Even though the bright beauty and flavor of citrus brightens up the bleakest months of winter, when citrus is at its peak, I’ve always felt that these lively, juicy fruits are much better-suited as a welcome respite from the heat of the summer months.
Lemons are a constant in our house, with their neutral flavor playing a huge part in recipes from savory to sweet. But when the days start heating up, limes start playing an even bigger role. While lemons are now grown all over the world, most limes grow best in tropical and subtropical regions. This gives them a more exotic feel than their more popular yellow cousins. In equatorial regions where it’s effectively summer all year long, limes are used much more liberally than lemons—a detail that’s reflected in the local cuisine of Caribbean, South Asian, and Latin American cultures.
Here in North America, our most renowned lime recipe must be the key lime pie, a close relative to another classic pie (my childhood favorite), the lemon meringue. With roots dating back to sometime around 1935, the recipe was created to feature the flavor of tiny key limes, which had been naturalized to the Florida Keys—about as close to the tropics as you can get while still remaining in the contiguous United States. I’m hard-pressed to think of a more refreshing, and quintessentially American, dessert.
For the unaccustomed, key limes have a more pronounced taste than the more familiar Persian limes. If you can find them, I’d suggest trying them out. Though key limes aren’t always available (especially in certain regions), don’t fret. Persian limes work equally well in providing the thirst-quenching summer flavor we’re looking for in this pie.
I’ve given a bit of a makeover to the original recipe to suit a more health-conscious and real-food lifestyle. And by incorporating coconut, I’ve given it even more summertime punch and tropical flair. I swapped out the traditional sweetened condensed milk with a mixture of coconut milk and heavy cream, which makes for a delectable custard. (For a dairy-free alternative, you can even replace the cream with more coconut milk.) The grain-free crust is fashioned from shredded coconut and butter rather than the customary graham cracker crumbs. And instead of refined white sugar, you can use honey, inositol powder, or stevia extract.
I liken the result to a macaroon. Pillows of fluffy, lightly sweetened whipped cream perfectly complement the tart, creamy filling. The whole thing melds beautifully with a scattering of fresh berries or other summer fruit, delivering a perfect ending to a summer picnic or festive backyard barbeque.
Be sure to plan this pie a day in advance, as it needs time to set up in the fridge.
Creamy Coconut-Key Lime Pie
Makes 1 (9-inch) pie (about 8 servings)
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes, plus time to chill
For the crust (or you may use any prebaked crust of your choice):
8 oz. shredded coconut
¼ cup softened butter (or coconut oil for a dairy-free pie)
2 drops stevia
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the filling:
2 tablespoons plain gelatin (I use Great Lakes Gelatin)
3 tablespoon cool water
1 (14 oz.) can coconut milk (I use Native Forest Simple Organic Coconut Milk)
½ cup heavy cream or sour cream (or use extra coconut milk for a dairy-free pie)
⅔ cup mild honey (alternately, use ½ cup inositol, plus 8 drops stevia, to taste)
½ cup lime juice
2 tablespoons lime zest
1 tablespoon butter (omit or substitute coconut oil for a dairy-free pie)
For the topping:
1½ cups heavy cream (lightly sweetened and flavored with vanilla, if desired), whipped to soft peaks (or use whipped coconut cream for dairy-free)
Berries or other fresh fruit to serve, if desired
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Prepare crust: Combine coconut, butter, stevia, and vanilla. Press over the base and up the sides of a deep pie dish. Bake until golden-brown, about 12–15 minutes. Let cool on a rack while you prepare the filling.
- Prepare filling: Sprinkle gelatin over the cool water and set aside. Heat coconut milk and heavy cream in a saucepan. Add honey or sweetener of choice and stir through. Crack eggs into a small bowl. Temper eggs by whisking in a small amount of warmed cream. Return egg mixture to pot with remaining cream mixture and cook, whisking frequently, over medium-low heat, until slightly thickened. Turn off heat. Whisk in gelatin until dissolved. Add lime juice and zest to mixture. Whisk in butter until smooth. Pour mixture into cooled pie shell. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight, until chilled and fully set.
- Finish pie: Whip cream to soft peaks, adding vanilla and sweetener to taste, if desired. Spoon whipped cream (or use a piping bag with a star tip) over pie. Refrigerate until serving time. Serve with berries or fruit, if desired.
Image from Briana Goodall.