Vegan Chocolate Key Lime Pie

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Tart on plate 1.HEIC

I had never tasted a Key lime pie before attempting this vegan version, but have eaten A LOT of lemon meringue pies in my time, so already knew I would love it.

 

The combination of a zingy citrus custard filling, crisp short pastry and soft meringue are beyond heavenly. They’re in a league of their own as far as I’m concerned.

 

Has to be homemade though, I’ve not found a shop bought one that even comes close to the real thing.

It was my friend Claire who inspired me to make one, as she has been cooking recipes from her mum’s Make it Miami cookbook from the 80’s, which has some really fun recipes in it.

 

Claire lost her mum to cancer in 2020, travelling from England to Australia to be with her, only just making it into the country a couple of days before Australia closed their borders at the start of the pandemic.

 

We decided to start cooking the recipes together although not in person sadly, due to her deciding to stay in Australia and me residing in England.

Claire's memories of the book
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We decided to do our own takes on it and compare results from opposite sides of the globe – not so difficult these days with the plethora of free instant messaging services available.

 

I have tried many dishes from Claire’s personal repertoire and can confirm she’s an excellent cook. She’s a massive foodie same as me. Her pie turned out amazing, as you can see.

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What is Key lime pie? 

An American dessert made of lime, egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk, Key lime pie may be topped with a meringue made from egg whites, whipped cream, or no topping. It may be cooked in a pie crust, graham cracker crust, biscuit crust or no crust.

 

The dish is named after the small Key limes, which are more tart and aromatic than the common Persian limes, and which have yellow, not green, juice. They have not been grown commercially in the U.S. however, since the 1926 Miami hurricane. I have no idea where I can buy Key limes in Suffolk to be honest, so just went for the ones in Lidl!

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The first recorded mention of the pie was in a 1933 Miami newspaper article, which details a 'tropical lime chiffon pie', using condensed milk and egg yolks.

 

An 'icebox lime pie' was mentioned as a specialty of the Florida Keys in 1935, then a recipe under the name 'Key lime pie' was published in 1940. 

 

It was in the 1950s that Key lime pie was promoted as Florida's 'most famous treat' and in 1987 as 'the greatest of all regional American desserts'.

Originally the filling was made similarly to something known as a 'magic lemon cream pie'.

 

Made by mixing the ingredients without cooking; the proteins of the egg yolks and condensed milk and the acidic lime juice curdle, thickening the mixture without baking. 

 

This wonderful video details how to make one and goes into the history of it.

In 1965, Florida State Representative Bernie Papy, Jr. introduced geographical indication legislation calling for a $100 fine to be levied against anyone advertising Key lime pie not made with Key limes.

 

The bill failed. However Florida statute 15.052, passed in July 2006, designated Key lime pie as 'the official Florida state pie'.

 

A good call I say – but what took them so long???

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A Veganuary challenge

The recipe from the Make it Miami cookbook only has five ingredients: Eggs, sweetened condensed milk, lime juice, Graham cracker crust and whipped topping.

 

Claire adapted the recipe by using ginger biscuits for the crust, while she also swapped the container of store bought whipped topping for fresh whipped cream. 

Simple and delicious! 

Here is Claire's:

I decided to ramp it up even further by veganising it.

 

This was not my original plan. I had first decided to make a chocolate shortcrust pastry as I already know lime and chocolate work really well together, then I was going for the traditional filling and meringue topping.

 

But Veganuary was looming and I decided it would be fun to create a delicious vegan version. So no pressure!!!

I started researching recipes and found three that could be combined and adapted to create something that might work. They were the Vegan Key Lime Pie from Carnation, the Vegan Pâte Sucrée  from The Quaint Kitchen, and the Chocolate Pâte Sucrée recipe from The Flavor Bender.

I did not want to use nuts in this dessert so decided against the almond powder that The Quaint Kitchen calls for in the pastry, while I also decided against making my own vegan butter to go in the pastry, wanting to make this as easy for myself as possible.

 

I followed The Quaint Kitchen’s recipe in terms of the amounts of ingredients for the pastry, but swapped the vegan butter for the same quantity of coconut oil which has a buttery texture at room temperature, also swapping out the almond powder for cocoa powder. Everything else remained the same except I added a few drops of vanilla extract to the mix.

 

The recipe for the dough from The Quaint Kitchen said it would make 600g of pastry, which was enough to make two big tarts, although in the end I switched to individual ones, with 600g equalling 12 of the 4 inch tarts. 

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Vegan condensed milk

 

The lime custard filling from the Carnation recipe calls for vegan condensed milk, which they sell themselves, although I have not seen it before and making my own sounded so easy, so I followed the very simple recipe from Karissa’s Vegan Kitchen which has only two ingredients – coconut milk and granulated sugar.

 

You have to make sure you do not use a light version of coconut milk or coconut milk from a carton, it has to be full-fat to get the thick consistency you need.

 

You put the two ingredients together in a saucepan, bring them to the boil, simmer for about 30 mins until reduced by half, stirring every 5 mins or so. It will thicken further as it cools, then put it in the fridge ready for when you need it.

 

I made this Key lime pie in stages over about a week due to other commitments, making the vegan condensed milk first so it was chilled and ready for when I got round to doing the filling, then I moved onto tackling the pastry when I next had time.

 

You can make these tarts from start to finish in one go without too much trouble though.

Using coconut

Wanting to make a dessert that was as similar to a non-vegan key lime pie as possible, I had been concerned the coconut flavour might take over due to there being coconut oil in the pastry and also coconut milk in the vegan condensed milk for the filling, but it didn’t, in fact I could barely detect it.

 

Coconut oil falls into two categories – refined and unrefined. I cannot recall where I bought my jar of organic virgin coconut oil as I have had it for quite a while, but after some Googling I am pretty sure it means unrefined when it says it is organic.

 

Refined coconut oil has a milder scent and flavour but a higher smoke point, while unrefined coconut oil is minimally processed, with a stronger coconut flavour and lower smoke point.

 

Refined coconut oils are produced from the copra (the dried kernel of the coconut), the baking and bleaching process reducing the number of polyphenols and medium-chain fatty acids available. These compounds are what offer the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Unrefined oil is made from the coconut meat (the white flesh).  For the purpose of making a Key lime pie, either will do the job. They are both solid at room temperature, so a perfect substitute for butter.

 

Healthline explains the differences between refined and unrefined coconut oil in more detail. As a flavour combination though, I think chocolate, lime and coconut work together wonderfully, so whichever coconut oil you use will still yield delicious results.

The pastry

Pâte sucrée literally means “sweet dough” in French. It’s one of three main French pastry doughs used for tarts.

 

There’s pâte brisée, pâte sablée and pâte sucrée. Pâte brisée has a tighter denser crumb, a pâte sablée has a more crumbly crust, while a pâte sucrée is crisp and sweet.

 

The method used to get that nice crisp texture for the pâte sucrée shell is to cream the butter at the start.

I followed this method for the pâte sucrée, but I used coconut oil instead of butter, which is spreadable like butter at room temperature.

 

I worked it with a spoon until pliable, added the salt, cocoa powder and icing sugar, working it in until smooth.

 

I then added the cornflower, oat milk, vanilla extract and half of the flour which made it go lumpy, but I had expected it to split after reading the recipe from The Quaint Kitchen.

 

I continued to work it with the spoon until smooth, then added the rest of the flour. It started to come together as a dough and I finished incorporating it in the bowl with my hands, stopping once it was smooth.

 

This dough does not require kneading. I then flattened it into a thick round disc, cling-filmed it and put it in the fridge until I was ready for the next stage. 

 

It can be frozen then thawed before rolling it out. You can also freeze the tart cases that have been lined with the dough, just make sure they are wrapped well in clingfilm and tinfoil to prevent freezer burn, then they can then be baked straight from frozen.

Lining and baking the tart cases – Attempt 1

I got the pastry out of the fridge a few hours before I was going to use it and left it on the side. It was rock hard when I got it out, as well as very shiny from the coconut oil, both of which slightly worried me! But after an hour it was pliable again.

I had to lightly flour the surface repeatedly as I was rolling it out as it was quite oily to the touch and wanted to stick to the rolling pin and the counter top, but after a few sprinklings of flour it was easy to handle, although I did not dare pick it up and turn it once it started to get thinner, leaving it in situ as I rolled.

 

I went for a thickness of about 4mm. However, I soon realised it was not going to be easy to pick up draped across my rolling pin, which is my usual technique for moving pastry into a case and there was no way it was going to hold together if I tried picking it up in one go as it kept breaking.

With non-vegan sweetcrust pastry you can patch it if it breaks, so I decided to cut it into smaller pieces which covered about a quarter of the 22cm tin each, then press the seams together. I did the best I could, but as you can see this did not work and pulled apart at the joins.

 

The tart was baked for 25mins at 180c after chilling in the fridge for 20 mins beforehand, but it shrunk and came out a bit burnt and hard around the edges so I decided this was too long and too hot.

Lining and baking the tart cases – Attempt 2

I tried going into a few shops to get the individual tart cases but had to admit defeat as they were just a bit too fancy to find in the supermarket baking aisles, instead having to buy some online, opting for these ones on Amazon.

 

They are the perfect size for a single portion tart, are non-stick and have a loose bottom. I am looking forward to using them again but with a vegan dark chocolate ganache filling with raspberries……

Once my mini tart cases arrived it was much easier. I was able to line all 6 of them with the remaining pastry I had, splitting the dough into equal portions first before rolling it out to about 3mm, being able to lift the pastry and fill each one first time with no breakages.

 

The pastry naturally fell away over the edges of the fluted sides, so I did not have to do much in the way of trimming off the excess; I just gently pressed the pastry firmly into the corners, docked them with a fork (when you prick holes in the bottom) – and voila, 6 beautiful pastry cases ready to bake.

Well that’s not strictly true, as I only did one to start with and baked it solo to see how it would turn out, but as you can see it was a success.

 

Refrigerating or freezing the dough lined tart pans for at least 20 mins before baking helps prevent the pastry from shrinking too much as it bakes.

 

I was thrilled with them, especially as I was also making my first ever Instagram story in real time during the process, all on the last day of Veganuary, so the pressure was on for good results!

Blind-baking pastry

I lowered the oven to 160c and put them in for 10 mins, checked them, allowing 5 mins more, so they had 15 mins in total.

 

As you can see from the pictures, some of the cases bulged up a bit at the bottom as I did not put anything inside them when blind baking, having read in the recipe I was adapting that I would not need to. However it looks like they could have done with either some more thorough docking or some baking beans inside.

 

Blind baking is when you bake the pastry case with no filling inside first, putting something inside to stop the bottom bulging up because of the steam bubbles created in the pastry as it cooks.

 

One method is to cover the case with clingfilm draped over the edges, then fill this to the top edge of the pastry with dried beans of some description, either partly baking or fully baking the pastry case, depending on what plans you have for your filling.

 

I opted to fully cook my pastry cases then fill them with the lime custard I cooked separately, which would not need putting in the oven again. Be careful when blind baking with dried beans as they get very hot, so allow them to cool for a bit before picking up the corners of the clingfilm to lift them out.

Another method I have been recommended to try but have not yet, although I will next time, is to get some tinfoil and cover it in butter on one side (although I would opt for coconut oil for this recipe), put it fat side down onto the pastry, then bake it, which will apparently do the same job as the baking beans in preventing bubbling pastry.

Sealing the tarts with chocolate

The Flavor Bender recommends brushing the inside of the cooked pastry cases with melted chocolate, creating an impervious layer through which a moist filling cannot penetrate to soggy the pastry – if they last long enough for that to happen!

 

I went to London on a solo day-trip a couple of months ago to do some foodie and cultural things I had planned, including going to vegan chocolatier, Copperhouse Chocolate. I picked up some amazing dark chocolate buttons for this very purpose while there and was very glad I did as their chocolate is divine.

 

I melted the buttons for 10 seconds at a time in the microwave until soft enough to spread and brushed it onto the cooked tart cases, creating a very thin seal on each.

Making the lime custard filling

The filling was easy. I put all the ingredients into a bowl and beat until smooth then transferred it to a saucepan, heating it on a low heat while whisking.

 

I brought it to the boil, reduced and simmered while still whisking, until it became a thick custard consistency.

 

I tasted a bit to see what it was like and it was absolutely gorgeous, a thick lime custard with the right levels of creaminess, sweetness and zing.  

 

It was very hard to resist eating it all straight out of the saucepan, I‘ll admit I ate a few spoonfuls before managing to stop myself!  

It did not take very long to chill in the saucepan until it was room temperature, so I wasted little time in getting my waiting tart cases filled.

 

Just make sure the filling is cooled sufficiently so as not to melt the chocolate barrier.

 

Once they were filled, I put them in the fridge while I then set about making the meringue topping.

Aquafaba meringue topping

This was my first time making aquafaba meringue, having heard of it before but never coming across any to try or getting round to doing it myself.

 

I was always bemused and intrigued by its mysterious nature: Meringue, made from that liquid you usually chuck away from a can of chickpeas?? It’s also very easy to make.

I put the liquid from one 400g can of chickpeas into a big bowl along with the cream of tartar, whisking with an electronic hand whisk until it formed soft peaks.

 

Soft peaks is when you get pointy bits that flop over straight away when you lift the whisk out. I added the vanilla and sugar gradually while I continued whisking, until the meringue became thicker, whiter, silkier and had increased in size.

 

I pulled the whisk out to check it had reached stiff peak stage – when the pointy bits stay standing. And that was it ready!

The final assembly

Now that all the individual elements were ready, I was very excited to get the tarts out of the fridge and assemble one so I could eat it!

 

The meringue had the right consistency, being thick enough to spoon on top of the tarts and holding its shape without oozing over the sides.

 

I would have liked to blow-torch the tops of the meringues, but I do not own one sadly.

 

However I did grate more of the vegan dark chocolate and lime zest on top, which looked really pretty and tasted immense.

I ate 3 of the 6 myself, so can confirm they were decent!

 

The texture of the thin, crisp dark chocolate pastry case contrasted perfectly with the sweet and creamy yet sharp lime custard filling, with the soft meringue, lime zest and vegan chocolate both inside the case and on top providing the perfect balance and flavour sensation, getting the taste buds tingling big time.

 

These tarts are moreish and addictive, you have been warned!