I think I’m suffering from vacation depression.
Is there such a thing?
I miss my morning contemplations on the balcony, sipping coffee and staring deep into the turquoise water; should we make a change? Live the slow life? I could get used to wind swept hair and no make up. I like the heat. And I have zero problem swapping out leggings and Old Navy zip-ups for a beachy maxi-dress.
Because I can’t drink margaritas all day, I’ve resorted to food.
Current cure: lightened up key lime bars.
I’m no stranger to the key lime pie. It’s my favorite dessert.
A traditional key lime pie is made with sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks and fresh key lime juice. The filling is poured into a graham cracker crust, baked and chilled overnight. The following day, you have the most delicious dessert. It’s usually garnished with whipped cream and sprinkles of lime zest. Sometimes, it’s even served frozen.
Until now, I’ve failed to share a recipe.
My original version is an absolute pain to make.
It’s way too detailed. There are too many steps. It’s full on fat.
And speaking of, since I ate my weight in key lime pie on this trip, I’ve become obsessed. I wanted to create a lighter version similar to the original, but with half the calories (and steps).
Problem #1: Condensed Milk
What is this stuff anyway?
Condensed milk is cow’s milk without the water. It’s cooked down with sugar until thick and creamy (think pale yellow glue). It’s used as a base for a variety of desserts and pies, including ice cream for its velvety rich texture. It’s funny, because my husband absolutely loves condensed milk. He used to eat it out of the can when he was a kid (still does!).
This sweet treat packs some serious calories; almost 1,000 per can with 166 grams of sugar!
Problem #2: Key Limes
Finding a key lime is like looking for a pen at the bottom of your purse.
And when you do find them, they’re so small you have to juice a million of those things to equal only 1/2 cup.
Don’t get me started on the bottled stuff…
Problem #3: The Crust
I’m not a fan of store-bought crusts.
Convenient, yes. Real ingredients? Sometimes.
Plus, they’re way overpriced. I can get 2 boxes of all-natural graham crackers for the price of one pie shell. My kids eat whatever’s leftover as snacks.
The New Version
Once upon a time I created this recipe. And I borrowed its ingredients to perfect my key lime bars. Aha!
Solution #1: Pastry Cream
I completely eliminated condensed milk. It’s just way too sweet for me- one bite and my brain starts to buzz! Instead, I used a lightened up pastry cream for my filling (think éclairs). Mine consists of milk, whole eggs, sugar and fresh lime juice. Gelatin is added to help it set, making it easy to cut into squares. The filling is perfectly creamy and not rubbery at all.
Solution #2: Regular Limes
It is 100% OK to ditch the key limes. Just use normal limes from the grocery store. I would advise buying more than you think; limes don’t seem to be very juicy these days.
Solution #3: Homemade Crust
I made my own using real ingredients. I blitzed graham crackers with unsweetened coconut flakes, cinnamon and dates in the food processor. The dates naturally sweeten the crust without any added sugar. They also help to bind the mixture together without butter. The crumbs resemble wet sand and are easily pressed down into the pan to create a humble homemade crust.
Is it a Keeper?
I think so! The texture is pleasantly creamy, it’s not too sweet, and I don’t feel like I’m going to pass out after taking a bite. There’s still a couple of steps involved but it’s not as intense as the original.
I should also mention that this is a no-bake recipe. Because the pastry cream is cooked on the stove, there’s no need to bake it again in the oven. Just pour the filling into the crust and refrigerate overnight for it to set nicely. This is excellent for entertaining. To serve, I garnish the top with toasted coconut flakes to echo the flavor in the crust and finish it off with a dusting of powdered sugar. Cut into squares and serve!
One quick note: you can’t freeze these key lime bars. There’s a little bit of cornstarch in the pastry cream and cornstarch breaks down when frozen. Keep refrigerated.
- 1½ cup crumbled graham crackers
- ½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1 cup pitted dates
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1½ tsp powdered gelatin
- ⅔ cup freshly squeezed lime juice, about 4-5 limes
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 eggs
- ¾ cup sugar
- 3 tbsp cornstarch
- unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted
- powdered sugar
- Grab an 8x8 inch pan. Line it with parchment paper leaving extra to hang over the sides for easy removal.
- To make the crust, soften your dates. If they look a bit dry and crystalized, soak in warm water to reconstitute. Remove the pits. In a food processor, add the graham crackers, coconut flakes, dates, cinnamon and coconut oil. Process until the mixture resembles wet sand. It should look crumbly but come together when pressed in your hands. If not, add a tiny bit of water to get it going. Then, press the crumbs down into your lined pan to make your crust.
- For the pastry cream, place the gelatin and a splash of water in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside.
- Juice the limes. An electric juicer or citrus reamer works really well. Set aside.
- Bring the milk to a gentle boil. Remove from the heat. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, and cornstarch until well combined. To temper the eggs, slowly whisk about ½ cup of the warm milk into the egg mixture, stirring constantly (do not pour all at once or else the eggs will scramble). Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the pan of milk. Add the gelatin and lime juice. Increase the heat to medium-low, and cook stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until it has thickened, about 1-3 minutes . Strain the mixture through a fine sieve directly over your prepared crust. Smooth out the top with a rubber spatula. Cover with plastic wrap (touching the surface of the pastry cream) so that it does not form a skin. Leave to cool at room temperature for an hour and then transfer to the fridge to chill overnight.
- When ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap. Then remove the the pie from the pan.
- Garnish with toasted coconut flakes and powdered sugar.
- Cut into squares and serve.