Get out the limes and start squeezing! Sarah N. Balzac takes a look at the use of Key limes in desserts beyond pie.

Photo by John and Wendy Scazlo

When limes are in the peak of their season, nostalgia hits me hard. Growing up I used to love when my grandmother made me oatmeal. It had a distinct, deep flavor, which puzzled me. It wasn’t spiced with cinnamon or even drizzled with the caramel, earthy flavor of natural maple syrup, as is common. It took me a long time to figure out what she did—add the rind of a Key lime.

Key limes are common in the Caribbean, where I grew up, and their presence is often taken for granted. They simply are what we use whenever a recipe asks for a lemon or Persian lime. The trees that produce the tart fruit surround the islands as commonly as the coconut palm. According to Larousse Gastronomique, “[limes are] cultivated in tropical countries, including the Ivory Coast, Brazil, and the West Indies and [are] often used in Caribbean and Brazilian dishes.” Although they are interchangeable, Key Limes are smaller, rounder, and more yellow than Persian limes. They are also highly aromatic and much more tart.

John and Wendy Scazlo

Many bakers think of using limes in very specific applications and not necessarily as a character in more experimental recipes. Key Lime Pie (a Florida favorite) is most likely the first dessert to come to mind in connection with this fruit, which is said to be the archetypal species as they are known as the “true lime.” As explained in The Oxford Companion to Food, the name Key lime is taken from the brief period (1913–23) when there was a commercial production in the Florida Keys before a hurricane destroyed all the crops. Commercial crops are no longer grown in the States; Mexico is currently the largest producer in the world, with a product season that runs from early summer to late fall.

Although, limes are frequently relegated to the bartender for his Margaritas, Cuba Libres, and Mojitos, some other cuisines, such as Mexican and Thai, also give the beautiful, green ovacular fruit a front spot in their cooking. Mexicans tame the browning of their avocados with the fruit’s acid, as well as liven up their salsas with its juice. Thais deepen the flavor of their foods with not only the fruit, but their leaves as well (although, they use the leaves from the kaffir lime, which can easily be replaced with the zest from a Persian lime in a pinch). But even in all these traditions, you don’t find many desserts featuring limes, let alone Key limes.

A recent conversation regarding a dessert involving lime and white chocolate combined with the purchase of Jaffa Cakes—a cakey cookie topped with an orange jelly and covered with chocolate—made me think of creating a treat that incorporated these flavors and textures. After a bit of thinking and long hours playing in a hot kitchen, I figured out how to bring it all together. Following the construction of a Jaffa Cake, I paired a soft, lime-flavored cookie with a lime jelly and then topped it off with melted white chocolate couverture. Although they do take some time, the effort is minimal, and the end product is deliciously satisfying.

Sarah N. Balzac

Sweet Lime Cakes

makes 2 dozen
Lime Jelly:
1/2 ounce gelatin (2 packets)
1 1/2 cups fresh Key lime juice
1 cup granulated sugar
green food coloring (optional)

1. Evenly sprinkle gelatin in a bowl, and add enough cold water to cover. Refrigerate until ready to use. 2. Heat juice in a small saucepan; stir in sugar. 3. Add about 1 to 2 drops food coloring; bring to almost a boil, stirring until sugar has dissloved. Pour in gelatin, and cook, stirring, until fully incorporated. Remove from heat, and pour into a 1/4 baking sheet or pan. You want the jelly circles to be at least 1/8-inch thick. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until set; reserve.
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 teaspoon lime oil (or zest from 1 lime)
1/2 cup buttermilk
20 ounces white chocolate couverture

1. Heat oven to 350°F. 2. Line baking sheets with parchment paper; reserve. 3. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl; reserve. 4. Place sugar and butter in the bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Beat until light and fluffy. Add egg and oil, and mix until fully combined. Add buttermilk and flour mixture in 3 batches each, alternatingly, waiting until fully combined before adding next batch. 5. Scoop out dough, using 1/2 teaspoon, and place on reserved baking sheets, giving cookies enough room to spread. Flatten slightly. Bake until golden around the edges, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat; place on wire rack to cool. 6. Once the lime jelly has set and the cookies are cool, melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of boiling water. Cut the jelly into circles smaller than the cookies with a cookie cutter, and place one on top of each cookie. Cover the tops of each cookie with some melted chocolate,and place on a wire rack to set. Store cookies in an airtight container in a cool place.