Key Lime Pie Done Right

I make the best lime pie in Texas. And yes, I will fight anyone who challenges my claim.

I’m sorry, but I am a Floridian. We’re discarded at birth if our lime pie genes aren’t optimal, like weak and deformed Spartans.

By the way, even though I titled this post “Key lime pie,” I did not use Key limes. Unless you have access to a South Florida farmer’s market, neither will you.

“But wait!” you say. “They sell whole bags of Key limes at my grocery store!”

I’m sorry, but no, they don’t.

Well, maybe. I’ve seen them at Central Market in winter before. They are tiny and almost spherical and most importantly, yellow. Not green.

Averette at en.wikipedia, from Wikimedia Commons

Those tiny green limes that are advertised as Key limes in most of the country are Mexican limes. They are cute and tiny and make a nice garnish, but they do not have the thin skin (almost like a Meyer lemon) and extra sourness one finds  in a real Key lime. Since the Mexican lime and the Persian lime taste the same, and the little ones are way harder to juice, I’d just use Persian limes. Unless you’re going to a farmer’s market in South Florida. Then, get the good stuff (and send me some, too!)

There are three parts to a lime pie: graham cracker crust, lime filling, and whipped cream. Some people say a meringue topping is more traditional, and that’s probably true (the Key lime pie would never have been invented if fresh milk had been widely available in Florida in the 20’s; fresh cream would have been equally unavailable). However, I find that barely sweetened whipped cream offsets the tartness of the pie perfectly without adding the overwhelming sweetness of meringue.

We’ll start with the crust. Please make your own. It’s quick as can be and the taste is vastly superior to the premade cardboard-graham cracker crusts you’ll find at the supermarket.

Ingredients (makes one pie. I made three, and still ran out without feeding everyone who wanted some. It is that good.)

for the crust:

9 graham crackers

6 T butter, browned

3 T dark brown sugar

1/4 t salt

For the filling:

4 egg yolks

1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

3/4 cups fresh lime juice (I was testing that bottled stuff above, hoping for real Key lime juice. It isn’t, but it is a perfectly good bottled lime juice if you, like me, always have 8,000 cuts on your hands and it hurts to squeeze citrus)

zest of 1-2 limes

For the topping:

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1 T granulated sugar

1 t vanilla

one whole lime


For the crust:

Preheat the oven to 350°F

Crush the graham crackers into a fine powder. I used to put them in a bowl and smash them with my lovely beat stick rolling pin, but now I make the food processor do all the work. I love that machine. Add brown sugar and salt.

Add browned butter.

And stir the crust mix with a fork.

Press the crumbs into your pie tin using your fingers or a cup or ramekin. I only own one pie tin, so I used that and two 8-inch cake pans for my three pies. It works.

You’ll want to make sure the crumb is pressed in well, or it will crumble in the oven.

Bake 15 minutes until the crust just starts to brown.

Voila, a graham cracker crust! If you want, you can replace up to 1/3 of the graham crackers with walnuts or other nuts. I like it best plain, though.

While that’s baking, start on your filling:

Take your happy little yolks (remember, I made three pies. You only need 4 yolks per pie)–

–and add in the zest.

Mix well.

Add the condensed milk.  Order of operations is very important here. If you add lime juice before condensed milk, the acid chemically cooks the eggs. It’s not so good.

Mix it up, add your lime juice, and mix that up, too.

That's two quarts of lime filling. Om nom nom.

Pour the filling into the baked crust.

Bake the filled pie for 10-15 minutes. It should be jiggly but not liquid when you take it out. Do not let the filling brown!

Put the pie(s) in the refrigerator for a couple of hours at least.

When you’re ready to serve (or any time after it’s chilled; whipped cream stays good in the fridge) make the topping:

Combine cream, sugar, and vanilla and mix with a hand mixer on high until light and fluffy.

Spread whipped cream over the pie.

Now this part was once a secret. This is the part that makes people’s eyes go wide as they freak out about how perfectly limey your pie is.

Squeeze the juice of half a lime over the whipped cream. No, really.  Slice the other half for garnish–sometimes I candy the slices, but usually not. Even if they’re candied, no one but Mr. B and I will eat them.

This pie is best served on its own or with fresh raspberries. It needs no ice cream or sauces.

I do have a few warning notes. If you dishonor the lime pie, I will know, and I will be sad.

1: Make your own crust. I know I said it before, but it’s important. The pre-made ones are garbage.

2: Do not use food coloring. I mean it. Lime pie is supposed to be yellow.

3: Don’t put too much sugar in the whipped cream. Milk is naturally sweet, and you want the lime flavor to shine through.

4: Don’t worry about calories. You’ve just made the official pie of Florida. Relax and enjoy it!


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  1. #1 by Ariel on May 13, 2011 - 1:26 PM

    In case anyone has any reservations whatsoever, I shall publicly vouch that this was, by FAR, the most delicious lime pie I have ever had in my entire life.

    It’s so delicious that any calories it contains probably don’t even count. Your body and soul will be so transported that the calories will just leak out and be left behind on the temporal plane.

    At least, that’s what I told myself.

    • #2 by koshercorvid on May 13, 2011 - 3:03 PM

      You had like one bite! Unlike Chuckie, who tried to convince everyone that it was terrible so he could eat it all. . .

  2. #3 by lexy3587 on May 13, 2011 - 1:54 PM

    wow… this looks so delicious, i’m going to have to try it ASAP

    • #4 by koshercorvid on May 13, 2011 - 3:07 PM

      I recommend it. I know it looks like a lot of work, but it’s less than 30 minutes in the kitchen and so worth it. It’s one of those magic dishes that has people begging for the recipe.

  3. #5 by Lynda on May 13, 2011 - 2:02 PM

    OK I am a dessert freak and key lime pie is my fav I’ve been known to eat one by myself. I’m making this this weekend! Now I can get key limes here, but if not will switch to the Persians which grow in my yard( yes lucky me, Meyer lemons also- love your Meyer lemon bars. Made the quail, delist! I’ll be buying new jeans soon next size up thanks to you…

    • #6 by koshercorvid on May 13, 2011 - 3:05 PM

      Oh please, you and Dave cook all the time without my help. I am so jealous of your citrus trees–all I can grow here are chiles and peas and herbs. You should plant a Key lime tree! They’re thorny but good.

  4. #7 by Anna on May 16, 2011 - 9:10 AM

    I have a Mexican lime tree in my yard, and will vouch that when RIPE, they turn yellow and have a very thin skin. In fact, they are closely related to key limes. So I make key lime pie with my tree-ripe Mexican limes and they are AMAZING. But the ones you get in the store are picked green (literally) and are thus not nearly as good, and usually not as sweet either, so without access to a tree, Persian limes are just easier.

    Also, key lime pie is my hubby’s favorite, so I am totally making this for his birthday 😀

    • #8 by koshercorvid on May 16, 2011 - 5:48 PM

      Hmm, maybe the problem is that you never find ripe ones in stores, then. There are certain things that make livimg in an apartment unbelieveably frustrating, and not having space for citrus and loquat trees is high on that list.

      Mr. B got one of these for his birthday, and he definitely enjoyed it. As in, I ate two slices, he ate the rest.

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