On the dead end street where I grew up, summertime meant block parties, barbecues, clam bakes, 4th of July get togethers, and general merry making, which in turn means outdoor feasting. I supped on ambrosia salad and 7 layer dip from many a delightfully midwestern buffet spread off a card table beside a garage in my childhood, and let me tell you, it was glorious.
Pigs in a blanket, hash brown casserole, strawberry jello salad, "asian" coleslaw which consists of carrots, uncooked ramen noodles, almonds, and confusingly (and deliciously) raisins tossed with a rather sweet dressing. These are some of my favorite staples of summertime potlucks in Northeast Ohio. And of course roast corn. Ohio has the best, sweetest corn in the world.
And then there was the dessert table. A veritable heaven of gooey chocolate brownies, jam thumbprint cookies, mini cherry cheesecakes involving a jello layer, and my mother's lemon bars. Lemon bars were a go-to pot luck dish in our house, in fact I mainly remember my mother making them for parties, not for home consumption.
To be honest, I think we usually used a particularly tasty boxed lemon square mix. I definitely remember a boxed mix being involved at least sometimes, but I also remember the bars being ridiculously delicious, sticky and sweet and tart and citrusy and delightful.
I like starting from scratch so when I got a craving for a custard-y lemon bar the other day, I set off to make them for myself. And then I decided to complicate things by making them lime bars because I prefer lime to lemon, and then to add raspberries because they were on sale, and then to use coconut because I love coconut, and because I have a big jar of coconut butter but no regular butter at the moment.
In the end, after I finished changing around ingredients and amounts ten times this turned out to be a simple recipe, very easily executed and incredibly tasty. I love a good egg custard, and the toasty coconut crust reminds me of the addictive coconut buns I used to buy from the Caribbean bakery by my old apartment in Crown Heights.
I set off trying the recreate the lemon bars of my childhood, but with all my lime-raspberry-coconut additions the pastry I ended up with has the same crispy crust, and the same rich, luscious custard, but the flavor is totally different. The coconut somehow changes everything.
It's definitely still a summertime treat, but the flavors make me think more of a humid, tropical place like the Florida Keys than they do of a midwestern summer barbecue. This lime bar is like a miniature vacation to a beach, like a sip of tart raspberry limeaid from a boardwalk concession snack. The coconut adds a creamy, rich note, like having Pina Colada's while watching the sunset. Obviously I am ready for summer.
These would be lovely with key limes, which is how I wanted to make them originally, until there were no key limes to be found at the store. The recipe includes a bit for a raspberry topping which is super tasty and great if you're planning to eat these with a spoon out of a bowl, but if you're taking them to a party to be finger food, I recommend skipping the topping and simply dusting them with some powdered sugar.
These didn't last long in our house, they were just too delicious to resist. They're definitely tart, but not overwhelmingly so, but if you're a fan of a sweeter citrus treat, you could add 2-3 extra tablespoons of sugar to the custard filling. However, I think they're perfect as-is, the raspberry and coconut crust adds sweetness to the lightly tart, refreshing custard. These lime bars are like a little bite of summertime.
Raspberry Lime Coconut Bars
Makes 1 9x9 inch pan
1 C flour
1/4 C powdered sugar
4 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
pinch of kosher salt
4 tbsp coconut butter (solid)
5 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 C sugar
2 heaping tbsp flour
Zest of 2 limes
3/4 C lime juice (from about 5 limes)
3 large eggs
2 tbsp shredded unsweetened coconut
6 oz raspberries
6 oz raspberries
1 tbsp sugar or honey
1 tbsp lime juice (1/2 lime)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit
First, I like to prep my lime juice and zest. I use a microplane to zest my citrus, but a fancy citrus zester will work, too. Zest limes then juice them so you can juice the limes you zested first. Set aside zest and juice. Wash the raspberries and set aside.
For the crust, in the bowl of a food processor, combine 1 C flour with the powdered sugar, 4 tbsp shredded coconut, coconut butter, coconut oil, and salt. Pulse until mixture reaches the consistency of bread crumbs. If you squeeze a handful it should stay together well.
Oil a 9x9 baking pan, and press the crust mixture evenly across the bottom. Press down on the crust so the mixture is packed down, not loose.
Bake for 18-22 minutes, until very lightly golden brown.
While the crust bakes, in a medium mixing bowl combine the sugar, lime juice and zest, 2 tbsp shredded coconut, and eggs. Mix well. Continue stirring while sifting in 2 heaping tbsp flour, to prevent flour clumps. Whisk until smooth.
Remove crust from oven when ready, reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees fahrenheit. Pour the filling over the hot crust, and add 6 oz of raspberries after the filling. You can line them up attractively, or just plop them into the filling willy-nilly, as I did.
Bake the bars for about 20 minutes, until the filling as firmed up. Remove from oven, let cool to room temperature, then chill 1-2 hours to desired coolness.
While the bars cool, in a small mixing bowl, combine 6oz raspberries, 1 tbsp lime juice, and 1 tbsp of either sugar or honey, and mix. Mash a few of the berries up roughly with a spoon, and then allow to sit so the sweetener and lime can soak into the berries. Spoon this over top of each bar for an extra decadent treat. Sprinkle with a bit of powdered sugar to top it all off, if you'd like.