You know what I have given serious thought to over the years since I’ve been baking? What my favourite dessert is. I still can’t pick just one, but I have narrowed it down to two broad categories: chocolate and key lime. When it comes to key lime anything, I am a lioness on the Serengeti, stalking my kill with exquisite skill. I dodge, feint, and then deal a deathly fork-blow; if the prey in question is key lime truffles, the death-blow is delivered by shining fangs. It isn’t pretty to outside observers; most must look away to avoid feeling faint. To me, it’s a clever and beautiful dance between two old adversaries who know one another well.
I knew I wanted to make something key lime-flavoured for Christmas. In this latest dance, I elected to pair key lime bars with a macadamia nut crust I found on Sally’s Baking Addiction. Finely chopped, salty macadamia nuts blended with crushed sweet graham crackers sounded like a well-balanced accompaniment to tart-sweet, creamy key lime filling. I added 50% more macadamia nuts than the recipe called for, because I think graham crackers can overpower other flavours and I wanted a really nutty crust. It proved to work just as well as expected; the nutty crust set off the key lime flavour very nicely. The bars are creamy, just firmer than pudding in their consistency, and have a nice tang thanks to the addition of cream cheese. Sweetened whipped cream elevated this dessert into something akin to a citrus nirvana. I seriously could not stop eating these and I plowed through three of them before I remembered, as through a frenzied, key-lime-soaked haze, that dinner wasn’t ready yet. My eyes were glossed over with demented joy from my ‘kill.’ The cats peered at me with wonder.
Oh, it was a glorious feast, a memorable dance.
Let these key lime bars be a reminder to always eat dessert first. 😉
Key Lime Squares with Macadamia-Graham Cracker Crust
Yield: About 9 bars, depending on how large you cut your squares
For the crust:
9 whole graham crackers
3/4 c. finely crushed macadamia nuts
1 TBS sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted (add more butter, 1 TBS at a time, if needed)
For the bars:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 egg yolks
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1/2 c. key lime juice (regular lime juice can be used instead)
2 tsp. lime zest
For the crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Line an 8×8″ baking dish with aluminum foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
Process graham crackers in food processor and transfer to medium bowl. Add crushed nuts and sugar and stir to blend. Add melted butter and stir to combine thoroughly.
Press mixture into bottom of prepared pan and about 1/2″ up sides. Use glass measuring cup to ensure crust is pressed firmly into pan and into corners.
Bake for about 8 minutes, or until crust just begins to brown and smell fragrant. Remove crust from oven and allow to cool. Keep oven on.
For the filling:
In large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth, about 15 seconds. Add yolks and beat until blended. Add sweetened condensed milk, lime juice, and lime zest; beat to combine. Tap bowl on surface several times to release air bubbles.
Pour into prepared crust and bake for 15 – 18 minutes, or until edges start to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature on wire rack. Refrigerate a minimum of 2 hours before cutting bars into squares. It takes a while for the bars to reach a firm enough consistency to cut, so be patient or you’ll have a gooey, if delicious, mess on your hands.
Serve with whipped cream.
Store in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.