Key Lime Bars … Best Dessert EVER!

Those of you who are regular readers know of my specific love of all things Key Lime–comes from my years in South Beach and of making those magnificent Key lime pies for that famous restaurant down beach.  If you are new to the site, check out my very first post, all the way back at the beginning.
So, what is the Key lime treat today?  I subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated (which is in my opinion the best cooking publication on the planet), and get emails from them highlighting new, fabulous and thoroughly tested recipes from their test kitchen.  I got this recipe from them, emailed to me, with an attached video showing how they are made.  Given my love for Key lime products, I gave them a try. Voila!  The best Key lime dessert I have ever tasted!  Bar none (get it?).
I made these bars for an outdoor gathering of Ellen’s book group last summer.  She tasted one bar and told me I could NOT give one single bar to anyone else.  That’s how good they are.  She also insisted that I never, ever, make them again. We almost finished them in one sitting.
So I am presenting to you here, the most fabulous bar cookie recipe I have ever tasted, that I have ever made.  I will never make them again. (HAR!)
The recipe uses a crust made from, of all things, animal cracker crumbs.  i’f you’ve not tried an animal-cracker crust, try it, and you will discover a rare treat that will change the way you view crumb crusts forever.  The only quibble I have with the original recipe is that they suggest real Key limes, and if they are not available, use regular limes.  I can say from personal experience that:  a) Key limes are a pain to work with, b)  they are hard to find and expensive, c) you need too many to make the recipe, and d) the recipe is actually easier and, frankly, better, if you use a half and half blend of fresh lime and fresh lemon juice.  The blend of juices perfectly reproduces the combination of sweet, sour, and tart of Key limes.

This recipe is adapted from the July 1, 2006 edition of Cook’s Illustrated, and the video is available at their web site,  You must be a paying member to see the video, but I promise that this recipe alone is worth the price of admission. I’ve recommended this site before, and I stand by my recommendation. I don’t like very many subscription sites, but Cook’s Illustrated is an exception.

Key Lime Bars

   Start with a half-and-half blend of regular (Persian) lime and lemon juices. Do not use bottled lime juice. Grate the zest from the 1 lime before juicing it (2 if you’re doubling the recipe), avoiding the bitter white pith that lies just beneath the outermost skin. The optional coconut garnish adds textural interest and tames the lime flavor for those who find it too intense. The recipe can be doubled and baked in a 13- by 9-inch baking pan; you will need a double layer of extra-wide foil for the pan (each sheet about 20 inches in length) and should increase the baking times by a minute or two.


5 ounces animal crackers
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1 pinch Kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly
2 ounces cream cheese , room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lime zest , finely minced
1 pinch Kosher salt
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Garnish (optional)

3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut , toasted until golden and crisp


  1. 1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut about 12-inch length extra-wide heavy-duty foil; fold cut edges back to form 7 1/2-inch width. With folded sides facing down, fit foil securely into bottom and up sides of 8-inch-square baking pan, allowing excess to overhang pan sides. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. 2. TO MAKE THE CRUST: In workbowl of food processor, pulse animal crackers until broken down, about ten 1-second pulses; process crumbs until evenly fine, about 10 seconds (you should have about 1 1/4 cups crumbs). Add brown sugar and salt; process to combine, ten to twelve 1-second pulses (if large sugar lumps remain, break them apart with fingers). Drizzle butter over crumbs and pulse until crumbs are evenly moistened with butter, about ten 1-second pulses. Press crumbs evenly and firmly into bottom of prepared pan. Bake until deep golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack while making filling. Do not turn off oven.
  3. 3. TO MAKE THE FILLING: While crust cools, in medium bowl, stir cream cheese, zest, and salt with rubber spatula until softened, creamy, and thoroughly combined. Add sweetened condensed milk and whisk vigorously until incorporated and no lumps of cream cheese remain; whisk in egg yolk. Add lime and lemon juice and whisk gently until incorporated (mixture will thicken slightly).
  4. 4. TO ASSEMBLE AND BAKE: Pour filling into crust; spread to corners and smooth surface with rubber spatula. Bake until set and edges begin to pull away slightly from sides, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cover with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.
  5. 5. Loosen edges with paring knife and lift bars from baking pan using foil extensions; cut bars into 16 squares. Sprinkle with toasted coconut, if using, and serve. (Leftovers can be refrigerated up to 2 days; crust will soften slightly. Let bars stand at room temperature about 15 minutes before serving.)


Building Key Lime Bars

1. Line pan with foil sling, then coat with cooking spray.

2. Press crumb mixture firmly and evenly into pan.

3. Pour filling into prebaked crust and spread into corners.

About Cheff

Lancaster Eats highlights the best resources our community has to offer. From farmers to markets to vendors to retailers, we highlight those members of our wonderful food community who are striving to improve the presence of the commercial and retail food industry for all the citizens of Lancaster. The food we eat and drink is important to every single one of us, and we believe that everyone is entitled to safe and healthy food and drink. We hope to engage the citizens of our city and county who care about the food we eat and the environment in which we live. We know there are many people in the community who are doing wonderful things that benefit the people of Lancaster, as customers and consumers. We hope you will let us know who they are so that we can learn and inform those who eat and drink. That, as we know, is all of us. We are all in this together. Let's build a community.

Posted on August 6, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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