While grocery shopping the other day, I fell into a bit of an impulse buy trap. Meaning that when I got home and unpacked my bags, I found myself with nothing I needed and a bunch of random items that where neither here nor there. One of those items happened to be key limes. it was the first time I had seen them in the produce section and now I have seen them every time I go. I would say this is good merchandising on behalf of the produce person! So I googled recipes for key limes with excitement and turns out, they are pretty limited to key lime pie, key lime squares and key lime cookies. While I love key lime pie, it seemed a little dangerous to have a whole pie laying around for just the two of us and I have been baking cookies all week long so I went with the squares.
I really love anything lemon or lime, they are my favorite flavors, so it was a sure bet that these squares would go over well. I appreciated the use of animal crackers as a base rather than the usual graham cracker crust. Just so you know, I had a one pound bag of key limes and using my electric citrus juicer, I ended up with 1/2 cup of lime juice. Even with the help of the juicer, it was a little hard on the hands so I can't imagine the work involved without it. That's okay though, you can always substitute regular limes. Crampy hands aside, these tarts turned out fabulous and so worth it in the end. I love the contrast of the slightly sweet animal cracker crust and the tang of the lime. These squares are so good in fact, that they may one day rival my VERY favorite treat, the lemon tart, and I thought that was near impossible.
RECIPE: (courtesy of Cook's Illustrated)
If you cannot find fresh Key limes, use regular (Persian) limes. Do not use bottled lime juice. Grate the zest from the limes before juicing them, avoiding the bitter white pith that lies just beneath the outermost skin. The optional coconut garnish adds textural interest and tames the lime flavor for those who find it too intense. The recipe can be doubled and baked in a 13- by 9-inch baking pan; you will need a double layer of extra-wide foil for the pan (each sheet about 20 inches in length) and should increase the baking times by a minute or two.
1 1/4 cups crushed animal crackers
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar (light or dark)
Pinch table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup cream cheese , room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lime zest , minced
Pinch table salt
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup fresh lime juice , either Key lime or regular
1/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut , toasted until golden and crisp
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut about 12-inch length extra-wide heavy-duty foil; fold cut edges back to form 7 1/2-inch width. With folded sides facing down, fit foil securely into bottom and up sides of 8-inch-square baking pan, allowing excess to overhang pan sides. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.
2. TO MAKE THE CRUST: In workbowl of food processor, pulse animal crackers until broken down, about ten 1-second pulses; process crumbs until evenly fine, about 10 seconds (you should have about 1 1/4 cups crumbs). Add brown sugar and salt; process to combine, ten to twelve 1-second pulses (if large sugar lumps remain, break them apart with fingers). Drizzle butter over crumbs and pulse until crumbs are evenly moistened with butter, about ten 1-second pulses. Press crumbs evenly and firmly into bottom of prepared pan. Bake until deep golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack while making filling. Do not turn off oven.
3. TO MAKE THE FILLING: While crust cools, in medium bowl, stir cream cheese, zest, and salt with rubber spatula until softened, creamy, and thoroughly combined. Add sweetened condensed milk and whisk vigorously until incorporated and no lumps of cream cheese remain; whisk in egg yolk. Add lime juice and whisk gently until incorporated (mixture will thicken slightly).
4. TO ASSEMBLE AND BAKE: Pour filling into crust; spread to corners and smooth surface with rubber spatula. Bake until set and edges begin to pull away slightly from sides, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cover with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.
5. Loosen edges with paring knife and lift bars from baking pan using foil extensions; cut bars into 16 squares. Sprinkle with toasted coconut, if using, and serve. (Leftovers can be refrigerated up to 2 days; crust will soften slightly. Let bars stand at room temperature about 15 minutes before serving.)