I've made a lot of dessert bars in my day. I've used box mixes and done some from scratch. In my opinion, from-scratch versions are typically better, but if you're in a hurry boxed versions work fine too.
The problem is some dessert bars can be finicky when made from scratch. Some require gelatin, which makes them not vegetarian friendly. Some require careful temperature control. Some just plain don't work.
But this recipe is about as easy as it gets for homemade dessert bars. The crust is pretty straightforward. The filling is only a few ingredients. Cooking it does take some time, but it's pretty much foolproof.
Oh. And they are very delicious!
RECIPE: Key Lime Bars With Coconut Whipped Cream
To start these bars, you need to set up a really simple mold so you can easily get them out of the pan later. To do this, just line an 8x8 dish with aluminum foil. Use two sheets of foil and lay them in opposite directions. Press the foil down into the pan well and fold the edges over the top of the pan.
For the crust, just crumble the graham crackers (a food processor works well for this). Then add the sugar, melted butter, and pinch of salt to the crumbled crackers. Stir this up well and press it into the prepared pan.
Bake this at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes. Then let it cool completely before pouring in the filling.
Speaking of the filling, the first thing you'll need to make this is a bunch of key limes! If you aren't familiar with key limes, they are the very small limes that are normally sold in one-pound bags.
Juice all these limes (take your time) and then stir the lime juice in with the other filling ingredients. Whisk the filling until it's smooth and you're ready to go.
It's one of the easiest fillings I've ever made.
Once your filling is ready, pour it onto the cooled crust and smooth it out.
The next step will help your bars not to crack or dry out. It's not completely necessary though. If you want, get a larger dish and place your bar dish inside the larger dish for baking. Right before you put it in the oven, add about 4 cups of boiling water to the larger pan.
This will create a steaming water bath as the bars bake, which will keep them from drying out and cracking.
Bake the bars at 325 degrees for about 40-45 minutes. The filling should set firmly and there will be lots of very tiny bubbles on the surface of the bars.
Once cooked, take the bars out and let them cool at room temperature for about two hours. Then cover them and move them to the fridge for at least an hour to cool completely.
When you're ready to serve the bars, just lift out the foil from the pan and gently fold it away from the bars!
Meanwhile, add your cream, sugar, and vanilla to a large bowl and whisk until the cream forms stiff peaks.
Add this to the bars and sprinkle them with shredded coconut. The coconut is optional, but it pairs really well with the tangy lime flavors.
Then chop the bars up into 16 squares.
The bars have lots of flavor: The crust is a bit sweet, the filling is creamy and tangy, and the topping is light and flavorful. Everything works really well together.
Make these and take them to a picnic or party and people will be asking you for the recipe for sure!Nick recommends recruiting a few elves to help juice the key limes. Also, check out his blog, Macheesmo and his Tablespoon profile.