Pucker up! A fresh, beloved dessert with a buttery graham crust.
I have made “real” Key lime pie — one with real Key limes — exactly once in my life. Key limes, also known as West Indian limes, are a much smaller version of regular limes. Some say that Key limes’ flavor tastes more aromatic and floral, the flavor more tart than standard limes. I say: Key limes are a big pain. Making fresh key lime pie is better with standard limes. They are faster, less expensive, and just as delicious.
This fresh key lime pie is my favorite recipe because it takes minutes to put together and bake, and tastes fresh and perfectly sweet-tart. Rather than a more time consuming custard like lemon curd, this key lime custard is a simple combination of fresh lime juice, zest, sweetened condensed milk, and egg yolks. This gets poured into a buttery graham cracker crust and baked for 15 minutes, then cooled.
Key lime pie is often served as a summer dessert. But citrus is often best in winter, so this makes a great year-round dessert.
You’ll also enjoy: Fresh Lemon Curd Tart and Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
Why It’s Better to Use Regular Limes in Key Lime Pie
In my opinion, once fresh lime juice is combined with sugar and a graham cracker crust, the subtle distinctions in flavor gets lost. Further, Key limes are only available at certain times of the year, and most often come from Mexico — not the Florida Keys. Key limes are also more expensive. I am not the only one who thinks this. Pastry chef Stella Parks of Serious Eats also strongly prefers regular limes over Key limes for pie.
So if you want to be very authentic with your Key lime pie and juice about 20 mini limes during one specific time of year, by all means. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here relaxing with my 5 regular limes, available year-round.
That said, I do, however, believe strongly in using fresh-squeezed lime juice over bottled. Fresh lime juice tastes vibrant and bright. Bottled juice tends to have a flat, sour taste.
Notes on Fresh Key Lime Pie
A few pro tips:
- Stir, do not whisk, the custard filling. Whisking incorporates air. Air bubbles are not what we want in our smooth custard. The custard should be fully emulsified and silky smooth.
- When making the graham cracker crust, use the bottom of a measuring cup (I use a 1/2-cup measure) to press the crust into the pie plate. The flat bottom and nice corners help make a smooth, even crust.
- Another note on graham cracker crust: The most common mistake made in a pressed crust like this is to have thick corners, where the sides meet the bottom of the pie plate. Watch for this. And if the crust slumps a little bit while baking, that’s ok. Just re-press the crust into place with the measuring cup when it first comes out of the oven, before it sets up and cools. (Just don’t burn yourself!)
- When the pie is done: This key lime pie only takes 15 minutes to bake. The center should look fairly firm and not jiggle when you shimmy it back and forth.
What’s your favorite summer dessert? Tell us about it!
Fresh Key Lime Pie With Graham Cracker Crust
Graham Cracker Crust
- 1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (from 9 each crackers, or one sleeve)
- 5 tablespoons melted, unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 generous pinch kosher salt
Key Lime Custard and to Finish Pie
- 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup fresh lime juice, from about 4 to 5 limes
- 1 tablespoon lime zest
- fresh whipped cream to top, optional
For the Graham Cracker Crust
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Make the graham cracker crumbs by pulsing them in a food processor with the sugar and salt until finely ground. Pour into a mixing bowl.
- Add the melted butter to the graham cracker crumb mixture. Stir to combine fully.
- Gently but firmly press the graham crumb mixture into the bottom and sides of the pie plate. PRO TIP: Use the bottom of a measuring cup as a flat surface when pressing the crumbs into place.
- Bake for 15 minutes, until toasted brown. Let cool to room temperature. (Can be made one or two days in advance and kept, wrapped at room temperature.)
For the Key Lime Custard and to Finish Pie
- Preheat oven to 325°F.
- While the pie crust is baking, add the sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, and lime juice to a mixing bowl. Stir to combine.
- Pour the custard into the cooled graham cracker pie shell. If necessary, jiggle lightly to settle into a smooth top.
- Bake for about 15 minutes, until the custard has set and does not jiggle loosely in the center when lightly shaken. Cool to room temperature, then chill.