There are two widely held misconceptions regarding the Key lime. The first is that it is simply a reference to those limes used for making pies… and the second is that it grows only in the Florida Keys. The journey of the Key lime across the globe is a circuitous one. It made its way to North Africa and the Near East via Arabian traders and was then carried on to Palestine and Mediterranean Europe by the Crusaders. Columbus is credited with bringing the key lime to Hispaniola, now known as Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Spanish settlers carried it on to South Florida where it flourished, particularly in the Florida Keys, hence the common name. It became a commercial crop in 1906 and business boomed until the 1926 hurricane wiped out the citrus groves. The growers replaced the Key Lime trees with Persian Lime trees because the Persian variety is easier to grow, harvest and ship.
The Key lime is much smaller than the large, green, seedless Persian limes, a hybrid developed in the early 20th century that is more resistant to disease and pests. Persian limes also have a thicker rind. Key limes, however, are aromatic and very juicy, possessing a stronger and more complex acidic flavor than Persian limes.
Key limes are not ones to easily, freely and generously give up their juices without the proper equipment, I’ve discovered! First of all, they are so small that it is not easy to work with them on a juicer that is meant for lemons or oranges. I purchased a 2-lb bag of Key limes at Berkeley Bowl West, brought them home and labored excessively until I finally coaxed out three-quarters of a cup of fresh juice from the 2-lb bag. Fortunately that was exactly the amount of juice I needed for the recipe I was putting together. You can imagine, however, that I was not too thrilled at the thought of going through the same process a second time for the Key Lime Semifreddo that was planned for dessert for our Easter Sunday brunch guests. The solution proved to be a simple one! A number of years ago Dayton had purchased a hand juicer from a restaurant supply store that was the perfect shape and size for working with limes. We searched through a multitude of boxes and drawers until we found it. The second 2-lb bag of Key limes was squeezed in a matter of minutes… with a juice yield twice that of my initial attempt! The limes are cut in half and placed in the juicer cut side down. The lime is flattened by the top half of the juicer and the seeds and pulp are retained in its bowl as the juices run through the holes on the bottom side… what an incredible invention! Should you choose, however, to prepare this dessert know that there is no cause for alarm. Bottled Key lime juice can be readily purchased at most markets.
Key Lime Semifreddo with Blackberry Coulis
Roasted macademia nuts, to yield 3/4 C
Line a 9 X 5 X 3-inch or a 12 X 4 X 3-inch hinged pate pan with plastic wrap, leaving a generous overhang of film. Sprinkle the coarsely chopped macademia nuts evenly over the bottom of the pan:
Beat in the stainless steel bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form:
2 C heavy whipping cream, well-chilled
Transfer the whipped cream to a bowl and refrigerate while the custard is being made. Wash the stainless steel mixing bowl and to it add:
1 1/4 C baker’s sugar
7 large egg yolks
3/4 C Key lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 1/2 T grated Key lime zest
1/4 tsp salt
Whisk to blend and set the mixing bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water:
Whisk constantly until yolk mixture is thick and fluffy and an instant-read thermometer inserted into mixture registers 170 degrees, approximately 4 minutes. Transfer bowl to mixer and whip at high speed until mixture is cool, thick and doubled in volume, about 6 minutes. While whipping add, for color:
1 or 2 drops blue food coloring
Fold in the chilled whipped cream:
Transfer mixture to the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Tap pan lightly on work surface to remove air pockets. Fold plastic wrap overhang over top to cover:
Wrap pan with foil and freeze semifreddo until firm, at least 8 hours or overnight. Keep frozen.
– Blackberry Coulis –
Pulse in the bowl of a food processor until smooth:
5 6-oz packages blackberries
Press the berries through a China cap with the bottom of a ladle to collect the juices and pulp. Discard the seeds when finished:
To the bowl of a bain marie add:
3/4 C blackberry juices
1 T cornstarch
1/2 C baker’s sugar
3/4 C raspberry liqueur (Chambord)
Whisk over simmering water until sauce is glossy and has thickened:
Remove from heat and place pan in an ice bath, whisking until cold. Add:
the remaining fresh blackberry juices
Whisk till well combined. Refrigerate until service. To serve the Key Lime Semifreddo with Blackberry Coulis lift the semifreddo from the pan with the aid of the film. Unwrap the semifreddo and invert the dessert onto a platter. Cut crosswise into 3/4 – 1-inch thick slices. Transfer to serving plates and drizzle generously with raspberry coulis. This refreshing dessert is light, wonderfully tangy to the palate and a magnificent end to a sumptuous meal… Bon Appetit!
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