Key Lime Bars


A few weeks ago, I received an email from a friend of mine who had been working abroad in a remote city for the last couple of years. “Did you see?!?” she wrote excitedly. “X got married!!! It’s the end of an era! Where were you?”

I laughed out loud. My friend had always jokingly predicted that X and I would eventually get married ourselves. He was three years older than I was, and simply, he was a force of nature. It was impossible not to get sucked in. While other boys in my college were quiet and withdrawn, sticking to their cigarettes and pretentious references to Kant, he was the opposite. Utterly charming, gregarious, and unapologetic about his love for rap music and Upper East Side upbringing. And of course, he could hold his own in academia; he later went on to get a graduate degree at Harvard. The last I heard was that he was working in one of those big fancy New York City banks that naturally follows an Ivy League degree. No, that’s not true — the last was that time when another friend had forwarded me X's wedding announcement in the New York Times’s Sunday Styles.

Although I didn’t feel any regret when reading the announcement (after all, it was many years ago; we had parted amicably and the last of our friendship had been naturally whittled away by time and geography), my mind started playing that pesky “what if” game anyway. That is, what if my friend and I had actually moved to New York City after graduation, like we’d initially planned? Would that have been my name in the paper next to his, like my friend had always joked?


But again, that sort of thinking is utterly pointless. There have been so many moments in my life where my life could have diverged to be completely different from what it is now. Like that time I’d hastily applied to do some post-bac accounting classes at the London School of Economics. Not because of any interest I had in accounting really, but more because I had no idea what to do next and was looking for an excuse to move to London. So what if I’d actually turned in my application on time? Would I be in London now? Would I be an accountant?! The thought of that actually makes me wrinkle my nose — not that there’s anything wrong with accounting, it just ain’t my thing.

But that’s the thing right there… that is, I didn’t know what "my thing" was back in the day! If you had asked me during my senior year of college what I thought I’d be doing now, nearly 5 years later, I probably would have been way off the mark. I would have confidently told you that I’d probably be in a big city like New York or San Francisco, working in finance, consulting or maybe even towards an MBA. And I guess I did try to stick to my 21-year-old self’s convictions, because in the last few years, I did almost all those things… and HATED it. I lived in San Francisco (lasted about 2 years before I left for cheaper shores), worked in finance (what was supposed to be a year long stint turned into 6 months — I detested what I did almost every day) and while business school is still a possibility, it’s more unlikely as the years go by.

But there’s a flipside to all this, right? So maybe I’m not wedded to X and featured in the New York Times’ style section like my friend always joked, or the high flyin’ big city finance girl that my 21-year-old self imagined. But there have been other accomplishments in the past few years that we couldn’t have even imagined back then — things like a 4-years-long relationship with one of my best friends, a career in a hot startup, and of course, this blog. And who knows? Maybe alternate universes do exist, and the version of me who is married to X or works in finance and lives in the big city wonders about a life like mine. Because let’s face it — my current life ain’t so bad, especially when it’s always filled with desserts like these key lime bars:


Last Thursday was apparently National Pie Making Day (why it isn’t on March 14th is beyond me… wouldn’t that make more sense?), and I wanted to celebrate by making a key lime pie to take to my coworkers the following day. Since I commute by bike, I needed something more portable… and thus these bars were formed! I like to think of it as key lime pie but in a portable, lemon bar format. Although key lime pie uses a traditional all graham cracker crust, I decided to throw in some crushed pistachios to add to the mix for a little somethin’ somethin’ extra. I mean, it was National Pie Making Day after all.


Some baker's notes:
  • Nothing too complicated with this recipe, folks! It's probably one of the simplest on the blog. If you're looking for a flavor more akin to key lime pie, feel free to top off with a generous portion of whipped cream.


Key Lime Bars

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Ingredients

For the Pistachio and Graham Cracker Crust:
(makes one 8 x 8 inch pan)
  • 4 ounces graham crackers
  • 1/3 cup shelled pistachios
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated key lime zest
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the Key Lime Filling:
(makes enough for one 8 x 8 inch pan)
  • 14 ounces (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed key lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated key lime zest

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Recipe

For the Pistachio and Graham Cracker Crust:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 (F). Prepare an 8 x 8 inch square baking dish by lining with aluminum foil or parchment paper, making sure to create an overhang on all sides to ensure that the bars lift out easily.

  2. In a food processor, combine 4 ounces graham crackers and 1/3 cup shelled pistachios until reduced into a fine crumb. Transfer the crumbs to a medium bowl and whisk in 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon key lime zest until well combined. Pour in 4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter and use a rubber spatula or your hands to toss the crumbs around until they come together and are able to be kneaded together into a small mound.

  3. Transfer the mixture to your prepared baking dish. With your fingers and the palms of your hands, press the crust firmly into the bottom and at least one inch up the sides of the pan. Bake in the preheated oven until lightly browned about 10 to 12 minutes. When the crust is browned and ready, transfer to a wire rack and cool for at least 30 minutes before baking with the filling.

For the Key Lime Filling:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 (F).

  2. In a large bowl, whisk together 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk and 2 large egg yolks until fully combined. Add 1/2 cup key lime juice and 1 teaspoon key lime zest and whisk until smooth. Pour filling into the cooled crust, using a rubber spatula to carefully spread evenly across the pan.

  3. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until the custard is set. BE CAREFUL NOT TO BAKE — the outside of the custards should be firm, but the center should still be jiggly. The bars will continue to set outside the oven. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely, before chilling for at least 2 hours before serving.
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6 comments

  1. I swoon for tart dessert like this! I now know what I'm making for the Super Bowl!

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  2. Gawl dang it, these look amazing.

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  3. I love crusty bars, so this is great!

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  4. I loved the arc of your story and also, how you didn't quite capitulate to Frost:) I am 23 and at crossroads myself. I hope that once I overcome this current paralysis of fear and indecision, I can look back with your equanimity . That aside, the bars look delicious.

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  6. These key lime bars are FANTASTIC. It's been less than a month, and I've made them at least three times. Thank you for sharing this recipe!

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