It’s Memorial Day, which I personally consider to be the start of summer. I know it’s technically on June 20, but with the weather being so beautiful and the last box officially unpacked in our new apartment, it felt like a call for an official summer kickoff. And this key lime pie recipe seemed like the best way to celebrate.
Now here’s the funny thing about key lime pie—it’s actually not very green. It’s more of a yellow color because of the egg yolks and sweet condensed milk. You’d think the lime juice would make it that pastel color we’re so used to, but lime juice is honestly not that green either. So I’m going to just assume a very green key lime pie probably has some kind of food coloring in it. Needless to say, if your pie filling is yellow, don’t be alarmed. It’s still going to taste delish.
The difference between limes and key limes
Maybe you’re like me and didn’t realize there was a difference between the two limes, but hey, cooking is a learning experience and we are learning together. Key limes are in fact different from other limes because of their powerful taste. While you could try and attempt this pie with regular lime juice, key lime juice will give your pie that authentic flavor you’re used to.
Plus, it’s not hard to find key lime juice in a bottle.
The confusing history of the key lime pie
While it’s commonly assumed that key limes come from the Florida Keys, they actually originate from Mexico and Central America. They’re also called Mexican Limes or West Indian Limes.
While key limes aren’t originally from Florida, the actual pie itself is. Or…is it? Even though most Floridians will stand by it, there is some debate that the inception of this pie actually came from Borden, a milk company that sells sweet condensed milk. Which kind of makes sense given that this pie calls for a whole can of it. Yet, some Floridians say differently, claiming that the pie dates back to the 1800’s when a cook named Aunt Sally made the pie for millionaire William Curry. After reading about the whole debacle, I’m kind of thinking it was Borden’s creation all along (I mean, even red velvet cake was inspiration from a food coloring company). Also, did I use a can of Borden on my pie before even learning the history? Uh, maybe. I guess their sneaky plan worked after all.
A note about the crust—and toppings!
So with this recipe, I’m giving you a few options to make your life easier:
- Make your own crust, or buy one pre-made. In this recipe I teach you how to make a graham cracker crust, but honestly, you don’t have to be that ambitious. There are so many great store-bought crusts you can get instead.
- Some key lime pie recipes have you make a homemade heavy whipped cream, but I know I was not going to need all of it. So instead…I bought a can of it. I grabbed a can of extra creamy heavy whipped cream and it worked like a dream—and didn’t leave me with so much excess. But if you want to make one, here’s an easy tutorial you can follow.
- The lime wheels are for show obviously, but they probably won’t get eaten. So if you’re up for decorating a pie for a crowd, add some wheels! If you’re just scarfing this pie down yourself, you can probably skip…and add even more whipped cream because, duh.
The filling only has four ingredients!
You know honestly, I know we’ve established that the key lime pie was a ruse to get more people to buy sweet condensed milk…but like, sweet condensed milk really can do a lot of things. A simple can of it can cover a lot of different types of ingredients, and make a simple custard-like pie in a matter of minutes.
This key lime pie recipe only needs four ingredients, so if you settle on a store-bought graham cracker crust, it’s only a five ingredient dessert. How cool is that?
Here are the ingredients you’ll need for the filling (pictured above):
- 3 egg yolks
- Zest of 1 lime (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 can of sweet condensed milk
- 1/2 cup key lime juice
Mmkay, let’s get to that key lime pie recipe.
Key Lime Pie
- Pie pan (or a store-bought crust)
For the graham cracker crust
- 12 graham crackers
- 1 stick butter melted
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
For the key lime pie filling
- 3 egg yolks
- Zest of 1 lime about 1 Tbsp.
- 1 can sweet condensed milk 14 oz.
- 1/2 cup key lime juice
- Extra creamy whipped cream for topping
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Place the graham crackers in a large plastic bag and seal. Using a rolling pin (or an empty bottle of wine) roll over the crackers until they are smooth as sand. You can also pulse them in a food processor.
- Mix together in a large bowl with the brown sugar and melted butter. Make sure the entire mixture is combined.
- Press the crust mixture into an empty pie pan. To really seal the crust, use the back of a measuring cup and press down the crumbs to pack it into a crust.
- Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the crust and let it cool slightly.
- While the crust is cooling, whisk together the separated egg yolks and the lime zest.
- Pour in the sweet condesned milk, then the key lime juice. Whisk until combined.
- Once you're finished preparing the filling, the crust will be ready. Pour in the key lime filling and place it back in the oven.
- Bake for 17 minutes. The middle will be slightly jiggly when you take it out, do not worry. It will settle.
- Let it cool completely on a cooling rack (about 30 minutes).
- Place in the fridge and let it sit for at least 1 hour before eating. Serve with dollops of heavy whipped cream.
Need more dessert?
If you’re having more of a chocolate craving, try one of these desserts instead!