Inside: This quick and easy key lime pie recipe starts with a graham cracker crust and has a filling consisting of egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, key lime juice & zest. Topped with fresh whipped cream and a lime twist garnish, it’s a super refreshing pie that tastes like the tropics and is a must-make this summer!
Seven years ago, on my 32nd birthday, I was sitting at a restaurant in south Florida that was situated on the water. It was an open-air restaurant, and a warm breeze blew as my husband and I ate our way through conch fritters and coconut shrimp while sipping mojitos.
When faced with the all-important decision of what to order for dessert, I was paralyzed with indecision. There was a triple layer chocolate cake which, if you know me, would normally be my instant go-to. But there was also key lime pie. Homemade key lime pie. The restaurant’s name was Old Key Lime House. There was little doubt that I HAD to order the key lime pie, especially since I had NEVER eaten key lime pie (what?!).
One bite in and I was a convert. I vowed then and there to eat (and make!) more key lime pie. And also to spend more birthdays soaking up the warm Florida breeze.
If you love crazy easy recipes that are light and refreshing, this pie is for you!
How to Make Key Lime Pie
After eating it for the first time, I was convinced that the key lime filling was an elaborate curd/custard that would need to be painstakingly cooked on the stove, and then baked in the oven. Not so!
Prepare the Filling: Whisk together the lime zest, egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, and lime juice, then set it aside to thicken.
Make the Graham Cracker Crust: Stir together my favorite graham cracker crust, press it into the pie plate, and bake it briefly, then let it cool to room temperature.
Bake the Pie: Once the crust cools, pour the thickened filling into it and bake until it mostly set, but still jiggles a bit.
Chill Out! After the pie cools to room temperature, it needs to be refrigerated for at least a few hours. This pie tastes best chills and it helps the filling to finish setting up properly.
The History of Key Lime Pie
Key lime pie dates back to the late 1800’s in Key West, Florida. At the time, modern refrigeration wasn’t available, so fresh milk wasn’t a common commodity. Instead, canned milk was widely used. As a result, this incredibly easy pie came to be.
Believe it or not, up until recently, this was a purely no-bake pie. The combination of the lime juice with the egg yolks and condensed milk creates a chemical reaction that causes the mixture to thicken all on its own (the acid causes the proteins in the yolks and milk to bond together).
Nowadays, due to concerns over raw eggs, the pie is baked, which actually creates a much better filling consistency since it sets wonderfully and is less droopy than its unbaked counterpart.
Key lime pies can be made with a meringue topping (more traditional) or a whipped cream topping (more modern). I am a whipped cream girl all the way, so there was no question which way I was going here, but feel free to customize based on your personal preferences.
You might not be soaking up the warm Florida breeze this summer, but this pie will deliver a taste of the tropics right to your own backyard. This is too easy a recipe not to crank out multiple times this summer!
Make the Filling: Whisk the lime zest and egg yolks together in a medium bowl for 2 minutes. Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk, then the lime juice. Set aside at room temperature to thicken while you prepare the crust.
Make the Crust: In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, and salt, ensuring no lumps of brown sugar remain. Drizzle the melted butter over the graham cracker mixture and toss to combine with a fork, ensuring that the mixture is evenly moistened. Press the crust mixture evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate, and pack tightly using the back of a measuring cup. Bake for 10 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.
Once the crust has cooled to room temperature, pour the lime filling into the crust. Bake until the center is set, yet still wiggly when jiggled, 15 to 17 minutes. Return the pie to a wire rack; cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 3 hours. (At this point, the pie can be covered directly with plastic wrap sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and refrigerated for up to 1 day.)
Make the Whipped Cream: Using an electric mixer, whip the cream on medium speed until soft peaks form. At this point, add the powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, while continuing to whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Decoratively pipe the whipped cream over the filling or spread the whipped cream evenly with a spatula. Garnish with lime slices, if desired, and serve. Cover leftovers with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Key limes are more acidic than regular limes, which makes them tarter and much more aromatic. Key limes can be hard to find in some supermarkets, so if you can't locate them, use bottled key lime juice.