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.

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.