Citrus desserts were never really my thing. Sadly, my maternal grandmother always thought I adored lemon meringue pie, and I never had the heart to tell her otherwise. I know hate is a strong word, but though I loved my sweet, gentle grandma, I truly, emphatically hated that pie.
Ever afraid to hurt her feelings, I kept up the facade until she died in the mid-1990s:
"How about a nice lemon meringue pie for your birthday, sweetie? It's your favorite."
"Right, Grandma. It is. That would be so great."
(This was also the same grandma who used to send me brownies when I'd go away to summer camp. She sent them, like, 5th class, so they'd arrive about a month and a half after she'd bake them. This pattern continued when my brother and I went off to college.)
Given that context, I didn't pay the key lime tarts much notice when I worked in a bakery a few years ago. Another citrusy dessert? Thanks, but Grandma's dead, so I'll pass. My eyes would drift toward the cheesecake bombes and opera cakes instead.
Eventually, though, I tried one.
And did a reversal.
This was why people love citrus desserts. Memories of Grandma's pie vanished in an instant, and I was transported somewhere utterly new. To a land where grandmas never died, bakery bosses never yelled, and lime, coconut, and sweet cream joined together in a passionate embrace. A land where homemade brownies were mailed 2-day air, or, at the very least, parcel post.
Recipe for Key Lime Tart in a Chocolate-Coconut Crust
Some people get crazed about key lime pie, but I'd never tasted one until I was an adult. I now understand what all the fuss is about. This simple crust is similar to the one in my raspberry-cardamom tart, which itself is a variation of a crust recipe in Alice Medrich's Bittersweet. The filling (without the garnishes) comes straight from the back of the Nellie and Joe's Key Lime Juice bottle, which you can find anywhere with a large selection of drink mixers. I wouldn't squeeze fresh key limes unless you have a lot of time on your hands.
For the crust:
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon (unsweetened) cocoa powder
2 tablespoons sweetened, flaked coconut, toasted in a dry skillet (plus extra for garnish)
For the filling:
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup key lime juice (I use Nellie & Joe's)
1 cup very cold heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
strips of lime zest (green part only, no white pith)
additional toasted or shaved coconut
One 9-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom
To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the melted butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla together in a medium mixing bowl. Lightly stir in the flour, cocoa, and coconut. Do not overmix. (The dough will look and feel very soft.) Dump the dough into the tart pan and, using the pads of your fingers, press it smoothly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan, into the little flutes. Try to press it as evenly as possible. Thin spots will turn brittle and burn, so work slowly and deliberately.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until the crust feels firm to the touch. (Do not turn off the oven.) Cool completely in the tart pan on a wire rack (about 20 minutes) before starting the filling.
To make the filling: In a large bowl, whisk together the condensed milk, yolks, and lime juice until smooth. Pour into the cooled tart shell. If air bubbles appear on the surface, take a skewer or toothpick and carefully pop them without the marring the smooth surface. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the filling has set. Let cool 10 minutes, then refrigerate until very cold.
To serve: Whip heavy cream with sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Spread over tart, leaving a half-inch border. Garnish with additional toasted coconut and lime zest. Serve cold.