There's something dizzying and delightful about grating enough citrus zest that its heady scent fills up the entire kitchen with a pleasant punch, the taste buds standing at attention. Whether incorporated into a curd to dollop onto pancakes and biscuits or to whisk into a marinade for wild salmon and halibut, adding zest is an easy way to transport you to the sunnier side of things.
With the onset of spring, I love making this fresh Key lime pie. The cool, biting lime of sweetened custard is so addicting that even my mother-in-law — an opinionated and avid cook and baker — requests this pie for Easter, Mother's Day, birthdays (hers as well as others') and basically all throughout the year.
The crust for this pie — a happy marriage of graham crackers and nuts — is adapted from Sara Foster's beloved Key lime pie she's been making at Foster's markets in North Carolina for more than 20 years. Fresh-squeezed juice is essential; you can substitute the more widely available Persian limes for Key limes, but try to avoid the bottled juice. It lacks the tang and brightness of fresh squeezed.
For maximum juice, let your citrus warm up to room temperature, and roll your limes with the palm of your hand against the countertop before cutting and juicing. Instead of the more common meringue or whipped cream topping, I love combining fresh whipped cream with lightly sweetened crème fraîche and a last-minute squeeze of fresh lime juice.
Fresh Key lime pie
Makes 1 (10-inch) pie
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (pulse in food processor until fine)
1/3 cup ground walnuts or macadamia nuts (pulse in food processor a few times)
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups Key lime juice
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 to 2 teaspoons powdered sugar
1/2 cup thick crème fraîche (or sour cream)
About 1 tablespoon grated lime zest
Lime wedges, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine graham cracker crumbs, walnuts and sugar in the bottom of a 10-inch pie plate. Stir in melted butter and mix to combine. Press crumb mixture evenly into bottom of the pie plate, pressing some of the crumbs up the sides (about 1/4 to 1/2 inch). Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly. Leave oven at 325 degrees.
2. Combine condensed milk, eggs and lime juice together until well blended. Pour batter into cooled pie shell and bake 18 to 20 minutes or until just set but still just slightly jiggly in the center. Let completely cool, and chill at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
3. To serve: Whip cream and powdered sugar until soft-to-medium peaks form. Fold in the crème fraîche and lime zest until just blended. Serve pie with crème fraîche topping and a squeeze of fresh lime, if desired. Recipe originally published in "A Mouthful of Stars" (published by Andrews McMeel, 2014).