Key Lime Pie

I don’t remember the first time I had key lime pie, but I do remember exactly where I got this recipe: from an in-flight magazine at least 20 years ago. It was at the end of a two-page article in which author Ellen Kanner describes savoring real key lime pie as she was growing up. I taped the two pages together, punched holes on the side, and have kept it in my binder ever since.

Kanner described how key lime pie should be “tangy and sweet, bracing and cool, the crunch of the crust a perfect foil for the creamy filling.” And, of course, it must be yellow. Key limes are light yellow when they’re ripe — not green — so their juice is, too.

Some people garnish their pies with strips of green rind from regular limes, which I find OK, but I’d rather just have just a dollop of whipped cream. There is way too much flavor going on with the pie for me to want much more than that. I just want to dig in!

I do recommend making the graham cracker crust yourself. Although you can certainly use a prepared one, a homemade crust looks and tastes better, and is a lot easier to make than you might think. In just a few steps, you’ll have a buttery, crisp, delicious pie crust. (If you do use a store-bought crust, make sure it’s for a 9-inch pie — some are 10 inches and that’s too large.)

The ingredients here are the same as those in the magazine article from so many years ago, though I recently tweaked it to make the pie hold up better.

Graham cracker crust:

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and press firmly into a 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350F degrees for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool while you prepare the filling. Keep oven on.

Key lime pie filling:

4 egg yolks
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp. key lime juice

With an electric mixer (not by hand!), beat the egg yolks until lemony*. Add the condensed milk and continue beating for about 3 minutes. Add the key lime juice and beat until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Pour into prepared pie crust and bake at 350F for 10 minutes. Remove, let cool, and refrigerate at least 6 hours before serving.

*What does “lemony” mean when beating egg yolks? It refers to the way the color of the yolks changes slightly and becomes yellower when they’re beaten. Egg yolks — along with whole eggs and egg whites — hold air bubbles well; the air that’s incorporated when you beat yolks makes them lighter in color.

Kentucky Derby Day Pie

I didn’t know what a Derby Pie was until a colleague of mine, Kara, posted this recipe around the time of the Kentucky Derby this year. She said it’s her mother’s recipe. As much as I love making pies, I also cherish recipes from other people’s kitchens — they’re authentic, and every time I make one, I remember the person who shared it with me. It wasn’t until recently that I had a chance to make this.

I have since learned that the name “Derby Pie” is trademarked, so I can’t use it, even though I’ve also learned it’s a beloved pie for many cooks who happily call it that in their collection of recipes.

The pie contains chopped walnuts and chocolate morsels beneath a soft, sweet filling. Use your favorite pie crust, whether frozen, refrigerated, or homemade, in a 9-inch pie plate. I’ve made this twice now and everyone has loved it. Thank you, Kara, for letting me share it! 😋

Heat oven to 350F/175C degrees.

In a large bowl, mix one by one in this order:
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 stick melted butter, cooled
1 cup chopped walnuts (pecans are OK, too)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla

Pour in pie crust and bake for about 45 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (though there might be some chocolate on it, which is fine).

Easy Dessert Recipes for When You’re Stuck at Home

Cooking is a great activity while we’re all stuck at home these days, trying to find things to do. Learn some new recipes, make some comfort food, or spend time cooking with someone. If you have children, cooking can be a fun activity together. Food is one way we can help ourselves feel better during this crazy time.

I looked through my dessert cookbook and found four recipes that are easy and require five ingredients or fewer, mostly with items you’re still likely to find at the store (though we had a hard time finding eggs the other day). These are favorites of mine.

Coconut Macaroons
1 14-oz. package sweetened shredded coconut
2/3 cup sugar
6 Tbsp. flour
¼ tsp. salt
4 egg whites
And I always include this, but you can make it optional: 1 tsp. almond extract

Heat oven to 325F (about 160C) degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet. Mix everything but the egg whites in a large bowl. Stir in the egg whites, and the almond extract if using, until blended. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto baking sheet and bake 20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.

And to use up the yolks, make this next recipe! (You don’t even have to bake it!)

Key Lime Pie
1 pre-made graham cracker crumb crust
4 egg yolks
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup + 1 Tbsp. key lime juice

Beat the egg yolks until lemony (you’ll notice the color change to more of a yellow color), then add sweetened condensed milk and continue beating for 3 minutes. Pour in the key lime juice and beat until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Pour into prepared shell and refrigerate at least 6 hours before serving.

Tip: Whipped cream is great to have on top when you serve it.

Easiest Cookies Ever
1 box of cake mix – any kind is fine, but I use white cake mix
1 stick of butter, softened
1 egg

Mix everything in a bowl, form into balls, and bake on greased baking sheets for 10 minutes at 350F (175C) degrees.

Frozen Lemonade Squares
9 graham cracker rectangles
¼ cup butter
1 quart (4 cups/1/4 gallon) frozen vanilla yogurt, softened
6 oz. (half a can) frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed (make lemonade with the rest!)
Optional: Blueberries

Finely crush graham crackers. Melt butter and mix with crumbs. Press into bottom of 9-inch square metal pan. Thoroughly mix yogurt and lemonade concentrate. Spread over crust. Freeze 4 hours or until firm. Serve with blueberries on top.

Sweet Potato Pie



Though I have been making pumpkin pie every Thanksgiving alongside my favorite chocolate pecan pie, I had never tried a sweet potato pie, which several people have told me is their favorite holiday dessert.

I love sweet potatoes, both savory — like roasted or mashed — or in a sugary casserole, which admittedly is more like a dessert. (I’m still trying to perfect a recipe for that.) When I found a Southern Living recipe for sweet potato pie, I figured I’d give it a try.

It turned out so well that I think it’s going to be on every one of our Thanksgiving menus from here on out.

The recipe in the magazine called for roasting and mashing whole sweet potatoes, then putting them through a sieve to remove the stringy bits. I do not have time for that. I just used the classic, old-fashioned sweet potatoes in a can (they’re labeled as yams). If you want to roast and mash your own sweet potatoes, you will need 2 cups mashed.

Makes one 9-inch pie

1 refrigerated pie crust
2 oz. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
29-oz. can sweet potatoes, mashed with a fork (if they are in syrup, briefly rinse them before mashing)
7 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Place pie crust into a 9-inch pie plate. Prick bottom several times with a fork. Line pie crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake in the oven until slightly golden, about 15 minutes. Remove the weights and parchment and let cool, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 350F degrees again. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the foam subsides and the butter begins to smell fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and remaining ingredients with an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Pour into the pie crust and bake on the middle rack of the oven until the filling is slightly puffed and set, about 45 minutes. Let cool at least 1 hour before serving, but note that the pie gets firmer if kept in the refrigerator and served the next day.

Lemon Icebox Pie

If there is a perfect summer dessert, then a sweet, tart icebox pie may well be it. Pies such as key lime, lemon meringue, and this classic all share the same delicious traits: a tangy, custardy filling in a buttery cookie-crumb crust.


I recently found myself with two different recipes for this, which was a welcome excuse for another one of my bake-offs at home. I made them side by side and although they were similar in taste, there was still a clear winner. All of us at the table agreed.

Both called for egg yolks, a can of sweetened condensed milk, and lemon juice. The losing recipe added buttermilk and lemon zest — it was a pastry chef’s recipe in a magazine (I won’t say which one) so I thought it would win. But the winning recipe was the one that stuck to the basics. It also called for a homemade graham cracker crust that had a distinct saltiness, and it tasted great alongside the sweet filling — just like with salted caramel, or sea salt on dark chocolate.

The recipe comes from a restaurant called Revival in Decatur, Georgia. It was printed in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the request of a reader who said the pie tasted like the one they grew up with. I’d say it’s just as timeless, simple, and delicious, with the added specialness of the salty-sweet crust.


Makes one 9-inch pie

For the crust:
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
5 Tbsp. melted unsalted butter

For the filling:
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (I used 3 lemons)
Whipped cream for garnish

Preheat oven to 325F degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together crumbs, sugar, and salt. Add butter and stir together until all dry ingredients are coated. Press crumbs into a 9-inch pie pan. Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Leave oven on.

In a medium bowl, whisk condensed milk and egg yolks together. Add juice and whisk until combined. Pour into cooled pie crust. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate at least 8 hours before serving with whipped cream on top.

Blueberry Pie


(Note: I have updated this recipe to include Clear Jel, a thickener that solves the problem of runny fruit pies.)

Whether you’re great at making pies or not, there ought to be at least a few pie recipes in your book that you’re able to make with some confidence. I am no pro at pies and stick mainly to the non-fruit kind, since they’re not so messy — key lime, chocolate pecan, and buttermilk coconut pie are my favorites.

But fruit pies are pretty easy, too, and they’re classic. I make Rose Levy Beranbaum’s apple pie and this blueberry pie. The filling spills all over the place when I serve them, and I’m still working on that (suggestions are welcome), but I seem to be the only one who minds. Everyone always just digs right in.

It used to be so frustrating to spend time making a pie only to have the slices fall apart when I cut them. Was I missing some baking secret or special trick? A couple of online searches for “fix runny fruit pies” yielded a magic ingredient: Clear Jel. It’s a modified cornstarch that is added to the filling before baking and holds the filling together when slices are cut.

Clear Jel is available in big bags online. The smallest bag I found was one pound, and since only a few tablespoons are needed for each pie, I expect it to last a while. If you buy some, look for the instant kind.

Makes one 9-inch pie

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
3 Tbsp. instant Clear Jel
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
5 cups fresh blueberries
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 refrigerated pie crusts
1 tsp. granulated sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 400F (200C) degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the first nine ingredients, tossing gently with a rubber spatula. Fit one pie crust in a 9-inch pie plate according to package directions, carefully cutting off the overhanging crust. (Save the scraps.) Spoon blueberry mixture into pastry shell.

Use the scraps for the lattice on top of the pie. Gather them into a ball, then roll it out to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into strips and arrange in a lattice design on top of the pie. If you need more strips, use the other pie crust. I cut my strips to fit inside the pie shell; if you have enough dough, you can lay the ends over the edges of the pie shell and press them in. Then crimp or pinch the edge of the pie in whatever design you like.

Sprinkle the teaspoon of sugar on top of the pie, then place in the oven. Bake 40-45 minutes until golden, shielding the edges with strips of aluminum foil halfway through to prevent excess browning.

(Credit for this recipe goes to a lady named Nan Ferguson of Sandy Springs, Georgia, who submitted it to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about 20 years ago.)

Buttermilk Coconut Pie


There are many variations of this Southern classic. This recipe is my own version of a recipe featured in our local paper, from an Atlanta food writer who combined his mother’s recipe with one from a cookbook of Southern pies.

It uses buttermilk (a good way to use up any that might be sitting in the fridge) to make a dense coconut-filled base. It’s topped with enough sweetened whipped cream to make a top layer that fills the rest of the pie, keeping it light.

A garnish of toasted coconut covers any flaws and hints at what’s below.

Makes one 9-inch pie.

1/2 cup sugar (slightly more)
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. all-purpose plain flour
5 oz. buttermilk
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, well beaten
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened), plus more for garnish
1 9-inch pie crust (I used a pre-made frozen one and used it straight from the freezer)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 heaping tsp. sugar

Heat oven to 350F (175C) degrees.

In small bowl combine sugar and flour, using a fork to mix well. Add buttermilk, melted butter, beaten egg, and vanilla, and stir until mixed well and evenly. Stir in coconut.

Pour filling into pie crust. Place pie on baking sheet and bake approximately 30 minutes, until firm throughout and filling is slightly browned — but keep an eye on it toward the end.

As it bakes, put a handful of shredded coconut in a small pan and toast it on medium-low until browned, shaking the pan every couple of minutes to toast the flakes evenly. If you have a toaster oven, you can do this on a small sheet of foil and a regular setting, gently shaking the foil occasionally and removing the sheet as soon as the flakes are browned.

When pie is done, let cool on wire rack. Whip cream with sugar*, then spread with spatula over the cooled pie. Try to make it slightly higher than the edge of the crust. Sprinkle the toasted coconut on top. Tip: Sprinkle some at the edge to hide the gap between the whipped cream and pie crust.

*Start whipping the cream without the sugar. Once it is slightly thickened, that’s when you add the sugar. Then continue whipping until stiff.

Raspberry Pear Tart

This is a great recipe I found last year in the magazine “Taste of Home.” It turned out well and wasn’t complicated — and it was a hit at dinner with friends the other night.

Here’s the recipe, tweaked just a tiny bit.

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup cold butter
1/3 cup finely chopped macadamia nuts

3 medium pears (try Bosc), peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
1/4 cup cold butter
1/3 cup roughly chopped macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 425F degrees.

In a large bowl, combine flour and sugar; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in nuts. Press onto the bottom and up the sides of an ungreased 11-in. fluted tart pan with removable bottom.

In a large bowl, combine the pears, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and lemon peel. Add raspberries; toss gently. Pour into crust. Bake for 25 minutes.

For topping, in a small bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar and lemon peel; cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in nuts. Sprinkle over filling.

Bake 15-20 minutes longer or until filling is bubbly and topping is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Another bake-off winner from 2007 is this lemon meringue pie. The meringue part always seemed so daunting before I tried this recipe, but it turned out to be relatively easy to make.

The ready-made pie crust may not appeal to purists, but I think they have a place in certain recipes, at least until the baker gets more adept at making them at home. I’ve made a few, but adept, I am not.

1 9-inch pie crust, pre-baked if frozen

4 large egg yolks
3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 5 lemons)
2 Tbsp. cornstarch/cornflour
1/2 cup/4 oz./1 stick chilled unsalted butter, cut into very small pieces

4 large egg whites
1/4 tsp. cornstarch/cornflour
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 cup confectioners’/icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F/175C degrees. To prepare filling, in large heavy saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, eggs, sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not let mixture boil. Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted. Pour into crust.

To prepare meringue, beat egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Beat in cornstarch and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar and vanilla at high speed until stiff, but not dry, peaks form.

Working quickly, spoon meringue in large dollops over filling, then smooth with back of spoon, making sure it reaches the edge of the crust. Bake until meringue is golden, 12-15 minutes.