Key lime bars have creamy and tart key lime filling over a pecan graham cracker crust. This is the perfect mini dessert for all your spring and summer gatherings!
❓What's the difference between key limes and limes?
Key limes and limes are definitely not the same thing. There are a few differences between the two in appearance and taste:
- Size: a key lime is much smaller than a typical lime or Persian lime. Generally around half the size. The same goes with the size of the rind, the key lime rind is much thinner than its generic counterpart.
- Color: Standard limes are usually much more green, where the key lime is more yellow and has more seeds.
- Taste: Key limes have a lower pH level, meaning they are less acidic, and therefor less tart than a Persian lime.
🥘 Ingredients and Substitutions
- Cream Cheese - it's not a standard ingredient in typical key lime filling, but these aren't standard key lime bars! The cream cheese makes the filling a touch more creamy, fills it out a bit more, and hold it together better.
- Pecans - these offer a little extra crunch and buttery goodness to the graham cracker crust, but if you're nut free, fear not. Simply substitute another sheet of graham crackers for the nuts.
- Lime zest - I used standard limes to zest, but you can also use key lime zest. This recipe makes for a fairly tart filling, if you prefer a more mild taste, I suggest using 2 teaspoons of zest.
- Key lime juice - to save time, I did use a bottle of key lime juice that yielded great results.
First you'll whip up the graham cracker crust. The whole crust comes together in a food processor.
Step 1: Break up the crackers into smaller pieces into the container of a food processor. Turn on the processor and keep it on until the crackers are reduced to crumbs.
Step 2: Add the pecans, cinnamon, salt, brown sugar, and melted butter to the container and replace the lid.
Step 3: Pulse the mixture 1 second at a time, about 8-10 times. The mixture should resemble wet, course sand.
Step 4: Dump the food processor out into an 8x8 pan that is lined with parchment paper. Use the bottom of a dry measuring cup to press the graham cracker crumbs into the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust in a 350˚ oven for 10 minutes. Once the crust is baked set it aside until the filling is made and keep the oven heated.
Step 5: In a large bowl or stand mixer bowl, add the egg whites. Mix with a whisk attachment on an electric mixer or stand mixer on medium-high speed for 2 minutes.
In another small bowl add the softened cream cheese and mix in a small amount of the condensed milk and use a whisk or spatula to get rid of as many lumps as possible. Add the rest of the milk and stir to completely combine.
Step 6: Pour the condensed milk mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks. Use the electric mixer on medium-high to blend the mixture for 2 more minutes.
Then add the lime juice and zest and mix for an additional minute on medium speed.
Step 7: Pour the mixture over the baked graham cracker crust and spread into an even layer.
⏲ Cooking Time and Temperature
Step 8: Bake the bars for 15 minutes in a 350˚ oven. When it's done, the middle will still move just a bit when you jiggle the pan.
🧊 Chilling Time
Place the pan on a rack for about an hour or until the bars are close to room temperature.
Then transfer the pan to the refrigerator for at least 2 hours uncovered so that they can fully set.
🍽 Serving Suggestions
When the bars are fully set and cooled, pull out the parchment from the pan and transfer them to a cutting board. Cut them into 12 pieces and top with whipped cream and lime wedges or fresh zest.
🥣 Storage and Freezing
Store the key lime bars in a covered, airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
The bars can be frozen before you add the toppings. Just be sure to remove any air you can from the container you're freezing them in. Thaw them in the fridge for 12-24 hours before serving.
The Best Key Lime Bars
FOR THE GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST:
- 6 full graham cracker sheets
- ¼ cup pecan halves
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 5 tablespoons butter (melted)
- ½ teaspoon salt
FOR THE KEY LIME FILLING:
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tablespoon lime zest (about 2 limes)
- ½ cup key lime or lime juice
- 3 ounces cream cheese (softened)
- Whipped Cream
- Extra limes
- PREPARE: Preheat the oven to 350˚ F and adjust the oven rack to the center position. Line an 8x8” pan with parchment paper
- MAKE THE GRAHAM CRACKER MIXTURE: Break the graham crackers into smaller pieces into a food processor a run the processor until they’ve been reduced to just crumbs. Add the pecans, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and butter. Pulse the mixture 8-10 times until the mixture resembles wet sand.
- MAKE THE CRUST: Dumb the mixture into the prepared pan and use the back of a measuring cup or glass to press it flat. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, then set aside until the filling is ready.
- START THE FILLING: In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, add the yolks and beat them with the whisk attachment of an electric or stand mixer for 2 minutes on medium-high speed. Add the cream cheese to a medium-sized bowl and stir with a spatula to remove any lumps. Slowly stir in the condensed milk to the cream cheese to make a smooth mixture.
- FINISH THE FILLING: Pour the condensed milk mixture into the yolk and beat for another 2 minutes on medium-high speed. Add the lime juice and lime zest and stir another minute. Make sure to tap off any zest caught on the beaters and stir with a spatula to combine.
BAKE AND CHILL
- BAKE: Pour the filling over the baked graham cracker crust and spread out in an even layer. Bake for 15 minutes. The center should move just a bit when you jiggle the pan.
- COOL AND CHILL: Leave the pan on a rack for about 1 hour and allow it to come down to room temperature. Then move the pan to the fridge uncovered and chill for at least 2 hours.
- SERVE: Remove the parchment from the pan and slice it into 12 pieces. Add a small dollop of whipped cream onto each piece and top with a small piece of lime or fresh lime zest.
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