Let’s admit it. It’s hard not to love Key Lime pie. For all its touristy, clichéd connotations and its ubiquitous presence on Duval Street menus, this pie really can be amazingly good! We can argue until sunup about the right way to make it (that’s a discussion for another day), but almost all variations are pretty darn good in their own way if properly prepared with fresh ingredients. Rather than re-engage in debates about merengue, color, crusts and all that, how about we go a different way all together? A quicker, easier and delicious alternative to the predictable pie is a stylish key lime mousse. It makes an elegant little dessert and provides a nice, cool finish to a hot tropical evening.
Key limes are a little tedious to work with, being small and hard as they are, but don’t even think about buying bottled juice! There is no substitute for fresh-squeezed, so take the time to juice fresh limes. A wise baker-friend of mine gave me a secret tip: blend in a little Persian lime juice with the key limes to tame their flavor a bit, much as lemon juice brightens up most any dish.
The mousse described below was loosely adapted from a creation served at the Union Square Café in New York City (which, sadly, will be closing its doors at its current location at the end of 2015 due to rent increases). I chose to skip their use of gelatin for extra firmness because the mousse has plenty of body already. I also simplified the topping (the original features coconut-infused whipped cream) to allow the true key lime flavor to be front and center.
Key Lime Mousse
Combine ½ cup sugar with 3 teaspoons grated lime zest, 2/3 cup Key Lime juice, the juice of ½ of a Persian lime (¾ cups of lime juice total), 3 whole eggs and 1 additional egg yolk in a saucepan. Set over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture just starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the mix and chill for about 1 hour.
After the mixture has cooled, whip 1 cup heavy cream in a bowl until peaks begin to form. Reserve and refrigerate about ¼ cup for topping the mousse just before serving. Fold the remaining whipped cream into the chilled lime mixture and portion the mousse evenly between four individual serving cups or ramekins. Cover with plastic and chill again for 1-1½ hours.
To serve, pull the cups and the reserved whipped cream out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes prior to serving, but make sure they are still cold when served. Spoon a dollop of the reserved whipped cream on top of each mousse and garnish with a thin strip of lime zest.
Serves 4 Wine pairing: Tricky, but try a Muscat like Bonny Doon or a late-harvest Chardonnay