Florida. For me, the word always conjurs up a collision of hot and cool: sun-baked sand vs. iced sweet tea. Swampy night air meets a cool, tart slice of key lime pie.
And now , on the eve of the Florida GOP primary, we have Newt vs. Mitt – classic hothead vs. cold capitalist. It's an epic battle, to be sure, of super PACs and super egos, the authentic bully vs. the fraudulent "job creator." If you're like me, you're already exhausted by the non-stop coverage, not to mention the ever-further drift of political discourse from the reality of actual lives. What had already jumped the shark has now jumped the moon, and the rest of us are wondering where, exactly, all this hot air leads.
This calls for a distraction.
I nominate Baked Florida, my culinary mash-up of key lime pie and Baked Alaska, a creation designed to soothe even the bitterest of palates.
What may sound grandiose at first, is surprisingly simple; it's nothing more than key lime ice cream on a tart cookie crust covered in meringue and given 15 minutes of hot oven treatment. The result is a dessert that's light, cool and creamy, a treat that defies expectations – not to mention the heat of battle.
So whether you're approaching the fracas in Florida with detached bemusement or engorged with media bloodlust, celebrating a primary loss or suffering a cataclysm, smacking your lips with satisfaction or licking your wounds in defeat – I humbly offer you this tasty confection to help put it all in perspective. We all need perspective; even Ron Paul.
In the end you'll be smacking your lips and licking your plate. On this, we can all agree.
Recipe: Baked Florida
The ice cream:
A classic key lime pie is essentially a custard where the acid from the lime juice curdles the egg yolks and condensed milk. (Think of it as kind of a dessert ceviche.) A quick trip to the oven firms things up. The first iteration of Baked Florida, though delicious, was a little more icy than creamy so I borrowed from a more typical custard ice cream recipe and added heavy cream.
The lime juice still does most of the work but instead of a trip to the oven, a few minutes on a stove top will get your custard ready for the ice cream freezer.
- 2 cups of heavy cream
- 6 egg yolks (save the whites for later)
- 1 15 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
- ½ cup of fresh lime juice (about 8-10 key limes or 3 large limes)
- the zest of two limes
First, line a medium sized metal or glass bowl with plastic wrap and put in the freezer.
Over medium low heat, gently bring 1 ½ cups of the heavy cream to a simmer.
In a bowl, gradually beat the hot cream into the egg yolks. When smooth, return the mixture to the stove and, stirring constantly with a whisk, heat the custard until it starts to thicken.
Be careful not to let the custard stick or overcook. You’ll end up with curdled muck. If you’ve maintained a smooth mix, remove from the stove and pour into a medium sized bowl. If your custard is starting to get lumpy, don’t despair. Just force it through a mesh sieve into the bowl and you’ll be fine.
Let the custard cool a bit and then mix in one at a time: the lime juice, the sweetened condensed milk and the ½ cup of remaining heavy cream. Chill for at least 2 hours. If you’re in a hurry, half an hour in the freezer will work, as long as you don’t let it start to ice.
Once thoroughly chilled, pour the custard into your ice cream maker and have at it.
The ice cream will be ready when it’s the consistency of soft serve. Sprinkle the lime zest over the top and fold in with a few strokes of a spatula or wooden spoon.
Next, transfer the ice cream to your plastic lined bowl and smooth down flat with a rubber spatula. Cover and freeze a minimum of 3 hours and a maximum of 8 — any longer and you run the risk of getting icy cream.
Now truthfully, there’s a lot of leeway in what you can use as your base. The key is you’re making an insulating layer between the bottom of the ice cream and the oven. You can go with a round thin layer of sponge cake or Angel food and, if doing so, for Pete’s sake, use a mix. You could make a layer of shortbread baked in a round. But I think the simplest and tastiest match is to make a standard crumb crust.
When I first made this dessert, I used Pepperidge Farms Lime Spritzers Cookies for my crumbs and the sweet tart taste was divine. But sadly, they are pretty difficult to find anymore (Amazon, you have failed me). So try lemon coolers or standard graham crackers. Ginger snaps work great too — really, any simple dry cookie that will complement a citrus dessert.
- 1 ½ cups cookie crumbs
- ¾ stick of melted butter (6 tablespoons)
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon lime zest to taste (optional)
Pulverize your cookies in a food processor, then measure out the crumbs.
Add the melted butter, sugar and, depending on the cookie you’ve chosen, additional lime or lemon zest. Process until mixed and then spread on the bottom of a 10-inch round spring-form pan.
Using the bottom of a measuring cup (a big fat glass one works perfectly), tamp down the crumb mixture evenly across the pan. Unlike a cheesecake crust, you don’t need to create a lip around the edge. A flat crust will work best.
Instead of the oven, put the crust in the freezer and give it at least a few hours to firm up solid.
About 15 minutes before you’d like to serve your creation, crank up your oven to 425º. Remove the top oven rack so you have plenty of head room.
Now prepare a standard soft meringue:
- 6 egg whites, room temperature
- ½ teaspoon cream tartar
- ¾ cup of powdered or superfine sugar
- ½ tsp of vanilla extract
Beat the egg whites and cream tartar in a clean metal or glass bowl until soft peaks form. (Important: make sure there is no grease in the bowl or on the beaters. Also be careful to remove any small bit of yolk that may have gotten in your whites. Fat will prevent the proteins of the egg whites from coagulating and you’ll never get the height you want.)
Gradually add the sugar, beating on high until you have stiff, glossy peaks.
Quickly beat in the vanilla.
This is as easy as pie but you you’ll have to be quick or you’ll end up with a big sticky mess. (Ask me about the time I attempted a working ice cream volcano to ring in the millennial New Year – a complete Y2K disaster.)
Remove your crumb base from the freezer and release the bottom of the spring-form from it’s sides. Place it centered on a round pizza pan.
Remove your ice cream bowl from the freezer. Loosen around the top edges with a thin spatula or knife then upend the bowl under running hot water for 30 seconds or so, using your hand to support the ice cream and plastic wrap underneath.
When the ice cream mound is loosened free, use the underlying plastic wrap to upend directly on to your crumb base.
Working quickly, use a spatula or cake knife to cover the ice cream and base with a thick layer of meringue. Without belaboring the process, try to have an even layer on all sides, making sure to create a seal around the bottom edge.
Put in the very center of the oven on your lowest rack and bake 8-10 minutes, until you have a golden brown on most of the meringue.
Remove from the oven, slide the cake round off the pizza pan onto a serving plate and — voila! — there you have it, Baked Florida, just like Aunt Ida never made.
Serve immediately. Serves 8-12. If needed, this recipe doubles easily.
Leftovers: There won’t be any. But in the unlikely event, cover in plastic and pop it in the freezer. It’ll make a great starter for Baked Nevada.
(c) 2012 Drew Emery Photos: Nicholas Erwin