Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Recipe: White House Key Lime Pie

The Presidential pie obsession runs deep; Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses uses Greek yogurt for the White House version of the official State Pie of Florida
No baked treat has gotten more attention than that old American standard, pie, since President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama moved into the White House. Both have repeatedly praised White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses' pie in interviews, and they've even nicknamed him "The Crustmaster," thanks to his gloriously flaky pie crusts. For the President's first birthday in the White House, he was presented with five celebration pies: Huckleberry, Apple, Coconut Creme, Key Lime, and Peach. (Above: The birthday pies await as the First Lady and Malia look on while the President reads a card from Sasha. Yosses is by the door, behind Exec Chef Cristeta Comerford)

The presidential pie obsession runs deep:

"There is no holiday dinner that does not end with pie, be it sweet potato, apple, pumpkin or banana cream," assistant chef Sam Kass announced last December.

Six kinds of Yosses' pies ended both Obama Thanksgiving feasts, and of course pie was part of the Obama Christmas dinner. In January, when China's President Hu Jintao was honored with a State Dinner, dessert for the "quintessentially American" menu was Old Fashioned Apple Pie. Mrs. Obama recently served Key Lime Pie, in tiny tart form, as the lovely finish to a luncheon at the White House to celebrate the one year anniversary of the Let's Move! campaign. The recipe, in full-size pie format, was given to the reporters who attended. (Above: Mrs. Obama at the luncheon)

White House Pie, Mrs. Obama recently said, is one of her favorite "guilty pleasures."

"It's decadent, it's bad, it's evil," Mrs. Obama said, by way of praise.

It's White House tradition to put the spotlight on beloved American regional cuisines, and Yosses brings his own personal genius to his interpretations of traditional desserts. Key Lime Pie originated in Florida in the 1800s, and became the Official State Pie in 2006. "Key Limes," small tart limes, were originally grown only in the Florida Keys, and the origins of the recipe date back to before refrigeration was invented. So the pie, in its original form, was not cooked, and sweet canned condensed milk was used as the base. The sour lime juice, egg yolks, and the condensed milk, when beaten and left to set overnight with the other ingredients, would react together and create a smooth-textured pie. (Above: Yosses with the First Lady, decorating cookies with visitors during the 2010 Holiday Decorations Preview)

But Yosses is an expert in molecular gastronomy--the science of food--and thus his version of Key Lime Pie uses Greek yogurt instead of condensed milk, and it's cooked in the oven. The yogurt makes a big difference in terms of cutting sugar and fat, as well as creating a silken texture; just this Saturday, Yosses lectured at a science conference in DC about the impact of texture on taste. The recipe is quick to make--the crust is a simple graham cracker crust, rather than the flakey butter/lard extravaganza which earned Yosses his nickname--but it requires overnight refrigeration before being served in all its "evil" glory.

White House Key Lime Pie

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 Tablespoons sugar
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1½ cups Greek yogurt
4 large egg yolks
½ cup key lime juice or regular lime juice, fresh-squeezed if possible
2 Tablespoons honey
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Whipped cream

For the Crust:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Stir graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl until combined. Then press mixture evenly into bottom and up the sides of a 9" pie plate.

3. Bake crust 10 minutes, then remove from oven to cool.

For the Filling:
1. Whisk together yogurt, egg yolks, honey, and sugar; add juice and whisk until well combined.

2. Pour filling into crust, and bake for 20 minutes in 350°F oven (mixture will not be firm).

3. Cool and refrigerate overnight.

*Serves 9; top with swirls of unsweetened whipped cream.

*Pictured above is the pie served in tart form at the White House luncheon, with berries and whipped cream; that's foodwriter Marion Burros in the photo. Savory recipes from the luncheon are here. Yosses' recipe for White House Apple Pie is here. Yosses' excellent cookbook The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts For Every Occasion was published in 2010, and is highly recommended. It's available everywhere.

*Top photo by Pete Souza/White House; others by Chuck Kennedy/White House, except for Yosses photo; that's by Lawrence Jackson/White House