in-praise-of-the-pocket-sized Recipes

key lime tart

From the self-indicting delight of tiny infant fists gripping grownup forefingers to the calculated pinhole photography that lines my cubicle, I’m one of those girls, it seems, that can’t get enough of diminutive proportions. This absorption extends to the culinary world; from miniature artichokes and petite eggplants to pearl onions and microscopic zucchini, I find Lilliputian produce irresistible, and am incapable of not bringing them home by the bagful and readying them for their close-ups.

Baked goods are in no way spared these indignities. Puny cupcakes are always chosen over their brawny siblings, as are cheese puffs, scones and black-and-white cookies. “The more, the merrier!” I cheer until every flat surface (all three of them, that is) in our also-tiny apartment are filled with rows of one-bite delicacies and I exhaustedly wonder why I created three times the amount of work for myself.

ina garten's key lime tart(lets)

I have no learning curve, however, so a trip to Bowery Kitchen Supply this weekend found me pressing my nose against a case of itsy tart pans, envisioning the Ina Garten Key Lime Tart I have bookmarked in my head scaled down to finger food proportions for a Labor Day barbeque. My husband, who has long given up on trying to use such lines of reasoning on me as “but where will we keep them?” and “are these really necessary?” (and who I instead remind that “hey, at least my excessive spending habits are in occasional $20 increments and not, say, Chanel”), eeked out nary a protest, possibly because he quietly snickered knowing what was in store for me on Monday.

You see, as he and his sister sat on the sofa vegging on a Law & Order SVU marathon, I spent at least four episodes worth of time blending, patting, rolling, foil-lining, pie-weighting, baking, unmolding, cooling, peeling, grinding, juicing, stirring, filling and cooling 16 tartlets in the kitchen. I mean, it’s a good thing I consider obsessive baking projects a good time or I might have, in a very weak moment, considered throwing them out the window and making one-bowl cookies instead, never speaking of tartlets again.

I’m glad I didn’t – I really liked the results. Next time, I’d put less filling in each shell; the molds I bought are a little deep for the pungency of the lime curd, but otherwise the recipe is a keeper and my love affair with minuscule baked goods renewed. Which is good news, because moments after I bought the small tart molds on Saturday, I also succumbed to a four-pack of wee loaf pans. There’s no cure for this disease I have.

ina garten's key lime tart(lets)

Key Lime Tart
Adapted from Ina Garten

Tart Shell*
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch salt

Filling
4 limes at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar together until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Press the dough into a 10-inch-round or 9-inch-square false-bottom tart pan, making sure that the finished edge is flat. Chill until firm.

Butter one side of a square of aluminum foil to fit inside the tart and place it, buttered side down, on the pastry. Fill with beans or rice. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and beans, prick the tart all over with the tines of a fork, and bake again for 20 to 25 minutes more, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Remove the zest of 4 limes with a vegetable peeler or zester, being careful to avoid the white pith. Squeeze the limes to make 1/2 cup of juice and set the juice aside. Put the zest in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the sugar and process for 2 to 3 minutes, until the zest is very finely minced. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar and lime zest. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then add the lime juice and salt. Mix until combined.

Pour the mixture into a 2-quart saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. The lime curd will thicken at about 175°F, or just below a simmer. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Fill the tart shell with warm lime curd and allow to set at room temperature. Once set, serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

* I made one change: I found the mixture to be very crumbly, so I added an egg to hold it together, which is a fairly typical inclusion in tart crusts. After that, it rolled out perfectly.

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57 comments on key lime tart

  1. Oh my how I love the Ina lime curd recipe. I’ve done it with just the regular old pie crust, too, because I also had the crumbling problem.

    So glad to see you doing all cooking all the time! Can’t wait to see what’s next.

  2. Amelia

    Congratulations to you! I just got here from your iVillage site, and what a beautiful job you’re doing. I’ve loved your blog for ages, but (and I can’t believe I’m saying this), this is even better. Hooray!

  3. You know what? I’ve never had key-lime anything! Lemon, yes. But I love the green, and I have to try these. I’m impressed by the amount of work, too.

  4. So glad I found this new blog. I began reading you…heck, maybe close to three years ago. I remember the entry…you were sitting at your desk watching the snow fall. It was fabulous, as I am certain that this blog is going to make me fat!

  5. deb

    Tammi – While they were, it was more that I thought they’d be less so found myself surprised when four hours had passed and I was still in the kitchen. Other factors in this extended cookathon were than I only bought 12 small tart molds but the dough made 16, so it was two rounds of 40 minute bake times to get the crusts ready. This tart crust is especially tasty (I think it’s the vanilla setting it apart), though, and took less than 2 minutes to put together, so I’ll use it again for a dessert.

    Pseudostoops – It’s a good one, I agree. Most tart doughs have one egg or 1-2 yolks in them, so I had an extra on hand just in case I needed it, which I did. Thanks for the welcome!

    Amelia – Welcome! I’m very excited about the new format, too.

    Abby – I think, and I could be wrong, lemon curd tarts are a really classic French dessert pastry. I’ve always wanted to make them, but somehow, this idea got under my skin first. You know what else I want to try? Pink grapefruit curd tarts. Though, most people I’ve mentioned them to make a face like they’d be too “weird.”

    Mary – Thank you. You know, I always thought that entry was like the worst thing I’d ever written and it’s comments like yours that totally make my day. We’re not going to let this blog make either of us fat, so I’m going to be balancing desserts with soups and salads, just like we eat. Oh, and dumping the pastries on my coworkers, leaving just one or two at home.

  6. ann

    I think we have opposite ends of the same afflicition… must be something about living in teeny tiny apartments. I combat my feelings of smooshedness by making HUGE vats of food! Like, a gallon of green chili, batches upon batches of pickles and sauces, etc. There’s no way me and my boyfriend can eat it all, and there’s really no way we can even store it, but… I. Just. Must. Do. It! weird…
    beautiful tarts btw!

  7. Dana

    Deb, I followed you from ivillage. I too am a newlywed and a little obsessed with food, and reading about food, and talking about food (and perusing recipes online, and thinking about food shopping) . However, I have a 5 month old, and his level of patience does not allow me to spend the time in the kitchen as I would like to. So I will continue to visit your site often. PS– its a little pedestrian, but I feel about my crockpot the way you feel about your Cocotte!

  8. These look absolutely fantastic – and I completely understand your miniatures addiction! I’m slowly building up my collection of mini loaf tins, tart moulds, cake tins etc :P

  9. hi deb!
    yes, ini-mini stuff can be so attractive and cute! =)
    a shame of missing those L&O episodes, I love L&O…but checking your pictures, I think in the end it was all worth it, right? =)
    great read + recipe…will definitely come back later for new posts!
    and perhaps more delicious mini-creations??

  10. I do so love little things, they reflect such care and effort. I won’t be putting any of these in any of my pockets unless you can consider my mouth a pocket! Beautiful and perfect for a party on the terrace!

  11. me7c7v

    why do they have you bake the beans or rice in the crust? does that ensure it doesn’t crack or something? should you do that for alot of home made crusts, like when making something along the lines of a pot pie?

    I’ve been quietly reading your blog for a while but haven’t commented before–I love following your culinary adventures! You’re lucky that someone else will do the dishes–I would cook alot more except for that. There are four people in my family, and we make alot of dishes (no dishwasher besides me). After spending alot of time and effort making something, and then all the time and effort to clean up afterwards, well, compared to the amount of time spent actually eating, it doesn’t seem worth it. So I guess I’ll just live vicariously through you. thanks!!

  12. SO, SO happy that you started this site.

    As a longtime reader, I find your daily musings hilarious – but absoultely LOVE how you photograph and talk about food.

    It’s amazing.

    And you have such a talent.

  13. deb

    Ann – I don’t know who I am kidding, but the miniature baked goods are really only an excuse to not feel guilty about eating something so insignificant. It does the trick, though. One time, I brought both full-sized and miniature cupcakes to a party and all 90 of the minis were gone at the end of the night and not one of the big ones.

    Dana – I’ve always wondered how foodies balance having kids and wanting to engage in obsessive kitchen pursuits. More frightening, what if we end up with kids with no interest in the epicurean? Ah, well, I’ve got a good chicken nugget recipe, I guess we’ll work it out.

    Ellie – Have you seen these? I feel my resistance weakening…

    Julia – Something about L&O SVU, though, even when I watch it, I’m always at odds with myself for it. What’s wrong with me that I’d find such upsetting situations entertainment? Then I convince myself I’m not *really* watching it because I’m actually in the kitchen baking, no sneaking peaks at all.

    Me7c7v – The beans weight down the crust while you bake it empty so that it doesn’t puff up. It’s not necessary for pies, because you bake the fruit inside the raw crust, so it doesn’t buckle. You can use anything to weight it – dried beans, rice and or purchased ceramic pie weights.

    We have no dishwasher either (besides my husband, heh, who is sick of this joke) and it’s exhausting. But, I still prefer endless sinkfuls of dishes over take-out and bakery dessert – well, most days.

    Browneyedgirlie – Thank you.

  14. hehehe…you said curd.

    I’ve been around since close to the beginning so there’s no reason to stop now. Good luck with the kitchen, Deb. And for those of you who have never had any of Deb’s homemade goodies…you have missed out.

  15. how cute! Your photos are great. I’m sure they tasted delicious and were so well worth the 4 episodes of SVU you spent baking them.

    I just love your blog..and your addiction to miniature desserts – me too! =)

  16. wow. i am new to your site (brand new, in fact) and am in love. those tartlets look divine!!! i made mini fruit tartlets a few months ago for a summer cookout and they were almost too cute to serve up. delicious though! plus you can’t beat built in portion control (not that eating 9 tartlets should make me feel better than eating one piece of regular tart!) but still! :-)

  17. deb

    Howard – Braggart! But, yes, from time to time, I pay off sources for my day job with baked goods. Journalistic integrity is totally overrated.

    Jaay – Thank you.

    Jocelyn gets to eat all my baked goods, or at least most of them. I’m actually not allowed to come over to her parties unless I bake. The things I do to make friends…

    Re: Cupcakes. Alex, you hear that? There’s a restaurant in Napa called the French Laundry and it’s supposed to be really, really good. Wanna go?

    Sarah – It’s so funny because these mini-tarts are even on the large size compared to what we’d see in Paris. But for Americans, total portion control.

  18. Roscoe

    …I’m pretty sure these shouldn’t be called Key Lime Tarts if they don’t have Key Lime juice in them, and are green (not yellow, like proper key lime pie)! But what do I know?

  19. deb,

    i share your obsession for small cute things. my disease started with mini bundt cake pans, then progressed to mini springform pans. don’t fight it. they all may laugh, but they’re the first ones in line at dessert!

    taiyyaba

  20. Lilbuf

    This is a wonderful recipe and I thank you for it. We had tarts this week in school and we to bring in our own recipes to use. Luckly I found this one and everyone raved about it. I have leftover curd and I plan to make some more this week. Thanks again!!

  21. Pam

    Fabulous recipe, but I think you should mention it’s not “true” key lime pie! I bought a bag of key limes at the market last weekend (a rare occurance here in Ontario, Canada) and found your site by searching for a recipe for key lime pie/tarts that didn’t use sweetened condensed milk. I ended up having to zest & squeeze sixteen key limes to get half a cup of juice ;) Next time I will buy regular limes.

    Also, if anyone is looking for a tip on how to squeeze the juice out of all of those tiny little key limes – use a garlic press – half a lime is just the right size (of course I only got this stroke of inspiration at the twelfth lime).

    And finally, when I poured the lime juice in, my butter curdled. It became a disgusting sludgy mess. But once in the saucepan, I just whisked it for a bit and good as new.

    The curd is on the stove now…I’ll let you know how they turn out for me :D

  22. Pam

    So they’re awesome – but whoa, too tart for me! I need a dollop of whipped cream on top. My fiance loves them though (he loves all things sour).

  23. eliina

    Fantastic recipe! I made it for my lime-loving boyfriend for Valentine’s Day. We love interesting desserts that aren’t too sweet, and this was perfect.

  24. Ruby

    Could you please let me know how long you baked the little tart shells for? I am making lemon tartlets that are about 2 inches in diameter and I have no idea for how long I should prebake the little shells.

  25. deb

    It was almost three years ago — I do not remember. However, usually 10 minutes works on minis. You’re looking for it to be just a little golden. You should use it’s appearance, and not the baking time, as a guide as ovens can widely vary.

  26. Ruby

    Thank you! I’m making little versions of your whole lemon tart for this weekend’s brunch. Fingers crossed they are a success!

  27. Mars

    Hi Deb,

    Congrats on the baby, saw you on t.v.!

    I have made this recipe twice. The first time with limes and the second with key limes.
    Both recipes did not thicken in the specified time and cooked longer. They both set more like, sour cream (when its at room temp). I have no idea how it was supposed to ‘set.’
    I did use cold eggs, maybe that is why…
    For the second time around, I took some of the hot mixture and added some cornstarch to thicken it, it helped … some.
    The flavor was good on both tarts.
    I have also made your whole-lemon tart, it was great! Cooked longer since we had a full oven on Fathers Day.

    THANK YOU SOOO MUCH FOR THIS SITE! LOVE IT!
    THIS IS MY FIRST POST EVER, I MEAN EVER! YAY!`~

    PS
    I plan to try to blueberry boy bait, AND the blueberry crumb bars, yum…

  28. Abby

    Hi Deb-

    I bought some very cute little key limes at the market a few days ago and was wondering how much zest you should yield from your limes for this recipe. Since mine are so small (golf ball size or smaller), I wasn’t sure if 4 limes worth of zest would be enough.

    Also, do you think it would be possible to make these even smaller- say, mini cupcake size? I don’t have the tartlet pans, (but like the idea of tiny desserts as well) and I have a pecan tart recipe that I make in the mini cupcake size. I imagine the crust is relatively fragile for this, though, so I’m skeptical about being able to actually remove them from the pan. haha If not, I will probably just go with Ina’s suggested size.

    I love your site- the recipes are just my taste/style. Can’t wait to make this tart!

  29. Willie Brown

    I just saw your site, those key lime tarts look quite yummy. gonna try to get the wife to bake me some of those. Wish me luck! I’ve been reading on the internet about, I think it was called, the world’s greatest key lime pies at a place I think is called “Kutcharitaville Cafe”. I read, that Nitty Kutchie Pelaez is the one that makes those famous key lime pies. I believe that they might have been called, “The Mighty Diamond Key Lime Pie”. Not sure though, I guess that I need to do some more research about them. My whole family really loves key lime pie, it is very hard, or I should say “imposable” to get true key lime pie here in Calf. Maybe we should plan a trip and go visit Key West sometime. Does Nitty Kutchie Pelaez really live in Key West or is that just the location of “Kutcharitaville Cafe”? Any help would be more that appreciated.
    thanks so much,…..Willie Brown

  30. Allison

    I’m trying to make a graham version of the tart shells– should I substitute crushed graham crackers for the flour, or combine them with flour? Or something else entirely?

  31. Susan

    Whoa, are key limes really green? I thought what we here in California call Mexican Limes are the same as Key Limes and ours (we have a killer tree out front) are small, tart and yellow when ripe and much tastier than Bearrs limes (those large green and way too sweet things). Perfect for gin and tonics, mojitos and BC’s key lime tart! (Just had one this week!) Anyone know about Mexican Limes?

  32. Lisa

    which mini tart molds would you recommend? I was looking on amazon and the Wilton set looks like the sides are more perpendicular where I want something with a sharper angle like yours. HELP!

  33. deb

    Actually, these were mini-brioche molds, if that helps you find them at a store. I hadn’t realized this at the time. The mini-tart pans, however, especially with removable bottoms, are more useful. These are more like cups.

  34. Thank’s to you for that receipe ;o)
    I changed the crust for the graham one, added a “spoutch” of unsweet whipped cream and lime pulp that looks like caviar for decoration :o)
    it’s been a great success!!

  35. Mary

    What do you think about this key lime curd filling a vanilla butter cake for a wedding in July? I am going to attempt to frost with your swiss buttercream also. Why do I think I can make a wedding cake? I have had so much luck with your other recipes that it might be giving me false confidence!

    1. deb

      Mary — I’m no wedding cake expert — I just made the one — but should warn that curds make for difficult wedding cake fillings (they’re soft) unless you set them with enough gelatin to firm it up a bit, so it doesn’t squeeze out.

  36. Dalia

    Can I make thsi with your pie crust 102 recipe rather than this tart crust and instead of prebaking the shell with the beads, can I press dough in tart pan and fill with curd then bake till curd is set?

  37. Pamela

    I share you obsession with tiny foods (though I have to learn to choose my audience–friend’s bridal shower? Well received. Super Bowl party, including my dad and my brother? Not so much. And here I thought sliders would be a big hit…). The shower included mini spinach bread bowls, grilled cheese in a tomato soup shot, and, because cupcakes aren’t a small enough version of cake, mini-white cupcakes with four different flavors of icing (who wants to stop at one and make it easy?): vanilla buttercream, orange buttercream, maple buttercream (the combination tasted like pancakes!), and chocolate ganache.

  38. Sara

    Hi!
    I was wondering if I could make this just as a regular pie? Your filling sounds AMAZING. Also, I am living in Costa Rica right now. Will the recipe be ruined without specifically key limes?

    Muchas gracias!

  39. Lena

    Should these be made with specifically key limes or would normal limes work? I’m just wondering about quantities since key limes seem to be smaller…

  40. cindy

    Hi Deb,

    I was looking for a key lime curd for a cupcake filling and checked your site first! Do you think this would work well?
    Thanks,Cindy

  41. Kate

    I didn’t realize this was one of the first recipes when you converted to a cooking blog! I make the curd all the time and just dollop it on things – it is so tasty! I just wanted to say that I made it again last night using vegan butter for a friend who is dairy free. It turned out perfectly.