14. Key Lime Pie – America (but with a massive Italian Meringue!)

There seems to be a pattern emerging here. It was my friend Jenny’s birthday and I wanted to bake something special for her. When I asked what she would like her immediate response was ‘Key Lime Pie’. Your wish is my command.

I’ve never had Key Lime Pie before but I immediately thought of the Hummingbird Bakery recipe that I had gazed at longingly many a time but had thought it was too complicated and messy to attempt. I would not let my niggling doubts defeat me.

I knew that I would need a bit of time to prepare this one in order to bring it to work to celebrate Jenny’s birthday in style. I got up extra early the day before to smash up digestive biscuits. It’s days like these that I wish I had a food processor. Chris had to ask me nicely to stop hammering the biscuits with the rolling pin as it was simply too early. I ran out of digestives and supplemented the rest with rich teas instead. (that’s ok right?!)

Smashing Digestives

Again I had to shield my eyes from the flying digestive debris when I blitzed the shards with the hand blender. I may, or may not, have gone to work with crumbs in my hair. (It’s hard to tell with my curly mop sometimes).

I melted the butter in the microwave successfully not causing any fireworks this time and quickly stirred it all together. I quickly realised as I attempted to press the buttery biscuit paste into my flan dish that if I used all of the biscuits as instructed in the recipe that there simply wouldn’t be any space for limes in the pie…

Can't fit any more biscuits in!

I had felt a bit guilty and frivoulous for  buying mini pie dishes recently, but this Key Lime Pie emergency meant that I got to christen them! My sleepy brain missed a step in the recipe which said you bake the biscuit base and I assumed they would need to set in the fridge (hence the extra early preparations). Into the fridge they went to wait for me upon my return from work.

Mini Tins

I realised that I had to bake the base and cool it before the lime filling could be poured in. No baking beans needed for this inital bake unlike the Tarte au Citron.

Ready for round 2. Into the oven...

The grating and juicing of the limes was intense and made me crave a mojito. Once it was all grated I whisked it into the lashings of condensed milk and egg yolks, which I lovingly separated from their whites to save for the magnificent meringue.

A lot of limes went into the making of this.

and eggs 🙂

Then to pour the limey goodness onto the biscuit base  which was now a thick greenish creamy paste and bake it in the oven. The lack of light in my oven could pose a problem for checking the bake, but I’ve lived with it for over 2 years now and found a torch is a handy cooking tool.

Ready for round 2. Into the oven...

Who needs a light inside their oven? Torches are the way forward. Is it done yet?

Now for the exciting bit. I’ve never made Italian style meringue before. (and only made normal meringue for the first time recently!) I saw it on the Great British Bake Off  being created very precisely with thermometers and such like. If you’ve read any of my blog you will know by now that I simply don’t do precise, so I was relieved that a thermometer was not needed in this recipe. The only thermometer I own is a forehead strip one that I bought during the Swine Flu Panic last year. Somehow I don’t think I could use that to measure the temperature of sugar syrup…

Frothy egg whites (Before sugar)

8 egg whites were whisked into a frothy frenzy whilst the sugar and water bubbled merrily on the stove. I couldn’t remember if you were supposed to stir sugar constantly or if it makes it return to it’s crystallised state, so I did a bit of both. Stir, let it bubble, stir again. It eventually reached what I assumed to be the ‘soft ball stage‘. A mystical sugary state that frankly I’ve never heard of before I attempted to make fudge the other week, which was a disaster, so I clearly can’t recognise this stage of sugary wonderment. To be on the safe side I let it bubble some more..

Sugar Soup?

Bubblin Hot

When the sugar is syrupy and hot enough it needs to be poured slowly into the egg whites whilst whisking it. It’s a good job I can multi task, as I poured the liquid molten lava with one hand and held the electric whisk with the other, praying I wouldn’t slip and scald myself. When I win the lottery I have promised myself a Kitchen Aid mixer (and a bigger kitchen).

After sugar... I think the meringue's cooked!

I think I may need a bigger bowl if I’m ever going to make this again. It was amazing. Compared to uncooked meringue this was like magic. It quadrupled in size and almost over flowed the bowl! The only downside was after all the sugar was incorporated was that it involved 15 – 20 minutes of more whisking. Thank god for my little electric whisk and my ipod on random. Elvis and whisking. What can be better?

A mini one

Once the meringue had cooled, it was cooked through and ready to be assembled on top of the lime pies. It was a sticky process. With each mountain of meringue in position I popped them all in the oven for the final bake!

The Key Lime Pie Family Portrait

What a wonderful sight! So impressive! I struggled to get the pie into my cake box to transport to work. So cling wrapped it to the hilt and carried it like a baby. I got A LOT of smiles from strangers on my way to work that morning! Someone actually offered me their seat on the metro. It just goes to show people LOVE cake and Key Lime Pie is an attractive bake.

The grand reveal (somehow pearls of toffee appeared from the meringue, I know not how or why but they look pretty.)

This pie goes a long way. We shared it amongst 11 people and then I still had 3 mini pies at home! (don’t worry I didn’t eat them all by myself) The wonderfully sweet meringue balanced out the sharp and creamy lime. The digestive base tasted almost gingery after their third bake in the oven. Perhaps it was the addition of rich tea biscuits, whatever it was, it was wonderful.

Heaven is a massive slice of Key Lime Pie. Happy Birthday Jenny!

Very Neapolitan

13. Lovely Lamingtons – Australia – Lord Lamington’s Finest

As a surprise birthday treat, I decided to bake Chris his favourite Australian treat, Lamingtons. We ate Lamingtons the size of house bricks when visiting Australia. One particular Lamington stands out from our visit this year when we drove the Great Ocean Road and stayed in the seaside towns of Lorne and Apollo Bay to take in the sights (and the cakes and pies too).

Look at this little fella! Spotted on the Great Ocean Road

Somewhere over the rainbow…

I spotted a Lamington recipe in Marguerite Patton’s Everyday Cookbook and planned it all well in advance, purchasing an industrial sized bag of desiccated coconut, only for Chris to then ask for Lamingtons (and a Chocolate Roulade) for his birthday! My plan was discovered, but then again I’m not very good at keeping surprises secret and our tiny Tyneside flat doesn’t leave much to the imagination anyway…

Lamingtons. The classic Australian ones

I googled Lamingtons as they caused a bit of debate in the office. Many of us remember eating these chocolate, coconut, jam, sponge cubes as children, although others remember a pink version. They are also known by different names, such as Madelines, or pink Lamingtons. Some Australian Counsellor put me right. Apparently an Australian Lord loved cake. His maid  accidently dropped his cake into chocolate. Despite being a Lord he didn’t want to waste his cake (Don’t blame him!). So he told her to roll it in coconut so he wouldn’t get messy fingers. Et voila! Lamingtons were born and Australians are very proud of their 100 year recipe. (Check out the Australian Lamington official blog for evidence of the City Counsellor of Queensland shovelling Lamingtons into his mouth and the record breaking Lamington).

Celebrating 100 years of the Australian Lamington

Counsellor Paul Tullly enjoying Lamingtons – Courtesy of australianlamingtons.blogspot.com

I was a bit worried about how technical this recipe was and I didn’t actually own a square tin. I made a quick trip to visit my mam to borrow her tin. I’ve never baked one cake and sliced it in half before. It seems a bit dangerous. Is it difficult? What if I slip with the knife and ruin the entire cake?!

Sponge time

The sponge itself was pretty simple to make. A basic vanilla batter, which smelled gorgeous and tasted rather like a dense madeira cake.

Smells so good

I had to leave it to cool overnight and the next day chopped off the slightly domed top to create a flat surface instead. This was nerve wracking too as the last time I attempted this I cut my hand. I managed and kept all my fingers intact. This meant that I got a sneak preview and ate the lid before work. Hurrah! It was delicious!

Off with it’s dome

I set about creating the chocolate soup, from cocoa powder and icing sugar. I carefully sliced the cake through the middle widthways and had two perfect halves!!

Chocolate Soup?

The recipe was supposed to make 16 portions… I was a bit worried that this dinky square cake just wasn’t enough for the Australian cakes that we were accustomed too. So I baked another one. This time in a big roasting tin to make one flat cake, remembering this time to leave a bit of a dint in the top (pushing more mixture to the edges) so I didn’t get a dome finish.

The second sponge… (please ignore the cat food in the background)

Our guests were arriving for fish and chips and Lamingtons so I didn’t have much time for mistakes. I threw almost a full jar of strawberry jam onto the sponges and rubbed it in with the back of a spoon. (Excessive? Me?)

JAM

Then plonked one half on top of the other and decided that 4 big cakes were better than 16 little ones. I used the sharpest knife I could find and cut the sponge into quarters. Although they still didn’t look that ‘Australian sized’ to me.

That’s more like it

The recipe suggests you use a skewer to pierce the cake and dip gentily into the chocolate soup before lovingly rolling it in desiccated coconut. Who has time for these things? I picked the cakes up with my bare hands and within 2 seconds was up to my eyes in chocolate and coconut. Everything stuck to me! My messy yet effective method.

Step one. Dunk yourself in chocolate

Step two. Roll around in coconut (Do not try to a. answer the phone b. push your hair out of your face c.  say hello to the cat until hands can be throughly washed.)

The cakes needed about an hour to ‘set’. I definitely used more coconut than suggested as the chocolate from my fingers kept leaking onto the pristine white finish and ruining the effect slightly.

The Setting Process

When piled onto my new vintage cake plate, topped with candles, lit and then carried through the beaded curtain from the kitchen to the living room. (No fires were caused in the making of these cakes, don’t worry), They suddenly transformed into magnificent brick like beasts. I had made giant cakes. One cake was more than enough for two people and I still had an entire sponge cake left to assemble!

Happy Birthday Chris!

Happy Birthday Chris! I loved these cakes and was so impressed with how they turned out. The sponge doesn’t need to be the perfect shape, the coconut makes up for any inconsistencies and they are so very moreish.

My Half

I attempted some pink Lamingtons (or English Madelines as Nigel Slater informs me in his ‘Eating for England’ book) especially for Caroline at work as they were her favourite, using powdered jelly. Bizarre stuff but apparently they tasted excatly like the ones she had when she was little. Success!

Pink Jelly Soup

One flat sponge cake goes a long way…

Things that I used to make Lovely Lamingtons…

Sponge cake

  • 5 oz butter
  • 7 oz caster sugar
  • splash of vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 10 oz self raising flour
  • 4 tablespoons of milk

Filling

  • strawberry/raspberry jam

Coating

  • 7 oz icing sugar
  • 1 oz cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons of boiling water

Decoration

  • 6 oz desiccated coconut (or as much as you need to coat the lamingtons liberally!)

Method

  1. Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla essence together
  2. add the eggs gradually
  3. fold in the sieved flour alternatively with the milk
  4. spread the mixture into a baking tin (8 inch square)
  5. bake for 50-60 mins at 350 degrees F/gas mark 4
  6. cool the sponge and store in an airtight container over night
  7. carefully slice the sponge through the centre to create 2 square sponges
  8. spread with jam
  9. sandwich the two sponges together
  10. mix the icing sugar and cocoa powder together in a shallow bowl adding the boiling water gradually to create your chocolate soup. Add more sugar/water as required.
  11. chop the sponge into equal sized squares (4 if you want big pieces or 16 smaller ones)
  12. dip each piece into the chocolate soup and then into a shallow bowl of desiccated coconut
  13. leave on a cooling rack to harden
  14. eat with a big cup of tea!

* Recipe lovingly adapated from Marguerite Patten’s Everyday Cookbook