I’ve shared a few key lime pies on my blog over the years, because it’s a favorite with my family. But today’s updated recipe is richer, fuller and creamier, and it’s definitely going to be on heavy rotation in our house from now on. This easy key lime pie is so creamy, tart and sweet, and full of fresh lime flavor. The salted graham cracker crust perfectly complements the creamy filling, and it’s topped with fluffy snowballs of whipped cream and fresh lime zest.
And did you know that you can make this exact recipe but with lemon juice instead of lime juice? It makes a wonderful lemon pie also. Or try a combination of lemon, lime and grapefruit juices for a more complex citrus flavor.
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What is Key Lime Pie?
Key lime pie is an American dessert made with key lime juice, sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks, typically with a graham cracker crust. Sometimes you’ll find meringue topping on a key lime pie, which is a good way to use up the leftover egg whites, since the filling only needs egg yolks. But whipped cream topping will always be my favorite. The pie is tart, sweet, creamy, silky and buttery, and it’s really one of the best things you’ll ever eat.
Technically, a key lime pie isn’t considered authentic unless it’s made with key limes. But unless you live in Florida, key limes aren’t always readily available throughout the year. Persian limes are the standard limes usually found in grocery stores, although you can nearly always find bottled key lime juice.
But, whether you use fresh or bottled, key lime juice or regular lime juice, really doesn’t matter. Key lime juice is slightly more tart and acidic, which balances the sweetened condensed milk nicely, but both types of limes and lime juice make an absolutely delicious pie. No judgement here for whichever you choose to use. I made this pie with bottled lime juice and fresh lime zest, and it was fantastic.
- Graham Crackers. Crushed graham crackers are the foundation of the crust.
- Brown Sugar. Sweetens the crust.
- Coarse Kosher Salt. Balances the sweetness.
- Unsalted Butter. Binds the crushed graham crackers together.
- Sweetened Condensed Milk. Adds sweetness, and a creamy rich texture.
- Egg Yolks. Adds richness, and helps to thicken the filling as it bakes.
- Lime Juice. Fresh or bottled, both are fine!
- Fresh Lime Zest. More lime flavor.
- Heavy Whipping Cream. Whips into fluffy whipped cream for topping the pie.
- Powdered Sugar. Sweetens and stabilizes the whipped cream.
- Vanilla Extract. Flavor.
Of all the pies, key lime pie is about as easy as it gets. The crust is simple but so delicious. And the filling is nothing short of magical. It only requires a very short bake time to set, as the combination of the acidic lime juice with the sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks thickens the pie very quickly.
Bake the crust.
To make the crust, combine crushed graham crackers with brown sugar (or granulated sugar) and salt. Then drizzle with melted butter and stir until moistened. Pressed into a pie pan and bake for 10 minutes, just to set the crust and make it nice and crunchy.
The crust is buttery and crumbly, a little salty and a little sweet, and is the perfect complement to the silky filling. This is a very full pie, so make sure you press the crust crumbs all the way up the sides of your deep-dish pie pan to accommodate all that glorious filling.
Make the filling.
To make the filling, all you do is whisk together lime juice, lime zest, sweetened condensed milk, and egg yolks. Pour the filling into the crust, and bake it just until set but still a little wobbly.
Chill and top with whipped cream.
Your key lime pie needs to cool for a few hours at room temperature, and then chill for at least 4-6 hours until fully set. If you bake your pie first thing in the morning, it will be ready to serve for dessert after dinner. Or, you can just bake your pie at night, and allow it to chill overnight.
The most common topping for key lime pies is either meringue or whipped cream. I myself am not a fan of meringue, so I never make meringue pies. But if you like meringue, it’s a great way to use up your leftover egg whites.
But whipped cream, on the other hand, is just dreamy. Fluffy, airy, lightly sweetened, it’s the perfect topping for a pie.
Stabilized Whipped Cream
What would a key lime pie be without whipped cream topping? For the topping, a stabilized whipped cream is the way to go. Stabilized whipped cream is whipped cream that will hold its shape, and won’t deflate or go weepy as it sits on the pie for several days. There is nothing worse than a sad weepy pie. And if it takes you a few days to finish a pie, then making sure your whipped cream is stable enough to hold its shape is a must.
Ratio of Ingredients
- 1/2 cup cold heavy whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
This ratio of cream to sugar is just sweet enough, without being cloyingly sweet, as the filling is already plenty sweet as well. The sugar helps to stabilize the cream, as does the method of adding the sugar after you whip the cream to soft peaks, and not right at the beginning.
You can increase these amounts, depending on how much you need. 2x this ratio was enough for how I decorated the pie photographed in this post, but to cover the whole pie, I’d probably increase it to 3x.
- First, you will need to beat (with an electric mixer) the cold cream until it starts to thicken and form soft peaks. I never attempt to make whipped cream by hand; I just don’t have the endurance to whisk cream that vigorously for as long as it needs.
- Then, add the powdered sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until thick peaks form that hold their shape.
- Now the whipped cream is ready to be dolloped, spread or piped onto your pie, with no fear of it deflating.
TIP: To make the whipped cream “snowballs”, I used a small cookie scoop with a release lever to scoop the cream and dollop it onto the filling. You should keep your key lime pie refrigerated, and it’s best served chilled and eaten within three days.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I use instead of graham crackers?
Instead of graham crackers, you can use biscoff cookies or digestive biscuits.
Will this recipe work with evaporated milk instead of sweetened condensed milk?
No, these are different ingredients and are not interchangeable.
Can I use fat-free sweetened condensed milk?
What if I can’t find key limes, or key lime juice?
You can just use plain lime juice – either bottled or fresh – and your pie will be fantastic.
How long does this pie stay fresh?
Cover the leftovers and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
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Did you love today’s recipe? Please rate the recipe and let me know in the comments what you thought! Also, be sure to follow Curly Girl Kitchen on Instagram, and tag me when you try one of my recipes so I can see all your delicious creations!
Key Lime Pie
- 2 cups finely crushed graham crackers
- ¼ cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- ½ tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 28 oz (2 cans) sweetened condensed milk
- 6 large egg yolks (save the whites for another use)
- 1 cup key lime juice or lime juice (either fresh or bottled is fine)
- zest of 1 lime
- 1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
- 2 tbsp powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 325 F. In a bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers, brown sugar and salt. Add the melted butter and toss with a fork until moistened. Press the crumbs evenly against the bottom and all the way up the sides of a deep-dish pie pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool for 10 minutes before adding the filling.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, lime juice and lime zest until smooth. Pour into the crust – it will be very full.
- Bake on the center oven rack for about 20 minutes. The filling will be mostly set, but should have a very slight jiggle when you gently move the pan.
- Cool the pie at room temperature for two hours, then refrigerate (uncovered) until well chilled and fully set, about 4-6 hours, or overnight.
- Before serving, beat the cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and continue beating until thick peaks form that hold their shape. Dollop, pipe or spread over the pie, or just serve the whipped cream on the side.
- Keep the leftover pie refrigerated for up to three days.