Monday, January 31, 2011

Key Lime Pie: A Cruise on a Plate

Apparently I'm on a citrus kick.  I can't seem to seem to pass up a recipe if it has lemon or lime in the title and felt compelled to buy a bag of limes as big as a mini-van at Costco the other day.  I think this is my way of feeling like I am in a tropical climate when I am, in fact, in the thick of the winter season in cold Virginia.  In an effort to use up my sack o' limes, I made this pie and was instantly transported to Key West.

I think this recipe made the best Key Lime Pie I've ever had.  It uses not 1 but TWO cans of sweetened condensed milk so you know its good.   While I guess this is technically Lime Pie because the recipe calls for regular limes and not the smaller Key limes you could probably use either. Regular limes are so much easier to juice and are more readily available so that's another plus for this recipe as far as I'm concerned. The pie also achieves its pretty green color naturally through plenty of lime zest-- no food coloring needed.

For the Crust:

Note:  The original recipe calls for unsalted butter for this crust and I always use unsalted butter in my baking but this is one instance where I think salted butter works better.  I think the crust benefits from a little salt to cut down on all of the sweetness.  If you do use unsalted butter, I would add a pinch of salt when you are combining the ingredients in the food processor.


1 lb. graham crackers (about 4 1/2 half cups when finely ground)
1 stick plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (or salted), melted
a 9-inch pie dish, greased


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Roughly break up the graham crackers and put them in a food processor.  Process until finely ground.  Slowly pour the melted butter into the processor while the motor is running until the butter is combined with the crumbs.  Press this mixture into the base and neatly up the side of the prepared pie dish, using the ball of your hand or a tablespoon to flatten and compress it.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until deep golden and firm.  Set aside to cool completely.

For the Filling


8 egg yolks
2 x 13.5 oz cans of sweetened condensed milk (I could only find 14 oz. and it was fine)
freshly squeezed juice and grated zest of 5 limes, plus extra grated zest to decorate
2 cups whipping cream


Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.

Put the egg yolks, condensed milk, lime juice, and zest in a glass bowl and mix gently with a balloon whisk until all the ingredients are very well incorporated.  The mixture will thicken naturally.

Pour into the cold pie crust and bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes (I found that 20 minutes was all that was needed for my oven so be sure to watch your time).  The filling should be firm to the touch but still very slightly soft in the center (not wobbly).  Let cool completely, then cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight if possible.

When you are ready to serve the pie, whip the cream with the whisk attachment in a stand alone mixer or with a handheld electric mixer.  I add about about 1/4- 1/3 cup of powdered sugar before I start whipping, to sweeten.  Whip the cream until soft peaks form then spread over the pie and decorate with a little lime zest.

Adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies: A Little Bit of Southern in a Bite

So Valentine's Day is fast approaching and if you are looking for something festive to make, whether for your sweetie-pie or even for yourself, these are just the thing.  Cream cheese icing is sandwiched between delicious soft red velvet cookies.  These are much less time consuming than making an entire red velvet cake (one of my personal favorites) so these are good for a mid-week treat.

They say that whoopie pies are quickly replacing the cupcake as the next dessert comfort food craze, but frankly, I will take either. :)  These are fun to make though. Once you've finished assembling these little guys, you can roll the edges in sprinkles like I did in the picture or mini-chocolate chips or crushed nuts like walnuts or pecans would be good as well.

For the Whoopie Pies


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening, at room temperature
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar (I used light and it worked fine)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon red gel food coloring (I used regular red food coloring because it was all I had and it was fine).


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a small bowl, whisk together the canola oil and buttermilk.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and shortening until smooth.  Scrape down the bowl and add the sugars.  Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until combined..  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the red food coloring, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds to incorporate.  Do not overmix.

Turn the mixer to low.  Add the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk mixture in three separate additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture until just combined.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill the batter in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.  Remove the batter from the refrigerator.  Drop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake for 10 to 20 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let the cookies cool completely before filling.

For the Cream Cheese Filling


3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt


In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until its completely smooth.  Add the cream cheese and beat until combined.  Sift the powdered sugar into the butter mixture and add the vanilla and salt.  Beat until smooth.  Be careful not to overbeat.  The filling can be made up to one day ahead.  Let the filling soften at room temperature before using.

Drop a large dollop of filling onto the flat side of the cookie.  Place another cookie, flat side down, on top of the filling.  Press down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edges of the cookie.  Put the whoopie pies in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm up before serving.

This recipe makes about 12 large pies or about 15 to 17 small pies.

Adapted from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Revisited

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blueberry Lemon Cake: Cure for the Winter Blues

Last year I went on a girls’ weekend to New York City with some of my closest friends from my grad. school days.  One of the most fun things we did was visit Alice’s Tea Cup, a quirky and girly tea room, and had afternoon tea.  It was January so it was the perfect place to get out of the cold and we had the best time drinking their delicious teas and eating their amazing scones and pastries.  Definitely go to one of their locations in New York City if you get the chance!  I was thrilled to find out that the owners recently put out a cookbook so at least I can try to recreate those lemon berry and pumpkin caramel scones (hopefully the topic of future blog posts!) on my own.  But, I saw the picture of this cake when the cookbook showed up at my door so I had to start with this one first.  It’s beautiful with the blueberries marbled throughout the pale yellow cake. 

The cake did not disappoint!  It's full of blueberries and lemon zest with a tender crumb, and topped with yummy vanilla buttercream!  If you are like we are, you are probably feeling the full weight of the January cold at this point and could use a little reminder that spring will eventually come! Make this cake and share it with someone special. Your kitchen will smell delicious and lemony!

Blueberry Lemon Cake


3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
4 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
2 ½ cups blueberries
Vanilla Buttercream  (Recipe below)


1.       Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly butter and flour three 8-inch round cake pans. 

2.       In a mixing bowl, sift the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together.

3.       In a large bowl, use a mixer to cream the butter and sugar.  Then add the lemon juice and zest and mix until smooth.  Add the eggs, mixing them in one at a time, and mix until fully combined.  With the mixer set to the lowest speed, alternate adding the dry mixture and the buttermilk, and mix until the batter is smooth, scraping the bowl down occasionally.  Use a spatula to gently fold in the blueberries. 

4.       Fill in the three cake pans evenly with the batter, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean.  Set aside on a wire rack to cool completely before removing from the pans. 

5.       To build the cake, spread some of the frosting over the layers and stack the layers; then frost the sides of the cake. 

Adapted from: Alice's Tea Cup: Delectable Recipes for Scones, Cakes, Sandwiches, and More from New York's Most Whimsical Tea Spot

“The Yummiest Vanilla Buttercream Frosting” from Alice’s Tea Cup

This icing IS yummy and comes together in a snap.  The consistency of this buttercream made it very easy to work with.  I’m definitely going to add this to my favorites list! This recipe makes just enough to ice an 8-inch 3 layer cake so if you use this with a larger cake make sure to double this. 


2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract


With a mixer on medium speed, cream the butter in a large mixing bowl.  Reduce the speed to low and add the confectioners’ sugar a little bit at a time, alternating with splashes of milk and the vanilla.  Mix until the frosting is smooth.

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