Spring is whispering. I can feel it. Each day, when I take my walk, I can feel the earth stirring . . . coming to life and stretching its cramped, tired muscles after a long winter of dormant rest. The grass begins to lose its wan, yellow color and seethe with new green and new life. The birds sing with renewed vigor, the trees begin to put forth lacy buds, and (yuck) the bugs start to come out, again. The air has an urgent freshness . . . racing around like a dog just released from its chain to run free . . . and it seems to whisper, “Take heart . . . warmth is coming. Take heart . . . spring is almost here.”
Another thing I love about spring is that the stores start carrying the first of the spring vegetables– fresh spring onions, crunchy green asparagus, and baby green lettuce. With all these fresh green tastes, I was itching for a crisp, fresh dessert. So I thought of citrus. I have always loved fresh, clean, crisp scents and tastes– and these Key Lime Bars are just the ticket. The best part is . . . they double up as a spring green AND a St. Patrick’s day dessert. Yes. You can make these and take them to the office party, while keeping half behind, for your family to enjoy. Half the work and twice the benefits. Yesssssss. Sign me up.
What are we waiting for? Let’s do this!
Key Lime Bars with Pecan Shortbread Crust
(adapted from Your Homebased Mom)
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1 cup all purpose flour
Lime Layer Ingredients:
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp. flour
2 key limes, zest and juice
2 tbsp. softened butter
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 key limes, zest and juice (reserve this zest for topping)
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast chopped pecans in a single layer in a baking pan for roughly 5 minutes, until nuts are fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside. To make crust, cream butter, sugar, and flour together until mixture resembles large crumbs. Add in chopped/toasted pecans and stir to mix. Spread mixture over the bottom of an ungreased 8×8 inch baking pan, using a fork to evenly spread and press crust. Bake crust at 350 for 15-17 minutes, just until edges have started to brown. While the crust is baking, whisk together the lime layer ingredients. Pour lime mixture over hot crust, when crust is slightly brown around the edges. Bake crust and lime mixture for another 18-20 minutes, just until lime is set (will not be brown). To make icing, beat softened butter, powdered sugar, lime juice, and lemon extract until smooth. Allow bars to cool completely before adding icing to the top and sprinkling with reserved lime zest. Chill until ready to serve for easier cutting.
Now, in pictures! 🙂
First, let me show you how to toast your pecans. You obviously love nuts, since you love me, so this should be easy 😉 Take 1/2 cup of pecans and roughly chop them. Feel free to leave the nuts out, or switch them for another kind of nut, if you don’t like pecans. Place the chopped nuts into a small baking pan and roast them at 350 degrees for 4-5 minutes, until they are fragrant and, well . . . nutty smelling. Take them out of the oven when they are toasted and set them aside until we are ready for them. I have to wait? That’s NUTS! 😉 Sorry. I’ll stop with the nut jokes . . . for now. But stay wary . . .
Next, we will start working on the crust. Go ahead and cream the butter, sugar, and flour together. Start out with the mixer on low speed so you don’t get baptized with the flour geyser.
You can speed the mixer up once the powdered ingredients start to get incorporated and the danger of baptism has passed. Mix until you get something like this . . . (What is that? BRAINS?????). Naw . . . just kind of large, buttery crumbs. Mmmm. If I were a crumb, I’d definitely want to be a buttery one. Awww . . . you’re just trying to butter me up! 😉
Go ahead and mix in the sweet little toasted nuts we made earlier. Mmmmm. That looks so good, it’s just NUTS! Sorry. I said I would stop, and I didn’t. (Hangs head in shame).
Go ahead and scrape your crust (still more like big crumbs) into an 8×8 inch baking pan. This is my favorite 8×8 pan, because it was my Gram’s, and then my Mom’s, and then she gave it to me when I first moved out on my own. It was one of the first pans I ever cooked with. And I still use and love it– pieces with a good story are my very favorite. Use a fork to press the crust flat– be sure to get the crust all the way to the edges and as even as you can.
I’m dying to tell another nut joke, but I won’t. I’ll be good. For now . . .
Bake the naked crust (NAKED??? Shriek!!!!) for about 15 minutes, until the edges are JUST starting to get brown. Don’t overbake it, because we still have to bake the lime layer, and we don’t want the crust to get tough and leathery like a Florida sunbather because it got too brown, the first time around.
Speaking of the lime layer, here’s a cool trick . . . unlike most lemon or lime recipes, this filling doesn’t need to be cooked, prior to baking. Score. You can watch 5 minutes of Downton Abbey with that spare time. You’re welcome.
Just whisk all your lime layer ingredients together and wait for your crust to be done. We want the filling to go on piping hot crust, so get this ready a few minutes before your crust is ready, so that you can pour it right on there as soon as the crust comes out (Tiny voice whispers, “That’s NUTS!” Hehe. Sorry.).
When your crust is browned slightly at the edges, pull it out and dump the lime layer on top. You may have to smooth the lime stuff a little bit to make sure all the crust is covered (Because nothing is ever uneven, because we’re perfect, right? Haha). Put this little beauty back into the oven for 18-20 more minutes, just until the lime layer is set.
“Set” means that your lime layer is firm, but not brown. It might be a little golden around the edges, but the center shouldn’t be brown, at all, and the center shouldn’t jiggle when you move the pan. When the lime is set, go ahead and pull the bars from the oven and let them cool. We can’t put the icing on there until they are nice and cool, or it will melt. (That’s NUTS!!!! OK . . . I’m just going to stop apologizing, because these nut jokes just keep coming out, and there’s nothing I can do about it. 🙂
The icing couldn’t be simpler. Gently mix your softened butter and powdered sugar together (again, the sugar avalanche thing), and when the dry ingredients are mostly incorporated, speed up the mixer and beat until creamy. Then add in your lime juice and lemon extract and beat until the mixture is soft and velvety. You can taste it if you like and add a bit more lemon extract if you want it to be more sour. Of course, more sour is . . . (come on . . . I know you want to say it . . .) JUST NUTS!!!!!!
Spread your icing on the bars when they are completely cool (I put mine in the fridge after they had cooled slightly from the oven, to speed up the process). An offset spatula works great for spreading the icing without dislocating your wrist, trying to use a butter knife in that teeny pan.
Go ahead and sprinkle your reserved lime zest overtop of the icing. Key limes are teeny tiny, so they don’t make a ton of zest. Two limes’ worth was just enough, for me, to sprinkle over this 8×8 pan. Isn’t that PURTY?????
And now? The fun part! Sprinkle the bars with a teensy (OK, a catastrophically sized) bit of powdered sugar. You don’t want to cover all that pretty lime zest, but you just want to give the bars the teensiest little bit of glitz and glamor. The gal ain’t wearing makeup, but she won’t be caught dead without her mascara.
It’s raining, it’s snowing . . . the old man is mowing . . . wait a minute. Some subtle change has occurred in that rhyme since my childhood. Well, whatever the old man does, I’m sure he wants powdered sugar on his Key Lime Bars. If we didn’t put it on, that would be . . . (say it with me, loved ones . . .) just NUTS!!!!!
Sigh. There they are . . . in all their glamorous, gorgeous loveliness. They pack just the right amount of crisp, tart citrus, and devastatingly sweet and sultry sweetness. Opposites attract, and oh baby . . . these flavors attract, big time. They work together so well, it’s just . . .
You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.
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