Tag Archives: pastry

Graham Crackers and Pepe’s Key Lime Pie

I’m going to take a minute to talk about my boss here at the hotel. Her name is Brandi and she’s awesome. I could list the reasons but it makes me sound like a suck-up and that’s not what we’re going for here. Suffice it to say that she loves her employees and does nice things for us in addition to being fun to work for. Every year she hosts a party at her house in May for the graduates (but everyone is invited). Last year I wanted to make something Brandi would like since she was inviting us all over and with the help of my fellow sleuth Meagan I made this pie. Brandi talks about going to the Key West all the time and she loves this restaurant Pepe’s. Meagan found their website and the recipe for Brandi’s favorite key lime pie. What kind of crazy restaurant lists their recipes on their website? Answer: The best kind.

Key limes were $2 at the grocery store so I grabbed a bag and made some graham crackers. This pie, like most key lime pies, calls for a graham cracker crust and rather than buy one premade or use store-bought graham crackers, I made a batch of Nancy Silverton’s grahams. I’d made them before when I saw them on smitten kitchen, but now that I had her book I got inspired to make them again. They are sooo delicious. They’re not exactly like a cracker or the dry, sawdusty grahams I passed up during my childhood. If I had known about these when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have made my s’mores with just chocolate and marshmallows. It was really messy.

Graham Crackers adapted from Nancy Silverton:

2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1 C brown sugar (She says use dark, I only had light. The world didn’t end.)
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 C butter, cubed and frozen
5 Tbsp milk (She says use whole milk, I used 2% and nothing exploded.)
2 Tbsp vanilla
5 Tbsp honey (clover works best)

(cinnamon sugar topping optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. You have three options for the next step: either use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter, use your fingers to smush the butter into the flour mixture, or incorporate the butter using a food processor. I have a really small food processor so I did this in batches but I’ve used just my hands before. Whisk together the milk, vanilla, and honey (it will be super gloopy–don’t worry) and stir that into the rest of the ingredients. It won’t look like dough at all. Have faith! Use your hands to clump and knead it together and dump the dough onto a floured surface. (I usually keep a cup of flour on my work surface.) Knead it and roll it out to 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch thickness. You can cut them into squares with a knife or use a cookie or biscuit cutter. I use a set of pretty, scalloped circular cutters that my mom gave me. You also have the choice of topping the cookies with cinnamon sugar or pricking them with a toothpick in a pretty pattern. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Let the cookies cool completely and crumble them into your food processor or a zip-top bag (I used food processor and I didn’t even wash it out between mixing the graham ingredients and the graham crumbs. It’s the same stuff and no eggs! Slacker-friendly!). Process/crush until the grahams are a medium consistency. Don’t let them get too fine. Now you’re ready to make the crust.

Key Lime Pie adapted from Pepe’s in Key West, Florida:

1 1/2 C graham cracker crumbs
1/4 C granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 C melted butter

2 eggs, divided (the original recipe calls for 2 more yolks but this works really well too)
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 C key lime juice (fresh squeezed or bottled)

If it looks like there’s a lot of crust mixture going on, it’s because I made a double batch and froze half for later. That definitely wasn’t because I read the recipe wrong and added too much butter, forcing me to make¬† a double batch so I wouldn’t have to throw anything out. (Yes it was)

Preheat the oven to 325 (or just open the oven door for a minute and lower the temp from 350 to 325). Stir together graham crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter. Press into a pie dish and bake for 10 minutes. No need for pie weights, y’all.

While that’s baking, juice the key limes and set aside. (You can also do this while the graham crackers are baking) One bag of key limes gave me pretty much exactly 1 cup of juice. Get an extra regular lime if you think you’ll need it.

At this point, the crust needs to cool. Keep the oven at 325. While it’s cooling, beat the egg whites and set aside. In a separate bowl beat the yolks for a minute and then add the sweetened condensed milk and lime juice. Try not to splash the lime juice all over yourself. Ahem. Fold in the egg whites and the pour the whole mixture into the crust. Bake for 20 minutes at 325. Let cool completely before refrigerating at least 2 hours. Best served really, really cold with whipped cream.

See that big indentation in the filling on the right side of the pie? That’s where Chad stuck his finger in the pie. He might have been in trouble for that one.

This pie is soooo delicious and creamy. If I hadn’t been chomping at the bit to make a scarf, I would have probably made fresh whipped cream. Instead, I fell back on the can of aerosol whipped cream. (Fun fact: Did you know that Reddi Wip is spelled like that–with no ‘h?’ How does that make sense? And you can’t make Stewie jokes without the hhhhh-wip)

H or no H, this pie is yummy and refreshing. The crust is great with store-bought graham crackers, but even better with homemade. That’s no offense to Pepe’s since I have never even had one of their pies, but this was a definite improvement on the first time I made it. Make this for your Memorial Day celebrations. And enjoy the extra graham crackers.


Hazelnut-Almond Baklava & Baklava Ice Cream

When I worked at my dad’s office in California, there was a really funny, really helpful guy named Kevin whose wife Jennifer made baklava during Christmastime. One bite and I was hooked. I really wanted to know how to make it so naturally I asked if they gave out the recipe. Kevin’s response was, “You only get the recipe when you marry into the family.” Which of course led me to ask if there were any single guys in Jennifer’s family. (Nope.)

So when I mulled and mulled and mulled over the idea of hazelnut baklava, I turned to Alton Brown. When it comes to certain things, there is a guru, sage, or personified encyclopedia to consult. For carpentry, it’s my grandpa and his groups of friends. Ask them about any kind of mitered joint and they’ll tell you the best tool to use (including brand), whether glue alone will hold it or if you need wood screws. They’ll all bicker and then offer up tools to borrow and then tell you a big ole story while you drink coffee that faintly and sweetly smells like sawdust. When it comes to carpentry, ask “What would Grandpa do?”

But with cooking, you can ask one of three choices. Obviously, Saint Julia knows all. “What would Julia do?” Then of course you might want more scientific explanation. In that case, look no further than Alton Brown. He and Ree from the pioneer are my ideal, dream neighbors after all. “What would Alton do?” Then, if you are Chad, or if you just plain agree that Wolfgang Puck is delightful and talented and just plain awesome, ask “What would Wolfgang do?” (Ask that in German if you can.)

So, not having any evidence that Saint Julia made Greek pastries, I looked to my would-be (if ever possible) neighbor. I tweaked some parts of his recipe, halved the syrup, and used some of the finished product to incorporate into vanilla ice cream. How this idea never occurred to me before trying it at Trojan Horse of Bloomington, I will never know. But seriously. Do it.

2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground allspice
9 oz almonds (toasted, unsalted)
9 oz hazelnuts (toasted)
2/3 C sugar
1 C water in a bowl
1/2 lb phyllo dough, thawed
1 stick butter, unsalted

3/4 C honey
3/4 C water
3/4 C sugar
1 or 2 cinnamon sticks (use real ones)
a couple inches of fresh orange peel

Preheat the oven to 350. Turn on some music or some bad reality television (or maybe put on Everybody’s Fine if you want to cry your eyes out) and grab 10 butter knives or spoons from the drawer. You’ll see why in a minutes. Fetch a 9×13 pan, roll out the thawed phyllo dough, and cut it to fit the bottom of the pan. Throw the stick of butter in a little sauce pan over medium heat just to melt through or nuke it in a microwave-safe bowl. Toast the almonds and hazelnuts in a stainless steel skillet over medium-low heat (I only toasted the hazelnuts because my almonds were already done). Don’t let them burn. It happens in a heartbeat. Now toss all those almonds and hazelnuts in a food processor (or do it in batches if you have a mini-prep blender like I do). When they are finely chopped, pour into a medium bowl and add sugar and spices and stir well. Now form the assembly line. You will have the bowl of nuts and sugar, a small bowl of water, the trimmed sheets of phyllo dough, the bowl of melted butter (at least we know Saint Julia would approve!), two pastry brushes (one for butter and one for water) and another spot for the knives or forks.

Start with one layer of butter brushed on the bottom of the pan. Add a layer of phyllo and press out any bubbles with your fingers. Add butter again then phyllo. Continue until you have 10 sheets of phyllo layered. Remember how I told you to grab all those knives?¬†Here’s why: do you find when you have to measure and count that you lose track and can’t remember how many cups of flour you added to your yeast roll dough? Push all the knives to one side and for every layer of phyllo you apply, move one to the other side. This way you can make fun of the Real Housewives while you cook and not loose count. Or if you have 10 things that would be more fun to count, use those. GI Joes?

Now, when you have just a layer of phyllo on top and no butter on it, add one third of the nut/sugar mixture. Now sprinkle on water using a pastry brush or alternatively you can put the water in a spray bottle. Now you will add phyllo then butter then phyllo again for another 6 sheets of phyllo. Pour on another third of the nut/sugar mixture, then layer 6 more sheets of phyllo and butter. Pour over the remaining nut/sugar mixture and top with the remaining 8 sheets of phyllo and butter. Bake for 30 minutes at 350. Let cool 10 minutes before cutting into small squares. While cooling, make the syrup. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan until sugar is dissolved and all is combined. After baklava is cut into squares, pour on the syrup and bake for another 30 minutes.

Let cool completely before placing squares in small candy or mini-muffin cups. To make baklava ice cream, chop some baklava and stir into softened vanilla ice cream.