Homemade Key Lime Pie

Hey there!

I've been teasing you quite a bit with images of my homemade Key Lime pies - on the blog, on Twitter, on Instagram, and on the Inspire Bohemia Facebook page - haven't I? Well, enough is enough, today you get the recipe!  Making a Key Lime pie from scratch is easier than you might think, in fact I'd say the hardest part of the recipe is finding the actual fresh Key Limes. After all, not everyone has access to a Key Lime tree. 

I have a sudden obsession with/passion for Key Lime Pie, and that's odd considering that I couldn't stand it growing up, it always seemed to be the dessert at family gatherings and I didn't like the tart flavor.  Well, in my adulthood I have fallen in love with Key Lime Pie.  I love anything citrusy, especially soaked lemon cake (gotta give you that recipe too!), but it all really started with a man named Derrick...  We call him Derrick the Firefighter - because he works with my uncle who is a City of Miami firefighter - but his business name is called Fireman Derrick, read more herehere, and here.  So Derrick started himself a little business making pies, eventually opening a food truck, his specialty (in my family's opinion) being Coconut Cream Pie and yes, Key Lime Pie.  As you can imagine, his fellow firefighters were his first customers, and so my uncle started bringing those babies (pies) to all of our family parties and everyone went totally nuts, especially me.  Super tart and cold oh-my-goodness, I couldn't believe I had missed out on so many years of such dessert bliss - though my thighs certainly do thank me for the head start!  After gobbling down many of these amazing pies, I decided I could make a better one, I was inspired.  Oh, and I did.   Sorry Derrick, it's just a matter of preference, plus I can't get my hands on your pies whenever my crazy Key Lime Pie mood strikes, so I had to make it myself.  I am grateful for the inspiration, it caused me to finally attempt a pie of my own.  But before I give you the recipe, let me jabber on some more, I promise it's interesting...

Let's skip to a little history lesson, an aside, shall we? Back in the old days, before the Overseas Highway to The Florida Keys was built and completed in 1912, the islands relied on goods that were locally grown or imported via its waterways. The lack of cows and refrigeration on the islands added to the many reasons why milk was a rare luxury at the time. In 1853, a U.S. inventor, surveyor, and publisher named Gail Borden Jr. invented condensed milk. Suffice it to say, the invention of condensed milk opened a whole new world of possibilities for chefs, bakers, cooks, and the average person without fresh dairy! 

There's a lot of rumor around who invented the first Key Lime pie, some say it was an "Aunt Sally," the house cook for Key West's first millionaire - William Curry, a Bahamian immigrant and ship salvager. It is also said that perhaps sponge fisherman in the area, who spent many consecutive days at sea and with no access to an oven, may have come up with the recipe while experimenting with what they had on-board, such as key limes, eggs and canned condensed milk to make a dessert. Word has it that the original Key Lime Pie probably didn't have a crust at all, then a regular pastry pie crust was eventually used, or one with Nabisco's Uneeda Biscuit crackers (see here), and now the most popular is graham cracker crust.

The reason why a Key Lime Pie doesn't technically need to be cooked is because a chemical reaction occurs between the acidity in the Key Lime juice and the condensed milk, called souring, causing the mixture to cook the eggs and thicken. However, due to the risks associated with consuming raw eggs, baking a Key Lime Pie is a precautionary measure that you should take, it can't hurt.  In fact, baking your pie thickens the Key Lime filling further, so that's a plus. But, if you really don't want to bake your pie, or can't, it is strongly recommended that you use pasteurized eggs.

Okay, now let's get back to my KLP adventures... At the beginning, I was using Key Limes bought at the grocery store, but that was before my uncle caught wind of my baking and brought me a huge bag of Key Limes from his tree as an incentive to make him one, one that was better than Derrick's!  Hehe...  He also explained to me that the Key Limes you find in the grocery store are "no good!" The first difference between the best Key Limes to use and the ones you'll most likely find in your local store is that the ones in the store are green! They're shiny and beautiful and you think to yourself that they must be perfect Key Limes right? Wrong. They're not ripe! Ripe Key Limes are yellow and semi-soft, not emerald green and firm.  Compared with Persian Limes, Key Limes have a more intense aroma and tart flavor. You definitely have to use Key Limes in a Key Lime Pie, there's no gettin' around it. As for bottled Key Lime juice, I've never tried it and I don't plan to.  So what to do about those emerald green Key Limes?  If that's all you can find, definitely use them, it's better than going the substitution route with Persian Limes.  I've used them several times and they're just fine.  If you ever get the chance to find yellow (ripe) Key Limes, snatch'em up, juice them all and freeze in 1/2 cup rations using small ziplock bags - they will keep frozen for a really long time and you can pull one out whenever you need it!

I adapted the Key Lime Pie recipe below from the recipe in Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America. Believe it or not, my boyfriend owned this book when I met him, and for the past four years he has chimed in to suggest this book every time I say I want to bake.  Well, he knew what he was saying, the book is fantastic!  It gives you tons of baking and pastry techniques, any baking related question that you could have is answered within its pages.  I highly recommend this book, we both do.  I changed up the recipe by omitting the zest (it's really not necessary for a super tart flavor) and I use a different crust recipe.  I've also experimented with different quantities of egg, both whole and yokes only.  Oh, and please don't mistake my wordiness for complication, this recipe just might be the easiest you've ever made, you'll memorize it in no time... You'll be addicted in no time... Muhahahaha....

Without further ado, I give you my wordy recipe, directions, and tips for making an amazing Key Lime Pie!  I really hope you try this recipe and enjoy it! Please feel free to e-mail/Tweet/Facebook me if you have any questions! Good luck and bon appetit! ;)



Preheat your oven to 350 degrees...


This pie crust recipe is DEEEElicious, simple, and comes from the back of the HoneyMaid Graham cracker box:
  • 1 1/4 cups HoneyMaid pre-made graham cracker crumbs 
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar 
  • 5 tablespoons of melted butter
*Of course, you can also throw some graham crackers into a food processor and grind 'em up real fine!
*Albeit an enticing substitution, brown sugar has too much moisture, thus sabotaging a crisp graham cracker crust, and that's no good!

Mix everything together in a small bowl until the butter has saturated all of the graham cracker mixture, leaving a crumbly consistency. Next, dump that buttery graham goodness into a glass pie dish and press firmly with the pads of your fingers until you mold an even pie shell all around. 

*My tip for creating an even crust lip all around is difficult to describe in words, I should really make a video of myself doing it, but let me attempt to explain... Flatten your hands (you know, as if you're about to playfully karate chop someone) and simultaneously use your three middle fingers (index, middle and ring) to press down the crumb mixture along the walls of the pie dish as the middle and index fingers on your let hand press down the top of the crust near the lip. In moving your hands together along the perimeter of the pie dish pressing the crust mixture together with your hands at a 90 degree angle to one another, you get a firm pinched lip. You can certainly use a metal pie pan, however I prefer glass because you can cut slices without scratching up a metal pan, and because my glass pie dish has a ripply lip that makes for a beautiful molded crust! ;)

Pop that baby into your preheated 350 degree oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust gets a beautiful golden light brown.  In other words, when your whole house smells like sweet paradise!

While the crust is in the oven for 10 minutes....

  • 4 egg yolks (keep the whites if you plan to make the optional meringue topping - recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed Key Lime juice
  • 1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk
*You can also use 3 egg yolks, or even as many as 5, according to many online recipes and my family members. Once, I only had 3 eggs on hand so I used 3 whole eggs to see what difference it would make and to be honest, there was no drastic difference.
*You can use more Key Lime juice, however I'd imagine you might have to balance it out with more condensed milk and eggs, not sure, you'll have to research that... :)
*Remember, the best Key Limes to use are yellow, not green!
*Key Lime zest is optional, add a few teaspoons if you like your pie super tart!

In a medium sized bowl, give your egg yolks a quick whisk, add in the half cup of Key Lime juice and the entire can of condensed milk while gently whisking/stirring (by hand, not with a mixer) until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. If you're adding zest, mix it in and then let the mixture sit while waiting for the pie crust to finish pre-baking.

As soon as your pie crust is done pre-baking for 10 minutes, take it out of the oven and immediately pour in your Key Lime filling, then put it directly back into the oven for another 15 minutes. 

Before baking, the Key Lime filling will look pale yellow, like this...

Once it comes out, you're done!  Unless you plan to make a Meringue topping for your pie, then you're not done (see below).  Otherwise, take that Key Lime pie out and let it cool (and set) for about 30 minutes.  As soon as the pie pan is lukewarm to the touch, I like to pop it into the freezer! I LOVE my Key Lime pie super cold and firm. Plus, after a day or two in the fridge you might notice a little bit of sugary syrup that seeps from the pie into the crust, leaving you with a soggy crust - no good! Freezing your pie will prevent this. The choice is yours.

After cooking, the Key Lime filling will be a deeper yellow, like these...

A chemical reaction between the acidity of the Key Lime juice and the condensed milk causes the mixture to thicken.  It's not really necessary to cook a Key Lime Pie; however, baking it is a precautionary measure taken in modern times due to the risks associated withe consuming raw eggs. Baking it also thickens the pie further.  If you don't want to bake your pie, it is strongly recommended that you use pasteurized eggs.


If you like a meringue topping for your pie there are many options. In my baking book there is Common Meringue, Swiss Meringue, and Italian Meringue. My boyfriend and I have made the Swiss one, but the Common Meringue is, clearly, more common. The main difference is that a Swiss Meringue is heated to 110-120 degrees fahrenheit using a double boiler, and then finished off the heat with a mixer. On the other hand, a the common method only uses a mixer, no heat. I'm going to give you the common recipe, it's easier. Since there is no heating of the egg whites in this recipe, it is strongly recommended that you use pasteurized eggs...
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 cup of sugar 
     (Makes about 6 cups)

*Raise the temperature of your oven to 450 degrees.

Using a stand or hand mixer with the whisk attachment, mix your egg whites on low speed in a clean bowl, free from any grease whatsoever. Increase speed to medium and beat egg whites until loose and foamy, around 2 minutes. Switch to high speed and add sugar gradually (a tablespoon at a time) until all ingredients are incorporated and thick glossy meringue has formed. You want stiff peaks!  :)

As soon as you see those stiff peaks start to form, pour the mixture onto your still-hot Key Lime Pie, make sure to cover the entire pie, crust and all, with the meringue (to protect it from burning in the higher heat).  Also, now is your chance to make fancy shmancy decorative peaks/swirls/designs in the meringue - get creative!  Then, put the pie back into the now 450 degree oven for about 5 minutes, or just long enough to brown the peaks.  After it's sufficiently browned, take out and let cool for a couple of hours and then chill before serving.

Instead of meringue, you can whip a cup or two of heavy whipping cream until thickened and serve each slice of pie with a big dollop on top....  Do do a dollop! Or both... :P


(History sources: Key-Largo SunsetsWikipedia, About.com, The Curry Mansion Inn; Crust recipe source:  HoneyMaid; Key Lime Pie recipe adapted from a book that I highly recommend: Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America; the Common Meringue recipe is from the book as well.)