Eating for Life

Eating for Life | Key Lime Tartlets pack a powerful pucker

Editor’s note: The column was first published in The Star’s Food section on Aug. 9, 2006.

From the doll-sized Japanese eggplant sold at the farmers market to the pre-portioned, 100-calorie snack packs sold in vending machines, small portions have become big news.

But when I Googled recipes for Key lime pie, a distinctive summertime dessert favorite, I found one wedge weighed in at no less than 540 calories and 22 grams of fat per serving.

Key Lime Tartlets, on the other hand, fit perfectly with a miniature mind-set. The Star’s recipe offers a satisfying three- to four-bite treat made with fat-free condensed milk and fresh juice. Yet the tiny pie still manages to deliver big flavor — at just 151 calories and 3 grams of fat.

If a diminutive dessert sounds like a fussy undertaking, read on.

Instead of using a specialty tart pan purchased at a gourmet cooking store, these tartlets are made in a standard muffin tin lined with ordinary crinkle paper cups.

While many home cooks have come to rely on convenience products such as the graham cracker crumb crust, here’s an even tastier shortcut: Place a store-bought gingersnap cookie in the bottom of the muffin tin’s cupcake liner. When the custard is baked, the gingersnap softens to form a ready-made crust without any muss or fuss.

Finally, the intensity of lime flavor comes from the use of fresh juice instead of bottled. But if you can’t find Key limes, don’t sweat it. Key limes are smaller — but not necessarily tarter — than standard Persian limes stocked yearround at supermarkets. Feel free to substitute. reports Key lime pie was first made by the local residents of Key West, Fla. It originated in an era before refrigeration, so the acid from the lime juice was used to "set" the sweetened condensed milk without cooking the eggs, a technique not recommended today because undercooked eggs can carry salmonella.

Key lime was once considered an exclusively regional flavor, but now you can find Key lime ice cream, yogurt and even power bars at the corner convenience store.

Shopping tip:

Key limes, sometimes referred to as bartenders or Mexican limes, are smaller, rounder and sometimes more yellow than Persian limes. For testing purposes, we used Archway Crispy Gingersnap cookies.

Cooking tips:

Limes are easier to juice if left out at room temperature, then rolled on a countertop to release the juice before squeezing.

Looking for an easy way to zest a lime? Try a Microplane Zester, available at www.microplane. com.

Serving tips:

You may substitute frozen, nondairy whipped topping (light or fat free), thawed, for whipped cream. Use Key lime slices or wedges to garnish.\

Key Lime Tartlets

Makes 12 servings 12 crisp gingersnap cookies 3 eggs, at room temperature 1 (14-ounce) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice plus grated lime zest from all limes (about 6 to 7 Persian limes or 12 to 14 Key limes) 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. Spray each paper liner with nonstick spray coating. Place a cookie in each paper liner.

Whisk together eggs, milk, lime juice, lime zest and vanilla until well blended. Pour a scant 1/4 cup lime mixture into each cup. Bake 16 to 19 minutes or until firm; do not overbake. Allow hot tarts to set in pan about 10 minutes. Carefully lift each tart from the pan and place on a tray. Cool completely, then refrigerate several hours or overnight. Dollop with 1 tablespoon whipped cream.

Per serving: 151 calories (19 percent from fat), 3 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 9 milligrams cholesterol, 28 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 82 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.