I enjoyed the bright, refreshing flavor of the lemonade sugar cookies that I made recently so much, that I was kind of hankering for some more citrus. But instead of lemon again, I decided to go with lime this time. I was thinking key lime pie. But when I was looking through my Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook, I saw this recipe for key lime pie bars. The crust is unique in that it uses animal crackers instead of graham crackers because their more neutral taste allows the lime to sing. The filling is thickened with both cream cheese and an egg yolk so it is firm enough to hold together when you pick up a bar. Surprisingly, this recipe recommends using supermarket limes (Persian) over true key limes. Why? There are a few reasons. ATK says that most people can’t distinguish the flavor difference, they are easier to find and there are much fewer to juice. I think the bars are perfect as is or with a touch of sweetened whipped cream. But if you want, you can top them with sweetened, toasted coconut.
These bars are surprisingly easy to put together. The hardest part is squeezing the limes. My hands were aching a bit and burning from the acid. Oh, and I can’t even tell you how much it hurt to get a big squirt of lime juice in my eyes. This is a time when I wish I had a juicer! I bought 4 limes as the recipe stated and 2 of those limes were so dry, they only provided a few drops of juice each. I had baked the crust and I was already halfway into making the filling. I did not want to run to the store then with Sammie and Alex. But, I only got a little over 1/3 cup of juice from 4 limes. Luckily I thought to check in the crisper drawer (crossing my fingers) and I found 2 more limes that I bought recently for iced water. Phew! I got the 1/2 cup of juice needed for the recipe exactly. I am usually a chocolate girl, but I honestly cannot stop eating these bars. I ate a whole row while taking these pictures. In fact, I ate so many that the cake plate above is only half full, hence the picture of half the plate.
Key Lime Pie Bars
Yield: an 8 x 8 pan of bars, about 16 squares.
5 ounces animal crackers
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lime zest plus 1/2 cup juice (4 limes)
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 large egg yolk
Garnish: Optional (I did not use)
3/4 cup (2 1/4 oz) sweetened shredded coconut, toasted until golden and crisp
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 F. Make a foil sling by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil so they are as wide as an 8 inch baking pan. Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to one another, with extra foil hanging over the edges of the pan so you can use them to lift the bars out after they’ve baked. Push the foil into the corners and up sides of the pan, smoothing foil flush to the pan. Grease foil. I used Pam spray.
For the crust: Pulse the animal crackers in food processor until they are broken down, about 10 pulses; process crumbs until evenly fine, about 10 seconds (you should have about 1 1/4 cups of crumbs). Add the brown sugar and salt; process to combine, 10 to 12 pulses (if large sugar lumps remain, break them apart with your fingers). Drizzle the butter over crumbs and pulse until the crumbs are evenly moistened with butter, about ten pulses. Dump the mixture into the prepared baking pan and press the crumbs evenly and firmly to form the crust in the bottom of the pan. Bake until golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes (I did 15 minutes). Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack while you make the filling. Do not turn off the oven.
For the filling: While the crust cools, in a medium bowl, stir the cream cheese, lime zest and salt with a rubber spatula until softened, creamy and thoroughly combined. Add the sweetened condensed milk and whisk vigorously until fully incorporated and no lumps of cream cheese remain. Whisk in the egg yolk. Add the lime juice and whisk gently until it is incorporated (mixture will thicken slightly)
Pour the filling onto the crust, spread it into the corners and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. Bake until the filling is set and the edges begin to pull away slightly from the sides, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cover the pan with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours. Use the foil handles to lift the bars out of the pan; cut them into 16 bars. Sprinkle with toasted coconut if using, and serve. Store the bars in the refrigerator up to 2 days. The crust will soften slightly.