Filed under: Fruit Based
May 9, 2024

Key Lime Pie

An elevated key lime pie recipe: buttery, sweet pecans in the crust, a filling that hits the right balance of tart to sweet and holds up well to slicing while staying perfectly creamy.

4.80 from 5 votes
Yield: 1 tall 8 or 9 inch pie
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Its origins are debated but most agree – key lime pie is one of the best spring and summer time desserts (and maybe thanksgiving now too?). For me, It wasn’t a dessert that was available as a kid growing up in CO, but I started to run into it over the past few years when we moved closer to central VA. 

Many local restaurants we go to have it as a dessert option and a mama friend was telling me how it was her favorite dessert, so I got into it too. Sometimes after ordering it, I’d be satisfied but most of the time I found myself wishing there was… just more to it. 

I’d often want it to be more tart (well, you already know this about me and citrus), I wanted the filling to be thicker and creamier, the crust to be more than basic graham… all the things.

At its core, key lime pie filling is one of the easiest bakes with just a few ingredients: key lime juice, sweetened condensed milk and a third ingredient to help the pie set up. Before making mine, I compared the six most popular recipes for key lime pie online and found they were all pretty similar in ingredients and ratios, but either used egg yolks or sour cream/yogurt. You’ll note in my recipe, I use both sour cream and egg yolks. 

Recipe Origins 

I promise I didn’t do this to be difficult. The thing is, using egg yolks means that they’ll help turn the filling into more of a set custard; you see those perfect not messy slices in my photos? That’s the yolks’ doing. It also means that because of them, I am able to add more liquid (lime juice!) which makes it more tart. 

But I didn’t want to forsake the benefits of sour cream either; it makes for a creamy & smooth filling. So I used some of that too. 

Most key lime pie recipes use either a store-bought crust or a simple graham cracker & butter crust. I wanted to keep this recipe simple but also add more flavor to the crust so I added a cup of ground pecans; the toasty, buttery pecans really enhance the flavor of the crust and pairs well with the tart filling. 

Please note, this is not a traditional or classic key lime pie. There are ground nuts in my crust. The filling sets up a bit differently (sturdy but creamy) and it’s definitely on the tart side of sweet. And if that doesn’t sound good, hit that x of the window. But if it does… Well, let’s do this. 

 

Recipe Ingredients 

Cookie crumbs: Graham crackers or digestive cookies (I use the latter). If you are using a sandwich cookie, remove the cream first as the added oils will mess up the ratio of fat to cookie and leave you with an oily crust that falls apart. 

 

Pecans: If you can, buy raw whole pecans and toast them yourself: spread on a sheet pan at 350 F for about ten minutes or until fragrant. Let them cool then grind them (if you grind them when they are still hot, it’ll turn into a paste). 

 

Also – if you don’t want to use pecans you can use another nut (I very nearly went with pistachio but I’ve done so much of that recently!). If you need to omit the nuts entirely, add another half of a cup of cookie crumbs. 

 

Butter: any kind, and cold is fine. 

 

Powdered sugar: I use this partially to sweeten the crust but mostly to help the crust hold up and bind the nuts to the cookie crumbs. 

 

Egg yolks: two yolks from whole eggs. 

 

Sour Cream: full fat, no need to have it at room temperature. Substitutes can be greek yogurt or labneh. 

 

Sweetened condensed milk: two fourteen ounce, full fat cans. No substitutes. 

 

Limes for Key Lime Pie: Key or Persian? 

The original key limes that were behind the creation of the pie are long gone as the key lime plantations in the Florida Keys were destroyed by a hurricane in 1927 and were replaced with persian limes. Today, we import key limes from Mexico and the flavor is quite different, more acidic and less floral. I love them but Key limes are difficult to find and almost impossible to juice: 1 pound of key limes got me about ¼ cup of juice. For my pie, I used a mix of key limes and persian limes. 

There are bottled key lime juices; if you’ve used it before but the only one I could find that is 100% key lime juice is Florribean

How to make Key Lime Pie 

Prep the pan & preheat the oven: 

If you’re using a springform pan you can just set a piece of parchment at the bottom then clip the belt of the pan. If you’re using a cake pan, press the parchment into the bottom of a greased pan and use metal clips to hold it in place.

Make the crust 

Grind the cookies & the nuts then mix the crust ingredients until the mixture is like wet sand: 

Press into the prepared pan: start with the bottom then work the crumbs up and against the sides. Use a measuring cup to press it in firmly and evenly. Take your time. 

Bake for 10 minutes. This helps set the crust so it isn’t overly messy when slicing. It also helps deepen the flavor. 

Make the filling

Zest & juice the limes: it’s best to zest then juice obviously (here I had zested a bunch but since limes aren’t very juicy I had to slice some more to juice)

Whisk together the filling ingredients. I started with the zest and the sweetened condensed milk. 

Then I added the lime juice, egg yolks and sour cream

Whisk together until creamy

Then pour it into the cooled, baked crust:

Bake until it jiggles only in the center: you’ll want to keep a close eye on it in the oven and check it at ten minutes (depending on pan size and material the pie will take more or less time to bake). 

Let it cool on the counter for awhile until it’s at room temperature then transfer to the fridge to chill fully, for a few hours.

Getting the pie out of the pan:

After the pie has chilled, open the springform and use an offset spatula to run it underneath to loosen the bottom from the pan. Then transfer to a plate. If you’re using a cake pan, use the offset spatula to loosen the sides then use the parchment to lift it out.

Save making the topping until the day of serving. Top with whipped cream or a meringue if you like. 

 

How to know when key lime pie is done baking 

Baking time will vary depending on the accuracy of the oven temperature (I use a secondary thermometer to check mine) and the size and material of the pan. A bigger, more shallow pan will cook quicker than a smaller taller pan. Visual cues are best. 

Since this is an egg/sugar/milk mixture we treat it like a custard: you’re looking for set edges and a slight jiggle in the center. 

 

How long should you chill key lime pie? 

This key lime pie recipe will set up in the fridge for slicing after about 2-3 hours of chilling, but the flavor won’t be as developed. I found it best the day after baking; overnight the lime juice became more prominent. 

 

Topping Options for Key Lime Pie 

Stabilized Whipped Cream: my whipped cream is ‘stabilized’ because it’s made in a food processor where instead of a lot of air being whipped into it (those air bubbles will eventually deflate and the whipped cream will seep) I set all the ingredients in a food processor and process until thickened. The whipped cream holds its shape without seeping. 

Torched Meringue: use this swiss meringue recipe and a kitchen torch to toast it when it’s on the pie. Depending on how grand you want the meringue to be, you can use 3-5 egg whites (and adjust the sugar according to the notes in the recipe).

Key Lime Pie Recipe



Key Lime Pie

An elevated key lime pie recipe: buttery, sweet pecans in the crust, a filling that hits the right balance of tart to sweet and holds up well to slicing while staying perfectly creamy.
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Chill: 4 hours
Yields: 1 tall 8 or 9 inch pie
4.80 from 5 votes

Ingredients

Pecan Cookie Crust

  • 250 g or 2 cups digestives or graham crackers
  • 100 g or 1 cup pecans roasted or see note in “ingredients” for how to toast raw pecans
  • 70 g or 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Key Lime Filling

  • Zest of 10 key limes or 5 persian limes careful not to zest the white pith
  • 2 egg yolks from 2 large eggs
  • 792 g or two 14oz cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 80 g or ⅓ cup sour cream full fat
  • 240 g or 1 cup key lime juice can use a mix of persian limes and key limes
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch fine sea salt

Whipped Cream (this makes a thick layer of cream, halve it for a more modest amount)

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch fine sea salt
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar

Method

First, make the crust:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lay a sheet of parchment paper over the bottom of a nonstick 8 or 9 inch springform pan then attach the top and buckle to seal it.
  • Grind the cookies and the pecans in a food processor until fine.
  • Melt the butter and stir with the ground nuts and cookies and the powdered sugar until the mixture resembles wet sand.
  • *If the mix isn't holding together when you squeeze some of it in your palm, add another tablespoon of melted butter; it should clump but not leave an overly greasy residue on your hand.
  • Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the springform pan. Take your time pressing the crumbs into an even layer and all the way up the sides. Use a measuring cup to press the crumbs in tightly (dip it in powdered sugar so the crumbs won’t stick to it).
  • Bake the crust for 10 minutes. When it comes out it might have bubbled a bit, use the measuring cup to press it back into shape.

Second, the filling:

  • Zest the limes then juice them until you have 1 full cup of juice and place the zest and juice in a large bowl. Add the sweetened condensed milk, the vanilla, salt, egg yolks and the sour cream and whisk until smooth.
  • Pour into the baked pie crust then set back in the oven until the center only still wobbles when you shake the pan, for about 15-25 minutes. (Time depends on the size of your pan, bigger mores shallow pans will bake the custard quicker than smaller, deeper pans).
  • Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature then set in the fridge to chill for about 4-8 hours (preferably overnight).

The day of serving, make the whipped cream:

  • Set all the ingredients in a food processor and process on high until thickened. Stop it when it looks creamy but if you run a spoon through it it holds shape, 2-4 minutes. (Keep an eye on it, it can go quicker depending on the strength of your food processor).
  • Spread over the top of the cooled pie and zest some limes over it to decorate.
  • Store the pie in the fridge. Leftovers keep for a few days but the pie will start to seep liquid after awhile.

Notes

Note: You can use a tall 8 inch round springform pan or a shorter 9, or 10 inch springform pan for this recipe. Bigger pans will yield a shorter pie.

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Recipe Reviews




  1. 5 stars
    Made this today using 8” springform pan with the parchment paper covering the bottom. Used toasted pistachios with graham crackers for crust. Delicious flavor, especially the thick vanilla whipped cream on top. Will be adding this to my dessert rotation. Next time I won’t put the lime zest in the filling and add more butter to crust. My crust crumbled around the edge also but I think it just needed more butter. The sour cream was the surprise ingredient for me but added such a creamy texture to filling. Thank you for another 5 star recipe.

    • PISTACHIOS!! This is what I wanted to do when I first made it so I’m delighted to hear you used them. I’ll add a note about butter amount to the crust too – thanks for the feedback!

  2. 4 stars
    Experienced home baker (including regularly making cheesecakes in springform pans with graham cracker crusts) and made this recipe in a tall 8” springform pan. Thank you for the recipe—it is delicious overall. A few things to note, however:
    * My crust stuck to the sides of the pan, even though I ran a knife around the pie before removing the ring of the springform. It said parchment the bottom but nothing about preparing the sides of the pan before pressing in the crust. Should the sides be greased, too?
    * My crust was too crumbly. After baking and cooling and removing the springform pan ring, all the portions of the crust above the level of the pie crumbled onto the pie (not just a few crumbles—all of it). It was also very difficult to get a uniform piece as the crust crumbled when slicing and removing pieces.
    * The recipe states bake 10-15 mins, but as another reviewer said, I had to bake mine for 30 mins. This is a pretty big variance.
    * FYI regarding quantity of limes: I used the zest from 10 key limes, but to get enough juice, I had to use 10 key limes and 4 regular limes.

    • Hi Bird, bake time will always vary – I’ve been writing my recipes lately to say, look for (….) and then saying how long mine took but giving a range. The visual cues are much more important because pan material can differ, oven temperature and the temperature of the pie going in, and ofc, the size of the pan. The sides shouldn’t be greased if you’re using a non-stick springform pan as instructed. I am wondering about the type of cookie used in the crust and if this is what caused the issues with it crumbling and sticking – graham crackers can vary greatly in terms of how much butter and sugar is in them. I am sorry the recipe wasn’t a success but grateful for your input!

  3. 5 stars
    Made mostly as written with an 8” springform pan. Used bottled Nellie & Joe’s
    Key lime juice since there are no key limes anywhere near me. The filling took almost twice as long to bake, but maybe that was my oven? Delicious and I loved the springform shape – really impressive. Would feed an army.

  4. Hi! This is currently cooling- I used an 8″ springform and the filling filled all the way to the rim- Is the one you pictured from an 8″?? Also, you reference ‘Lemon” juice in your instructions vs. lime juice. Mine had to cook for probably over 30 minutes…Very excited to try it tomorrow.

  5. 5 stars
    Citrus Queen, long may you reign.

    Made it as written, but used a deep 8” cake pan instead and lined with parchment to be able to pull it out. Worked beautifully for those without the right size springform. Dreamy and tart and everyone loved the addition of the toasted pecans. Also, secretly super easy but looked difficult – the best kind of dessert. Make it!!!!

  6. 5 stars
    Another winner. I grew up in Florida and my mother would get a key lime pie from Publix every Thanksgiving. I make one or two a year. I’ve been making a lot of your recipes lately so I thought I’d give this one a go. It was fantastic. Thank you!