Dulce de Leche Cheesecake

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Would you believe me if I told you that I have never made a cheesecake before?  It’s true.  I told Fussellette that the other day and she nearly drove off the road.  Oh sure, I’ve made one of those no-bake “cheese cake” confections, and something wrapped in pastry, but it’s not the same.

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But I had all those gluten-free almond cookies still lying around — remember, the ones that were dry as a bone?  I figured the best use for them would be to make them into nice stale crumbs, and maybe chuck them in a cheesecake.  And so my first experience with cheesecake began.

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I went to the Kraft website and picked up the recipe there, because the makers of cream cheese seemed to have the recipe at its most simplest, with fewest additions, and that’s the way I like things to be.  This recipe needs only condensed milk, sugar, eggs, butter, cream cheese, and cookie crumbs.  And my cellphone, because that’s where I access my recipes while I wait for my new computer to arrive (the old one died in a horrible, agonizingly slow way).

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Start by preheating your oven to 425°F.  In a 9″ pie pan, pour the contents of one 300mL can of condensed milk.

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Cover it with foil and set it in a larger baking dish.  Pour in some boiling water so that the milk is in a nice water bath.  Bake that sucker for an hour.

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I may have forgotten to check mine and overcooked it.  But whatever.  I like the spots.  Adds texture.  Remove the milk from the water bath and whisk it up until it’s smooth.  Voila, dulce de leche.  You can also just buy this from a store if you wish.

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Pull out 1/2 cup of the sauce and put it aside to cool, probably about an hour.  Refrigerate the rest once it’s cool.

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When your sauce is cool (or at the very least, just slightly warm), preheat your oven again to 350°F this time.  Spray the inside of a springform pan with cooking spray.

Melt 1/4 cup butter and mix it with 1 1/4 cups cookie crumbs.  Press those into the bottom of the springform pan.

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In the bowl of a mixer, combine 3 (250g) packages room temperature plain cream cheese with 1/2 cup sugar, and beat until well-combined.  Remember that the warmer your cream cheese is, the less lumpy it will be.

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Take the 1/2 cup of dulce de leche sauce and add that to the cream cheese mix.  With the mixer on low, add in 3 eggs, one at a time, and mix until just combined.

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Pour into the springform pan and shake gently to level the top and loosen any bubbles.

Bake that puppy for 40-45 minutes, or until the centre is almost set.  It’s very important not to open the oven door during baking, as the sudden temperature change could cause the thing to crack.  Of course, the Pie didn’t know this and tossed in a piece of pizza to heat up.  I wouldn’t let him take it out again, and so he had to wait 16 minutes for his now extra crispy slice and I was formally allowed to blame any cracks in the cheesecake firmly on him.

Fussellette tells me you should cool your cheesecake in the oven, just like you do with meringues.  I put mine in a draftless room, which is what the recipe said.  It still cracked, but I’m going to blame that on the Pie.  While it’s cooling, make sure to run a knife around the edges to loosen it. Leave it in the pan until it’s totally cool, and then refrigerate it for at least an hour before serving.

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Before serving, warm up the extra dulce de leche sauce and drizzle it over top.  I am too lazy to keep reheating it every time I want a slice so I just poured mine over the top in a nice little circle.  So very tasty!

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Sweet Bread Pudding with Squash and Tres Leches Sauce

Bread Puddings

Second bread pudding of the week.  And this one is also made of squash.  But here’s the kicker: this one is a sweet one, a bread pudding you can have for dessert or even breakfast.  A very rich breakfast.  When the Pie and I ate this dish last Sunday morning we had to go and have a nap afterwards.  But it was worth it.

Bread Puddings

There’s a bunch of this that you can do the day before, to save yourself time.

First,  you roast a butternut squash at 400°F until it’s all tender and squishy, about 30-45 minutes.

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If that doesn’t do the trick you can always put it in the microwave.

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Cut up a baguette into chunks and leave it overnight to go stale.  If you’ve already got a stale one then you don’t have to wait for it, obviously.

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Now the tres leches sauce takes about 45 minutes to make so you will probably want to do this the night before.

In a medium saucepan, bring a 12oz can of evaporated milk (I actually used coconut milk because that’s what I had on hand) and 6 tablespoons granulated sugar to a boil.

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See how it’s all nice and foamy.

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Dissolve 1/8 teaspoon baking soda in 2 teaspoons warm water and chuck that in as well.  Be wary of the foaming milk.  Keep stirring.

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Reduce the heat to medium and keep it simmering.  Stir it frequently while it cooks, for about 30 minutes, until it’s significantly reduced and a light caramel in colour.

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Add in 1 can sweetened condensed milk and 1 cup whipping cream and stir it around until it’s all warm and thoroughly mixed.

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Now let it cool until it’s just warm and then you can serve it.  Or bung it into the fridge overnight.

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So onto the bread pudding.  Set your oven at 350°F and butter a large casserole dish.

Take half your squash and plop it in a blender with 1/2 cup granulated sugar.

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Add in 1 1/2 cups half-and-half milk (or use regular low-fat milk mixed with your preferred amount of cream), some freshly grated nutmeg, a pinch or two of garam masala, and a shake of cinnamon.

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Give that whirl, then add 5 large eggs and whirl it again until just combined.

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As for the other half of your squash, use a fork to roughly mash it up with 1/2 cup brown sugar.

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Plop your stale bread chunks in a large bowl and add in the milk/squash mixture as well as the rest of your half-and-half.  Let that sit for a few minutes.

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Dump in the rest of the squash and stir it around.

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Pour it into the casserole dish and bake it for 30 minutes, until it’s all solid and browned.

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Serve hot, either as a breakfast or as a dessert.

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Drizzled with tres leches sauce it’s not a healthy breakfast but it sure is good.

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Simple Butter Fudge (Tablet)

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Oh.  Hello.  Can I help you?

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You want to learn to MAKE this stuff?  And you want me to teach you?

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Sorry.  Can’t.  I’m too busy cramming it in my face.

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Come back later.

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Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Okay fine.

I’ve wanted to teach myself to make fudge for an age and a half. Fudge is one of my favourite things, especially the simple traditional ones.  Butter and Maple fudge?  I could eat those forever.  And whenever I can get my hands on them and the Pie is out for the evening, I frequently do.  I pay for it, oh yes, I pay for it.  But it’s totally worth it.

This year my New Year’s Resolution was to learn to make fudge.  That and eat more vegetables.  I never thought vegetables would be a problem for me.  But of course that was before I moved to Newfoundland.  Anyway.  Fudge.  Resolution for fudge.

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So last week I decided that enough was enough.  It was time.  Plus I keep trying to think of luscious dessert-y-type objects that also happen to be gluten-free so that I can bribe Fussellette to drive me places.  I figure it’s a win-win situation for all concerned.

In searching for crumbly oh-so-melt-in-your-mouth fudge recipes on the internet, I came to the realization that the stuff I am thinking of is also known simply as TABLET, a traditional Scottish bon-bon.  I wish I had known this sooner.  Finding a good recipe would have been quicker, and every time I passed a package of tablet in the specialty store I would have purchased it.  So perhaps it’s a good thing I didn’t find this out sooner.

Enough with my blathering.  I found this recipe by Stewart C. Russell and it seems to be the best, mostly for the clear instructions.  And if I’m going to experiment and things are going to go horribly, spectacularly wrong, I want it to count.  So I doubled the recipe and modified things a bit.  I’ll give you my version here, and if you don’t like the craziness of it you can go back to Stewart and do his recipe the right way.

You will only need four ingredients for this, but you need a lot of most of them:

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1 cup cold milk (this is for dampening down your sugar.  The measurement is approximate.)

200g butter (I used salted instead of unsalted, because I like my fudge a little less than sickly sweet.  This measurement is slightly less than half of the 1lb [454g] block you get in the stores.)

3, 300g tins sweetened condensed milk (Stewart’s recipe calls for a 400g tin, which doesn’t seem to exist around these parts, so this is the reason I doubled the recipe.  In the end I had 100g more milk than the math called for but I don’t think it did any harm.)

2kg brown sugar (you can use white here for a lighter fudge, but this is what I had around)

First thing: generously butter two rimmed baking sheets.  I mean GENEROUSLY.  And you will need these ready to go before you do anything else, because when you need them you will have no time to spare.  Put them somewhere handy, on a heatproof surface.

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Take out your largest saucepan (this stuff foams up quite a bit). And a big wooden spoon (you always make candy with wooden spoons).   I also recommend using a candy thermometer.  We’re going to do some other tests here but if you want surefire accuracy I would use one as well as a fail-safe.

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Plop the sugar in that there saucepan and pour on the milk.  Give that a wee stir.

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Add in your butter and your condensed milk.  Take a dobble of that and put it on a plate.  Admire the grainy texture and pale colour.  You are going to have quite the colour chart on this plate by the end.

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Heat the stuff in the saucepan on medium-high, stirring, until the butter is melted and everything is starting to get smooth.

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Bring the mixture to a boil.

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Turn it down to a simmer (this will depend on the thickness of your pot, the amount you have in it, and the temperature of your element). You’re going to simmer it for a while, stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking. It’s gonna get foamy and scary.

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You’re waiting for the “soft ball” stage in candy making, which is when your thermometer hits 240°F.  If you’re simmering and you can’t get the sugar to increase in temperature, try turning up the heat a little bit at a time until you see a difference.  Just make sure not to burn it!

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While you’re waiting, keep testing out your liquid on your plate.  Dobble some on and let it cool.  Watch it darken in colour and smooth out in consistency.  On this one the latest dobble, the one at the far right, is exhibiting some caramel tendencies, as it’s starting to stretch out when I pull it.  That means we’re almost there.

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Another way to test is to take a teaspoon-full of your sugar mix and plunge it into a small amount of cold water for a second or two.  Then tip the spoon and watch the sugar pour off the spoon.  Here it’s coming off in a smooth string, so it’s not ready.

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Still too stringy here.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Ah.  Here we have a SOFT BALL coming off the spoon.  It’s ready.

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Remove the pan from the heat and start stirring it vigorously with your wooden spoon.  Not so vigorously that you splash yourself with molten sugar, but put some energy into it.

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Pause occasionally to scrape the crystallized sugar off the sides of the pot.  These crystals will help to seed other crystals in the mix, which is what we want.

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When you start to feel the grate of crystals on the bottom (when scraping your spoon down there feels a little gritty), then your fudge is starting to set.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Quickly pour the contents of the saucepan onto the baking sheets. Use a spatula to get it all.

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You can see how it started to set as I was pouring because I took too long.  As a result, I have fudge with lumps.

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Leave the stuff to set overnight, if you can stand it, or at least until they’ve cooled completely.  Those light blotches you see are just crystallizing sugar, which is a good thing.

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Look how nicely it just pops out of the pan!

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Use a long flat knife to cut or break your set fudge into pieces. When you are cutting it, press down on the whole length of the blade at once.  If you go in at an angle the fudge will crack along a different line.

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Of course, then you get reject pieces, which is what I’ve been eating.

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I recommend cutting your fudge into smallish pieces.  Otherwise you might eat too much.  Oh who are we kidding?  You (or someone you know and love) are (is) going to eat too much anyway.

Store in an airtight container.  Or mail pieces to all your friends.

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I think I’d like to try this again with granulated sugar, as opposed to brown.  I think the molasses in the brown sugar, together with the extended simmering time I had to get the sugar up to the right temperature, made for a firmer fudge than the super crumbly stuff I really love.

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CLEANING TIP: If you fill your empty saucepan with hot water right away and leave it for a bit, then cleanup will be a breeze.

Brown Sugar Fudge Tablet

Fudgy Rocky Road Squares

Ooey, gooey, crispy and crunchy, these easy-peasy squares came out of Martha Stewart’s Every Day Food magazine, to which I am an ardent subscriber.

They don’t require a whole lot of baking, and if you’re feeling super lazy you could get away with not baking at all, so that’s always a bonus.  All you need are five ingredients: graham crackers (whole), almonds, marshmallow fluff, chocolate chips, and condensed milk.  Simple.Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Line the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish with graham crackers.  Break them if you have to in order to get them to fit.  Bake them until the crackers are lightly toasted and fragrant, probably about 8 minutes.

While that’s going on, coarsely chop up 1 1/2 cups almonds.  Sprinkle the almonds evenly over the toasted graham while it’s still warm.

Dollop on about 1 cup marshmallow fluff in large spoonfuls.  Allow it to soften and spread by itself.

In a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over simmering water, combine 1 12oz bag chocolate chips and 1 14oz can condensed milk. I’m pretty sure you need to use chocolate chips here instead of baking chocolate simply because of the unique physical properties of chocolate chips. 

Cook, stirring once in a while, until the chocolate is all melted and everything is smooth.

Work quickly, before the chocolate has a chance to thicken, and pour it over the marshmallow fluff.

Use a thin-bladed knife to swirl the marshmallow and the chocolate together. 

Refrigerate until set, about an hour, then cut into squares and serve. 

Keep them wrapped up tight in the refrigerator when you’re not chowing down.

Gooey Bars

This recipe comes from my favourite book, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.  In this particular book, the authors call their bar the Baked Bar, after their establishment in New York, but my cousin’s wife told me that her grandmother used to make her what she called Hello Dolly Bars.  I call them Gooey Bars, because that’s what they truly are.  Many of the wedding guests described them as “life-altering experiences”, but I’ll leave you to determine that for yourself.

The ingredients are simple, but the crust is a little fussy, so the recipe from start to finish takes quite a while.

Preheat your oven to 300°F.

Line a 9 x 13″ pan with aluminum foil and butter it.  The foil makes it much easier to remove everything from the pan after you’ve baked it.

Put a piece of parchment on a baking sheet and spread 2 cups shredded coconut across it.  Bake for 5 or so minutes until the coconut begins to turn golden brown.  Toss the coconut and bake for another 3 minutes or so.

Toss the coconut in a bowl with 2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs.

Melt 1 cup butter and pour it in.

Mix it all up with your hands or a fork, and then use your hands to press the crust mixture into the pan.  Smooth the surface and level it.

Refrigerate the crust for 15 minutes, then bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let the crust cool completely.

Now for the rest.

Raise the oven temperature to 325°F.

Spread 1 1/3 cups pecans over a sheet pan and toast them for a little while until brown.

Spread those over the bottom of the cooled crust and add 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips as well.

Coarsely chop up about 9 oz white baking chocolate (that’s 9 squares).

Spread those on top, as well as 3/4 cup butterscotch chips.

The fun part here is when you pour two cans of sweetened condensed milk over top the whole thing.  Just drizzle that on there.

Shake the pan gently to evenly distribute the milk.  Of course, if you have really thick milk you might want to use a spatula to spread it out.

Bake the whole thing for 30-40 minutes, making sure to rotate the pan every ten minutes.  When it’s all brown and bubbly it’s all done.  Transfer it to a wire rack and let it cool completely before cutting into squares and serving.

Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and keep them in the fridge for up to four days.

Key Lime Take Two

My last attempt, as we all know, was somewhat disastrous, though the Pie says it is the best pie I’ve ever made (what does that say about the rest of them?).  This time, with some new calculations, it worked out a little better …

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Chocolate Crumb Crust

In a bowl, mix together 1 cup chocolate baking crumbs, 1/2 cup shredded coconut, and 2 tbsp granulated sugar.

Melt about 1/3 cup butter and pour it in.  Mix well. 

Flatten your crumb mixture into a 9″ pie pan and shore up the sides as well. Bung it in the oven and bake it for ten minutes.  Let the crust cool completely while you work on the filling.

Key Lime Filling

Take yourself a pound of key limes (about two dozen).  Using a rasp zester, grate the zest from about half of them into a small bowl and set aside.

Juice all the limes and set that aside as well.  It takes for freaking ever. 

Take yourself six eggs.

Separate them and put the whites away for something else.

In the bowl of your mixer, plop in the yolks and the zest, along with 2 tbsp granulated sugar.  Beat for several minutes until thick.

Add in 1 can (300mL) of condensed milk and 1 can (500mL) coconut milk.  Beat again for a while, then add your lime juice and mix until incorporated.

Pour into your cooled pie shell (I have slightly overfilled mine).

Bake for 35 minutes or until the middle is almost set.  Cool completely, then chill for at least an hour and serve with whipped cream

Obviously, I still need to work on the aesthetics part. 

Key Lime Pie – Messing up a classic.

I am not a perfect person, and it is my habit to make mistakes when trying new things.  And this blog is not about the perfect dessert or the best paint job – it is about experiments in grown-up living.   What follows, then, is not the first, and not the last, of my epic fails in the kitchen.  It has, however, inspired me to try again to see if I can get this right.  I have added it to my DIY To-Do list on the right-hand column.

***EDIT: The Pie wanted you to know that, despite the aesthetics of the thing, this was the best-tasting pie I have ever made.***

I found a pound of key limes at Sobeys about a week ago so I thought I would make some key lime pie. Obviously.

Key limes made in Mexico?

Key limes are smaller and sweeter than their more common cousins.

You can use regular limes, but purists will tell you it's not the same.

Now, key lime pie and lemon meringue pie are easy.  Really easy.  I decided to experiment a bit with the recipe.  The problem was that I was missing certain ingredients, which inspired me to experiment still further, and I was also coming off a rotten day, so making mistakes in the kitchen only added to my general frustration.  DON’T BAKE WHILE ANGRY.

The recipe I will give you below is how I should have done it, and I will explain as I go about how I actually did it.

I have two very shallow 8″ pie plates, and this recipe filled both of those.  I also have a deep 14″ pie plate, and it would probably fill that one by itself.  One of my next purchases is going to be a standard 9″ pie plate.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Start working on your crumb crust.  In a bowl, mix together 1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs, 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut, and 2 tbsp granulated sugar. In the normal recipe, you would use plain graham crumbs and leave out the coconut.  But that wasn’t fancy enough for me.

Getting fancy with the crust.

Add in 1/2 cup of melted butter and stir until the mixture is crumbly but still dry.  You should be able to squeeze a handful of the crumb mixture between your hands and have it stick together, but not be greasy.  My major failing with the crust is that several of the recipes I was using for inspiration had me add an entire cup of butter, which made my crust soggy and prone to collapse.  You might need more than 1/2 a cup to make your mixture cohesive, but you shouldn’t need much more than that.

Put your crumb mixture into the pan and pat it up the sides and across the bottom evenly.  For a nice, flat crust surface, press a slightly smaller pie plate into the larger one to smooth the edges.

Press a smaller pan into the larger one for smooth crust.

Place your crusts in the oven and bake them for 10 minutes.  Let cool and ‘rest’ while you do the rest of this.

Take a pound of key limes (about 24) and gather the zest of about half of them.  I use a fine food rasp from Lee Valley with a zester catcher.  It makes my life a lot easier.  I recommend you pick one up.  You can use a wood rasp as well (that’s pretty much what this is, anyway).

Pick up this rasp from Lee Valley.

Zesting 12 tiny limes took quite a while, and only rendered about 2 tbsp of zest, but that’s all you really need.

Careful when rasping - it's easy to get your fingertips caught.

Now we juice the limes. First, roll each lime on the counter while pressing with your hand.  This will bruise the flesh inside and make them easier to juice.

Cut all the limes in half and juice those suckers.  This took forever for me because the juicer kept sliding all over the place.  I had to put down a silicone baking mat, kind of like this one from KitchenAid, to get the thing to stay still.   Have patience.  You should end up with about a cup of juice.  Feel free to add more from a bottle if you feel you need more.

Juicing 24 tiny limes is a pain.

After this, I was already frustrated, and things started to go downhill for me.  As I’ve said, I put too much butter in my crust, which had sagged to the centre of each pan.  I pressed paper towels into the molten crust to remove excess butter and shored up the edges as best I could before baking them again and letting them cool.

This is easiest with a mixer.

Moving on … separate 6 egg yolks and plop those suckers in the bowl of your mixer.  Most recipes say to use 4 yolks, which is what I did, but I had problems with the stuff setting.  I will explain why shortly.  Add your zest to the bowl along with 2 tbsp granulated sugar and mix on high for about 6 minutes until the stuff is pale and fluffy.

Pale and fluffy.

At this point you add your condensed milk.  All the other recipes call for a 14-oz can of condensed milk (or, if doubling the recipe, two cans).  What I have discovered, however, is that a 14-oz can is slightly over 400 mL, while the available cans in Canada seem to only contain 300 mL.  Also I only had one can and I needed two.  I did, however, have a 500 mL can of baker’s coconut milk (this is why I added the coconut to the crust).  I figured adding the coconut milk would make the filling not as sweet, which is why I added a bit of sugar to the yolks and the zest.  I might even add more sugar next time.  Anyway, the coconut milk makes everything a little more runny, so that is why I suggested using 6 yolks instead of 4, just to make sure everything sets.

So you add in your coconut milk and your condensed milk and mix it on high again for another 5 minutes or so, until thick.  Pour in the lime juice and mix until incorporated.  Pour into the cooled crusts and bake for 25-35 minutes or until the filling has just set (as in, it shouldn’t be liquidy).  Cool on a rack, then chill for at least an hour and serve with whipped cream.

Having only used 4 yolks, I had trouble getting my pie to set, though it was all right after I had chilled it.  It was certainly not a pretty pie, but I plan to make up for it.

Not very pretty, but still tasty.