Summer desserts are underrated. The feeling of biting into a sweet refreshing slice of homemade key lime pie while sitting outside on somebody’s patio is unmatched. Key Lime Pie is a perfect summer dessert that will always be so timeless and perfect for serving to a crowd.
Key Limes vs. the “Regular, Everyday Limes from the Grocery Store”
Okay, so there’s definitely a difference between “regular” limes and key limes. Key limes are more annoying to zest, but every single second is worth it. Key limes are small and circular and typically more aromatic other lime varieties. They get their name from the Florida Keys, but are also grown quite widely in Mexico. They’re tart and more acidic but will sweeten slightly as they ripen to a yellow color.
The “Regular, Everyday Limes from the Grocery Store” are Persian or Tahiti limes, which are more oval in shape, have a darker green color, and are available year-round.
To store key limes, keep them at room temperature, but try to use them within 3 to 4 days max. The fresher, the better. Key limes have a thinner skin, so they don’t stay fresh as long as the larger lime varieties.
Can We Use Regular Limes?
You can absolutely use regular limes, and you’ll need less of them to fulfill the juice and zest requirements. You’ll need somewhere around 10 to 15 key limes for this recipe. For larger, everyday limes, I imagine you’d need only about 5-ish. I would not recommend pre-squeezed lime juice from the bottle. It just does not have the flavor that you need for a fresh, summer key lime pie.
I made this key lime pie in the springtime in Northern Virginia and didn’t have any trouble finding little key limes to use for this recipe, but I understand they might not be as readily available everywhere. Your best chance at finding them in the United States is in the heart of summer – between June and September.
Graham Cracker Crust
Even if you use regular limes instead of key limes, one thing you should stick with is making the graham cracker crust from scratch. It’s WAY better than store-bought graham cracker crust.
To make this crust, I infuse the sugar with lime by allowing the lime to sit in the sugar before adding it to the graham cracker mixture. It gives the crust and the pie more of that refreshing lime flavor. While the sugar is “marinating” with the lime zest. Start by crushing up the graham crackers for the crust. You can place them in a Ziploc bag and use your hands or a rolling pin to grind them up.
Key Lime Filling
This key lime filling using egg yolks only. It’s the eggs that help the pie filling set (stiffen). If you need some inspiration for what to do with the leftover egg whites, I suggest folding them into some pancake batter or whipping up an egg white omelet for your next breakfast.
The Bake Method
It has come to my attention that the bake/no-bake method debate has yet to be resolved. I use the method of baking the pie for a short time to allow the custard-ey filling to set and continue to set as it cools. Some folks swear by never baking key lime and allowing the pie to set as it cools in the fridge. Either way, the pie is typically served cold
- For the Graham Cracker Crust:
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons key lime zest
- 1 ½ cups ground graham crackers
- 4 tablespoons butter
- For the Key Lime Filling:
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 14-ounce can sweetened, condensed milk
- ½ cup key lime juice
- 1 teaspoon key lime zest
- For the Whipped Topping:
- ¾ cup heavy cream, for the topping
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a small bowl, combine sugar and key lime zest. Mix and allow to sit for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and sugar/zest mixture. The mixture should be moist, but still crumbly. Using your hands and/or the back of a spoon, press the graham cracker mixture into the bottom and onto the sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake on 350 degrees F for about 8 to 10 minutes until browned. Set the prepared pie crust aside and allow to cool.
- Meanwhile, prepare the key lime filling: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, condensed milk, key lime juice, and lime zest. Gently pour and fill the pie pan with the filling mixture; there should be very little room at the top, if any. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes until the pie has set. It should be slightly set and firmed and will continue to firm as it cools. Allow the pie to cool at room temperature for about an hour and then transfer to the fridge to cool before serving cold.
- Right before serving the pie, make the whipped cream topping: In a cold mixing bowl, combine heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract, and use an electric mixer to whip into a whipped cream; after several minutes, the cream should be stiffened and whipped. Spread over the top of the cooled pie or serve with each individual slice. Top with extra lime zest and thin slices of key lime.