The Key to Flavor City

Maxie was mortified.

I’ve been friends with Maxie for forty years.  We met when we started tenth grade at Northeastern High School, in Elizabeth City.  I was a loud fat girl, and he was a very quiet, studious young man, and one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve ever known.  A few years after graduating, we moved separately to the Triangle.  Unfortunately, after a few more years, we lost touch.

During a class reunion, we reconnected.  I wasn’t fat, but I’m still loud, and Maxie, although remaining quiet and sweet, had turned into a hunk.  This time though, we didn’t lose touch and since then try to see other for lunch every month or so and are as close as we’ve ever been.

A couple years ago, I was honored and thrilled to be a part of his wedding.  Maxie married Mark, whose heart is as big as his booming voice, and who is happy to take charge, make a fuss, or order another round, whatever’s needed at the moment.  He’s also a darn good cook who loves to experiment and try new things in the kitchen.  We bonded over our mutual love of tacos and astonishment at Maxie’s almost total taco indifference.  

The last Tuesday of every month, their church has a potluck/community dinner.  Everyone’s welcome for a meal, regardless of church membership and ability to bring a dish.  It’s a pretty awesome tradition. 

For June’s dinner, Mark had organized a dessert competition.  They invited me to join Maxie as a celebrity judge, using the very loosest definition of the word, “celebrity”.

I made up a batch of my horseradish potato salad with peas and carrots, and Petey and I went to a potluck. 

Petey was ecstatic, because there was fried chicken.  I was pretty happy to find I had to sample ten desserts.  There was a gluten-free peach cobbler, a brownie pie, two sweet potato pies (including the best sweet potato pie I’ve ever eaten—working on the recipe for it), along with some other treats, some great, some…interesting.

The winner was a light, citrusy, very unusual key lime pie Bundt cake.

Mark’s Key Lime Pie Bundt Cake

(originally from the website,


1 white cake mix, dry not prepared

1 small box instant vanilla pudding, dry not prepared

4 eggs

½ cup sour cream

½ cup sugar

¾ cup oil

¾ cup key lime juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 drops green food color if desired


12 ounces cream cheese, softened

4 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon salt

Zest of key limes for garnish

*Debbie here: to up the whole key lime pie vibe, add 2-3 crushed graham crackers to lime zest for garnish (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour a Bundt pan and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine cake mix, pudding, eggs, sour cream, sugar, oil, key lime juice and vanilla. Beat for three minutes. Add green food color if you desire.

Pour into a Bundt pan that has been greased and floured.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 to 45 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack for 5 minutes. Then remove from pan and cool completely.


Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat on high until smooth. Spoon frosting into a piping bag and pipe the frosting over the top.

Sprinkle top with lime zest and graham cracker crumbs if desired.

So, why was Maxie mortified?

Because Mark made the winning cake.

And even though Maxie hadn’t been home when Mark baked the cake, and it was a blind taste test, my friend was convinced that people would think that the fix was in.  

But nobody questioned Mark’s win.  Because it’s a ridiculously delicious cake.

Thanks for your time.

A baking lesson, plus there’s pie!

I have a dirty little secret.Despite possessing a fair hand in the kitchen, I’ve never made a pie with which I was happy.  I haven’t killed anybody, but nobody has ever asked for the recipe, or even seconds.  Humdrum pies are my cross to bear.  With grace and dignity I try to soldier on regardless of the back-breaking burden that fate has chosen for me (besides, my mom makes killer pies, and she’s very generous).

I acted as judge today at the NC State Fair.  The contest was Gold Medal Flour “Best Pie” Contest.  Because there were so many entrants, they broke us into 2 teams of 5 or 6 each. And we got down to work.Almost at the end of our team’s pies Lisa brought around a green silky pie with flecks of lime zest visible.  It was called a key lime fudge.  They gave us all pieces and we chowed down.  I and one other judge at my table loved it. It was almost like two pies in one.  The top layer was tart yet sweet.  The chocolate layer was silky and lingered on the tongue.  I never would have predicted that key lime and chocolate would be so delicious and my very faorite out of a huge assortment of pies.

And we had a ton of pie.  At the end of our voting, I realized that even though I was there to judge, I had gained something I can carry with me to improve every pie I’ll make from now on.

The first lesson is buttermilk does very flavorful things to a pie crust.

Don’t roll you crust out too thickly, or it will not cook, and you will have a pale dough-ey crust,

Don’t neglect salt in both the crust and the filling.Apples can be problematic, cut them small enough so that they are cooked through.  And taste them before you cook them. The last lesson was probably the most important.

Don’t decide you don’t like a food unless you have tasted it. And don’t prejudge a food, or flavors, or people.  Even after living on this rock for more than a half century, delightfully, I am still able to have my socks knocked right off.

Melissa Bentley’s Key Lime Fudge Pie



1/2 Cup Sweetened Shredded Coconut

1 1/4 Cups Gold Medal All-Purpose Flour (plus more for rolling)

Pinch of Salt

1/2 Cup (1stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, cold

3 to 5 tablespoons cream of coconut, cold, as needed

Fillingchoc-lime-pie4oz Dark Chocolate, chopped

1 Cup plus 3 Tablespoons heavy cream

1 (11oz package) white chocolate chips

1 Tablespoon sour cream

1 teaspoon grated lime zest

1/3 Cup Key Lime Juice


Make the crust: Pulse the coconut in the food processor until finely chopped. Add the Gold Metal Flour and salt and pulse again. Add the butter to the mixture and pulse until butter pieces are pea-sized. Pulse in the cream of coconut one tablespoon at a time as needed, until dough comes together. Turn dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, refrigerate for up to an hour. Preheat oven to 375. Roll the dough on floured space until it is 1 inch larger then pie pan. Press into a 9-inch pan, crimp the edges. Set a sheet of foil over crust and fill with pie weights and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until bottom is cooked, 10 more minutes. Let cool completely before filling.

Filling: In a microwave melt the dark chocolate and 3 tablespoons heavy cream, stir until smooth. Let cool to room temperature about 15 minutes. Pour over pie crust and refrigerate for about 2 hours.

In a pan over medium heat, melt together the white chocolate chips and 1 cup heavy cream until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream, lime zest and lime juice. Pour into the cooled crust and refrigerate for 30 minutes.I’d like to leave you with a tip.  If you need a heat source to keep something hot, hollow out a  large pumpkin, and cut holes around it, for ventilation.  Place a Sterno inside the pumpkin and light.  Then set you dish on top.  It’s very festive. Thursday I’m going back for another contest.  I’ll report back and let you know what happened.

Thursday I’m going back for another contest.  This time, it’s pecans (Woo Hoo!).  I’ll report back and let you know what happened.

Thanks for your time.