HAPPY FOURTH OF July! When I was growing up we always had a big cookout for the Fourth. We would light our sparklers from the little cinders left in the bottom of the grill long after the burgers and hotdogs were gone. Besides being allowed to play with fire, one of the things I liked best about these big cookouts was dessert. On normal days, my family did not have dessert, so I looked forward to every opportunity to enjoy some cake or ice cream or pie. This Fourth, along with celebrating Independence Day, I am celebrating the love of sweet treats with a Key Lime Pie. It is sweet and limey, cool, creamy and delicious.
You will want to begin with the crust so that it can cook and cool while you prepare the filling. You may prebake a ready-made shell from the store or make one at home. Crusts are not nearly so difficult as they are sometimes made out to be, so I encourage you to try making your own.
For the crust you will need:
Preheat oven to 350.
Place the flour and other dry ingredients into a food processor and give them a couple of pulses. Add about 1/2 of the butter and shortening (cut into 1/2" pieces) and mix thoroughly.
Add the rest of the butter and shortening and mix again until you have a crumbly consistency. Begin pouring the water in a few drops at a time, pulsing the mixer as you go. The goal is to get as little water in as possible but still have it hold together. When it just begins to come together, stop adding water and dump the dough onto a piece of parchment paper. Flatten it into a thick little disc and put another piece of parchment paper over the top.
Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out until it is about 1 1/2" times larger than your pie pan. Carefully loosen the parchment paper and transfer the crust to the pie pan. Settle the dough into the pan and trim all but about 1/2" of the excess dough from the edges. Pinch a little decoration around the rim to make the edge of your crust. From the parchment paper, cut a circle a little large than the bottom of your pie and place it in the pie pan on top of the crust. Gently pour pie weights (or dry beans work great) on top of the paper and place a crust protector (you can make one from foil) around the edge of the pie.
Put the crust in the oven for about 12-15 minutes or until it just begins to get golden and flakey. Remove the crust from the oven and set it aside to cool, leaving the pie weights in to cool, too.
For the filling you will need:
In a small sauce pan combine the sugar, lime juice powder and corn starch, mixing them well to avoid corn starch clumps in the cooked filling. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. Turn the stove on to a medium heat and stir constantly. When a liquid containing corn starch reaches a temperature close to boiling, the corn starch thickens. If you do not stir, the starch will thicken at the bottom of the pan and the filling will be gloppy instead of smooth. When the starch has thickened, you should have a fairly thick custardy filling.
Turn off the heat and set the filling aside while you remove the pie weights, parchment and crust protector from the crust. Pour the filling into the crust and set them in a cool place (by a breezy open window is great) while you make the meringue. It is very important to not put the meringue on top of hot filling as it will adversely affect it, so if you think in will need more time to cool, take a break or wash up some dishes while you let the temperature come down.
For the meringue you will need:
Put the whites in a large mixing bowl. Make sure to remove any of those litte white "strings" (chalaza) from the whites if they came out of the eggs when you were separating the yolks. Add the cream of tartar and begin mixing at a medium speed, working your way up to high speed until you have soft peaks (the meringue sticks up just a bit when you lift out the mixer). Gently fold in the sugar, sprinkling a bit at a time as you mix. When the sugar is mixed in, slowly bring the mixer back up to high and continue mixing until the meringue is shiny and makes stiff peaks (you can make litte mountain ranges with the mixer as you lift it out).
If the filling is no more than slightly warm, spread the meringue evenly making a little peak in the center. Turn the oven on to high broil and raise the rack up close to the top. As the broiler is kicking on, pull up a chair to the oven so that you can watch the meringue as it browns.
Put the pie in under the broiler just off to one side or the other so that the peak is not directly under the heat. Watch the meringue carefully turning it as it begins to get golden brown. When it is evenly browned all the way around remove it from the oven and let it rest for a few minutes. As I mentioned before, it is very important not to let the meringue get warm. Heat will cause a reaction that will make the meringue become runny and will ruin the look and consistency (but not the taste!) of your pie. Making sure the filling is cool and browning the top as quickly as possible will keep your meringue beautiful.
Refrigerate the pie for several hours before serving and enjoy!