I am indebted to my dad for this recipe, as he’s always been one for making simple desserts that nevertheless end up tasting fantastic. (I still remember him blending up instant chocolate jello pudding with a peppermint Altoid and pouring it into a chocolate crumb crust– easiest chocolate pie ever!) Anyway, he made me try this recipe the last time I visited home and I’ve been making it ever since.
The filling, which you can pour into a graham cracker crust to make a pie, into dishes to make pudding, or into mini muffin tins to make tartlets, is amazingly simple– you just blend together your basic ingredients and you’re set! I admit to making things a bit more complicated with a homemade graham cracker base, but the basic recipe is fantastic just as it is– creamy, tangy, perfect for summer. Plus, unlike other key lime recipes I’ve seen, it’s got (secret ingredient!) low-fat cottage cheese in it rather than cream cheese, sour cream, or egg yolks, making it a healthy (okay, slightly healthier) alternative to the standard dessert!
Key Lime Filling (makes one pie or 24 tartlets)
8 oz low-fat cottage cheese
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk (this is weight, not volume)
4 oz freshly squeezed lime juice (do not substitute the bottled stuff!)
1 tablespoon lime zest (optional)
Blend all ingredients together until completely smooth. Pour into pre-made graham crust or custard cups and let set at least four hours in the refrigerator. Overnight is better for pie, to let the filling set to a more sliceable consistency.
1 sleeve graham crackers (8-9 whole crackers, depending on brand), pulverized into crumbs
3 tbs sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup butter, melted
Mix all ingredients together and press into pie pan, 12 regular muffin pans, or 24 mini muffin pans. I use a tart shaper, but you can also use the bottom of a small shot glass or the back of a tablespoon measure. No need to bake, especially if you’re going to freeze these, though you can bake for about 5 minutes at 350 degrees if you like a crisper crust.
For frozen tartlets, assemble your crusts and pour the filling into each muffin well. Freeze at least four hours. They’re perfect after four hours, so if you freeze them for longer you should let them sit at room temperature for about 5-10 minutes before serving.
When your filling is blended, fold in 1 1/2 cups of Cool Whip before freezing. It makes the filling lighter and a bit fluffier, so when you freeze it it’ll be more like ice cream in texture. You may want to add a little more lime juice to keep the tangy flavor. Obviously it’ll make for more filling, volume-wise.
1. For my frozen tartlets I use a silicone mini muffin pan– it makes removal of the tartlets SO much easier. If you don’t have one, you may have to dip the bottom of the pan into hot water for a few seconds to loosen the tartlets, or possibly blow a hairdryer on the bottom to warm things up. You could also line the muffin wells with paper liners to avoid this issue.
2. Spooning the filling into individual wells is tedious work. I just pour the filling directly from the bowl down the line of wells, then use a spatula to scrape everything level afterwards. This may not work so well if you’re using paper liners, though.
3. Make sure you get your graham cracker crumbs nice and fine, so they bind well together to make a sturdy crust. You don’t need a food processor– a rolling pin and a plastic gallon bag will do just fine.
4. If you’re making mini tartlets you may have some graham crust or some filling left over– it’ll depend on how thick you make your crust, since more crust means less space for filling. But generally speaking this recipe makes 24.
5. You can easily substitute low-fat sweetened condensed milk for the regular stuff. It works just as well, though I’m not sure how much healthier it actually is.
6. This would probably work with lemons as well, though I’ve never tried it.
7. As a final note, 4 oz. of lime juice will make these pretty tart– just the way I like them. You can feel free to reduce the amount of juice if you want a more subtle flavor. It won’t hurt the texture any, so don’t worry about that. I’ve gone as low as 2 oz. and there’s still a noticeable lime flavor, just without the tartness.