January, as far as I’m concerned, is a pretty mediocre month. The holiday party tinsel-and-bubbly frenzy of November and December is replaced with hibernation and Netflix binges. The charming first and second snowstorms pass and the ones that follow are met with more of a really? it’s snowing again? Squarely between Christmas and mid-Winter break, it’s too early in the season to be so weary of the cold, but here I am, counting down the days until the hi/bye gloves can literally come off.
Fortunately, just when I’ve resigned myself to thinking it’s going to be as beige and bleak going forward as the paragraph above, January — as if implicitly understanding that it’s going to have to sell itself harder — presents us with a luminous ray of tropical sunshine packaged as citrus fruit. I become obsessed. This ridiculous thing I bought five years ago as everyone around me tut-tutted that it would never earn its keep is put into overdrive as we conduct methodical studies of the pros and cons of cara-cara vs. blood orange vs. pink grapefruit vs. tangerine juice. (Spoiler: they’re all amazing.) Citrus is as good as everything else about a biting cold sleeting day is bad.
Predictably, it doesn’t take us long to graduate from wholesome pursuits such as freshly-squeezed juice and citrus-studded salads (such as these) and onto more urgent matters: pie. There is something about key lime pie that, to me, easily trumps lemon meringue or even the most buttery caramel blood orange tart and that thing is sweetened condensed milk, which is unquestionably the manna of the canned food aisle. Thick, creamy and halfway to dulce de leche, it protects you from the harshness of the lime juice without taking away any of its tart-fragrant charm. Add a salt-flecked buttery graham cracker crust and a raft of whipped cream on top — did I mention you can have this whole thing made in well under an hour? — and I only want to know why we don’t have this around more often. Or, as my friend Claire Zulkey said best, “I never know it’s what I wanted until I’m eating it.”
One year ago: Pear and Hazelnut Muffins
Two years ago: Gnocchi in Tomato Broth
Three years ago: Buckwheat Baby with Salted Caramel Syrup
Four years ago: Baked Potato Soup (with the works!)
Five years ago: Black Bean Soup with Toasted Cumin Seed Crema
Six years ago: Light Wheat Bread and Clementine Cake
Seven years ago: Chicken Caesar Salad
Eight years ago: Pancakes, Frisee Salad and English Muffins and Artichoke Ravioli with Tomatoes
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Easiest Fridge Dill Pickles
1.5 Years Ago: One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes
2.5 Years Ago: Bacon Corn Hash
3.5 Years Ago: Raspberry Ricotta Scones
Plus, since it’s popsicle season where you are: Both last week’s Butterscotch Pudding and this week’s Key Lime Pie have popsicle equivalents in the archives. Make them and send sweltering thoughts our way, please.
Classic Key Lime Pie
Adapted somewhat liberally from the version at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami, where I am not
Every key lime pie recipe agrees that a can of sweetened condensed milk is the king of ingredients. From there, they diverge. Some use more lime juice, some less. (I use 2/3 cup for a nicely tart filling; use only 1/2 cup if you’re more wary of the tartness of limes.) Some use more egg yolks, some use less. (I find I only need 3 for a good set and flavor, but you can go up to 5 if you’d like something extra-rich.) Not all insist that you whip your yolks until they’re pale and ribbony, but it makes for a lovely final texture and I think is worth it.
Most importantly, despite the name, you don’t need key limes to make this. I mean, if you can get them, please do. They’re wonderful. But I made this, as I often do, with regular grocery store Persian limes and it’s no less dreamy with them.
1 1/2 cups (155 grams) finely ground graham cracker crumbs (from about 10 crackers)
3 tablespoons (40 grams) granulated sugar
2 pinches sea salt
7 tablespoons (100 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest
3 large egg yolks (though extra-large would do you no harm here)
1 14-ounce (396-gram) can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup (155 ml) fresh lime juice (from about 1 dozen tiny key limes or 4 persian/regular limes)
3/4 cup (175 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 to 2 tablespoons powdered or granulated sugar, to taste
Heat oven: To 350°F (176°C).
Make crust: Combine graham crumbs, sugar and salt in a medium bowl and stir until mixed. Add butter and stir until crumbs are evenly coated. Press crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of a standard 9-inch pie dish. I like to use the outer edge of a heavy measuring cup to press in neat, firm sides but nobody will be the wiser if you just use your fingertips. Bake crust until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Set on cooling rack while you prepare filling. Leave oven on.
Make filling: Zest limes into the bottom of a medium bowl until you have 1 1/2 tablespoons. Beat zest and egg yolks with an electric mixer until pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Add sweetened condensed milk and beat until thickened again, about 3 minutes more. Squeeze zested limes until you have 2/3 cups juice. Whisk into yolk mixture until combined. Pour into graham crust and bake pie for another 10 minutes, until set but not browned on top at all. Let pie cool completely before adding topping — you can do this outside (thank you, January!) or even in your freezer (but don’t forget about it) to hasten the process, and your pie reward, along.
Make topping: In a medium bowl, beat cream and sugar until soft peaks are formed. Spread over top of chilled pie. Ideally, pie should be chilled at least another 2 to 3 hours with the cream on top so that it can fully set before you take a slice, but whether that happens is between you and your pie.
Key lime pie keeps in fridge for a week, though certainly not around here.