complain about loud Americans who point at Big Ben and ask "Is that Oxford or Cambridge?" I love America because of its idiosyncracies, not in spite of them, and will disown friends who possess anti-American sentiments as quickly as I dispatch people who don't eat fish or who claim to be vegetablists - as Jeremy Clarkson so aptly calls them

If you get excited by Americana in all its kitsch glory - as by now you will have gathered I most certainly do - then you make cakes like the one below. Yes, that is blue icing, and with all it's E-numbered, diabetes-inducing filthiness it tasted mighty good. This cake, for the record, was made last November for election day and I am sure our commander-in-chief would appreciate its total brilliance. I simply revisit it today to remind myself what a queen of schmaltz I am :D

Anyway you get my point. I dig the States

July 4th for me is replete with memories of summers spent in New England. It was the perfect escape from the dourness of Norway, not to mention my looney relatives - Wodehouse was right in stating "aunts aren't gentlemen" and my Norwegian ones certainly fit that description to a T. My American grandfather, Jack, lived on the coast of New Hampshire and so the parents and I absconded to a town called Rye Beach every summer for most of the '90s. It was, for want of a better word, sweet. Swimming in the freezing Atlantic; eating burgers, hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chipwiches; learning to love lobster; daily swim team practices with the beach club swim team my parents insisted I join (I still thank them for doing so, or I would've been the size of a baby hippo); comedy tennis lessons (racquets and I will never be bosom buddies); flashlight tag during sultry evenings; summer camps at MIT; birthday parties and all the usual carefree japes and frolics of teenage summers...I couldn't have asked for better holidays and never got sick of returning to the same place every July

Be that as it may, my knowledge of the rest of the United States is patchy at best. D.C., New Orleans and Chicago have thus far eluded me, and although a wine tour of California beckons, I'd love to travel around the deep south and midwest - often neglected in travel plans that always focus on seductive New York or foodie San Fran

So in a fit of nostalgia, I told "she who must be obeyed", otherwise known as Mama Johansen, that we would make burgers and key lime pie to honour the Great American Holiday. We feasted on quarterpounders with gherkins, onions and cheese last night to kick off the star-spangled celebrations, and subsequently felt rather queasy. That's a lot of meat for someone who recently went on a two-month seafood binge as a symbolic denouncement of useless men (it was a bad break-up...) and recently severe iron-deficiency crept up on me, so the occasion for jumping back on the meat wagon once more couldn't be more apposite. The gustatory meat wagon that is. Shame that I went at it with quite that much gusto

But I digress. Key Lime Pie, to the uninitiated, is an All-American dessert. It's tangy and fresh and sweet all at once, and I have a penchant for mouth-puckeringly sour things so it's top of my list for summertime sweet treats. Except it's been so hot and humid the past week that the idea of baking made me feel even more faint than the prospect of eating another quarterpounder with cheese. So on Thursday I tweeted a query to see if anyone had a no-bake key lime pie recipe. Responses came courtesy of Oliver Thring author of the excellent blog Thring for your Supper, and the folks at Market Kitchen. Oliver suggested adding coconut to the base, which I did, and making a syrup to lace the pie with, which I intended to do and forgot. Next time Oliver, I shall try the lime syrup idea ;) Market Kitchen helpfully directed me to a Momma Cheri recipe which looked quite similar to the one I already had (and a tasty recipe that is too) but it required 10 minutes' baking in the oven

This obsession with a no-bake key lime pie may seem absurd to you, but I was adamant it could be done.

So after the helpful tweets from Oliver and Market Kitchen, a quick scour of the web comparing four recipes, and a collating of ingredients and proportions I came up with the recipe you see below. The secret is mascarpone. Do not use double cream, it just won't have the right consistency - mascarpone is silky and smooth, thus adding the perfect amount of creaminess to the pie filling without making it insipid (I have a thing about double cream, preferring the tarter creme fraiche) and also means eggs are redundant. In fact Mama Johansen and I concurred that eggs, as Heston would say, block flavour-release. In other words, adding eggs to the filling renders the lime flavour less noticeable, and that is problematic when it comes to key lime pie.

You want custard with a citrus twist, go eat tarte au citron. This is tart, refreshing and clean-tasting. Save the eggs for Sunday brunch.

And there you have it: a sublime key lime pie. Happy Independence Day! And yes that is a pool thermometer shaped like a frog in the photo below. We Johansens like our kitsch....

No-bake Key Lime Pie base:
  • 200g ginger nut biscuits (I used some Dutch 'spekulaas' or spice biscuits)
  • 125g melted butter
  • 30g desiccated coconut
Filling (easy as pie):
  • 1 can (370ml) condensed milk
  • 200g mascarpone cheese
  • zest of 4 limes (see photo above, it's a lot. Use a microplane)
  • Juice of 5 limes (up to 6 if the limes aren't v.juicy)

Make the pie base first: place the biscuits in a large plastic bag and crush until they resemble breadcrumbs. If you have a magimix you can of course blitz them in the mixer, but bashing them is quite cathartic. Add the coconut and melted butter, mix thoroughly and then press down quite firmly into a pie tin or cake tin. I only had a big cake tin (23cm diameter) and could have pressed a bit more firmly to get the pie base up on the sides, but it's not the end of the world. If you have ramekins you could make individual pies for a dinner party. Place the pie base in the freezer to chill it quickly

Next, prepare the lime filling: place the mascarpone in a medium-large bowl, grate in the lime zest and whisk this for a minute before adding the condensed milk and lime juice. As soon as you add the lime juice the mixture will thicken, which has to do with the acidity of limes coiling up the proteins in condensed milk, thus thickening it (and the mascarpone I imagine) which is a nifty trick when leaving eggs out of a recipe like this

Finally, taste the mixture. This is not difficult, it should be tangy but sweet enough that the lime juice isn't sucking in your cheeks and making you wince. Add a bit more juice if it's too sweet, a but more condensed milk if too sour

Then pour the filling mixture on top of your chilled pie base, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for a few hours to set, or even better, overnight. When you're ready to serve the pie, run the blunt end of a knife along the perimeter of your cake (this isn't strictly necessary when using a pie tin) and release the tin. Slice with a sharp knife and serve with some lime zest as garnish, or a sprig of mint. Most recipes call for a dollop of double cream or creme fraiche to go along with key lime pie but IMHO that's redundant. The pie's creamy enough as it is, at a stretch you could do creme fraiche but double cream does nothing for the beauty of this glorious, tangy pie

Keeps a few days in the fridge, if you don't scoff the whole thing in one sitting. Believe me, it's tempting. Thankfully the summer battle with one's bikini is a good prophylactic to such indulgence


Fiona Beckett said...

Can't decide which I envy more, the key lime pie or the pool . . . Happy Independence Day!

Signe said...

Thanks you too ;) Hope it's not too sweltering, the pool here is like a bathtub, we use the ocean to refresh and revive. Happy July 4th...

Gastro1 said...

Very impressive post considering you are also swiming and listening to Marvin tambien !

Signe said...

Very funny Gastro1, this was posted some hours before the Independence Day swim! But perhaps there's potential for future multi-tasking...blogging, tweeting and baking, all whilst swimming?! Thanks anyway ;)

Anonymous said...

No sparklers/fireworks on the pie?

gastroanthropologist said...

Love it! I love how you are gushing about the States! Moving abroad has made me miss and love the US more than ever. July 4th is one of my favorite celebrations and I missed it this year (was in Norway!). On your list of places to visit - head to the Florida keys - the best key lime pie you've ever had exists in that part of the world. Your recipe has given me a wonderful idea though - my no bake cake crust will now all be made with speculos - I love that cookie and can't believe I never thought to use it for crust. It has such a great flavor. Any ideas as where to get the speculos butter in London? I had some in france and liquid restrictions on the airlines kept me from bringing any back!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I love that you've used regular limes in your key lime pie - I've never seen key limes in London!

Signe said...

Gastroanthropologist you are a kindred spirit - spekuloos are wonderful, so much more delicious than those horrible biscuits you get in the UK.

Shall have to check out Key West next time I head stateside, if only to sample the finest key limes and pies made thereof.

Tamarindandthyme, that makes two of us - have yet to see a key lime in London. They're quite small apparently, wonder why they don't export them like Florida grapefruit? At any rate, regular limes still make a tangy pie so all is not lost ;)

Wayne said...

That lime pie looks so good.