Key Lime Pie…a classic

Some meditations on PIE…

Among a million other things…

If you screw up a cake, it is toast, garbage. If you screw up a pie, for the most part it may be ugly or imperfect but it still tastes amazing.

Recently, I called my sweet man from the road (carpool) and begged him to remove an apple tart from the oven and failed to mention it was removable bottom pan. Needless to say, his arm went right through the pan and to avoid major burns he dropped the whole thing and it landed upside down on the floor. By the time I got home, he had scooped it onto a big dish with a spatula and eaten about a third of it. So I got a spoon and helped.  And it was awesome. Ugly, yes. But it tasted like a dream.

I have also turned off the oven accidentally while cooking a cherry pie with a friend. I thought I had turned off the buzzer for the lower oven. Oops. And there the oven sat for about 20 minutes steadily falling in temperature (insert 4 letter word and some hefty punctuation here in quotes). We had worked so hard. We had cut out little leafs of crust to float on the top. Ruined? Heck no. I didn’t miss a beat. I turned that sucker back on and hoped for the best. No, it was not an ideal outcome. But, it tasted great.  And it was fun.

There is something that is just true and honest about pies. I think it must have something to do with the love we give it from our hands. There is nothing antiseptic about pie baking. You have to touch it, you have to get to know it, you have to work with it. Bread is the same way. You can make an entire cake without getting your hands dirty once, except for the eggs, perhaps. OK, I can’t but one could, theoretically. A pie is not only homemade, it is handmade. It is the embodiment of love.

Why do I like the image of PIE enough to name a blog after it. There are a million reasons and I will tell you all of them as they unroll off of my rolling pin. Don’t get me wrong, I bake a mean cake. I love cakes. But I love the idea of PIE.

Today’s target is Key Lime Pie. I did not use Key Limes. They are tiny and require far more effort than I like. Besides which, the geniuses at Cook’s Illustrated (The Best Recipe) created this recipe and say I don’t have to use Key Limes and I always believe them. Here, I have doubled the filling they recommend for a 9 inch pie because I like a thick, big pie.  It is hard to believe that such a beautiful event can be produced from so few ingredients. This recipe is in distinct steps. Make Filling. Make Crust. Bake crust. Fill crust. Bake again. Cool. Apply whipped cream.  Boom.  Here is what you will need:

8 teaspoons grated lime zest
1 cup lime juice
8 large egg yolks
2 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
11 full sized graham crackers
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 pint heavy whipping cream
confectioner’s sugar (about ¼ cup, but mainly just to taste)

Before you even start reading further, set your oven to 325. Then get out a microplane grater and a juicer. I use an old fashioned glass reamer.

Get eight limes. Make sure you buy a few extras. Often I get limes that are not juicy enough. Grate off the zest into a small bowl. You will need 8 teaspoons. Then halve and juice your naked little limes. You will need 1 cup of strained juice. Separate 8 eggs keeping only the yolks. Get out your cans of sweetened condensed milk.

For the filling, in a small mixing bowl use a hand whisk to beat the lime zest into the yolks.  Whisk for about 2 minutes until your yolks are turning decidedly greenish.  Then whisk in the milk.  Then whisk in the lime juice.  When it is well combined and smooth, set it aside to firm up a bit while you deal with the crust.

Get out 11 plain graham crackers (whole sheets).  Put it in your food processor with 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar.  Whiz until it is merely sandy crumbs.  Or, put it in a resealable bag and let your nearest child whack it to death.  In a small bowl, mix in 5 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter.  Pour the buttered crumbs into a 9 inch pie plate and press it into the bottom and sides to form a lovely crust.  Put it in the preheated oven for about 13 minutes.  Remove the crust to a wire rack to cool.

Pour the filling into the pie crust and return it to the oven to bake for 15 minutes until the “pie is set, yet wiggly when jiggled”.  I can’t say it better than wiggly when jiggled.  That is from the original recipe.

Cool to room temperature.  Pop it in the fridge.  3 hours later you may apply the whipped cream in whatever fashion you like (1 pint cream whipped with about 4 tbsp of confectioners’ sugar).

On a related note, this is not a pie that is the artificially bizarre color you get at some food joints.  It is this deep greeny yellow with the lovely little flecks of lime.  It is tart and authentic.  But I have to tell you that “authentic” color made it a humongous pain in the rear to photograph.  So don’t rely on the photos to decide whether to try this…just do it.

I have 2 extra tips for you. First, I have fallen in love with these small 1 cup capacity ball jars and I intend to make 100 different recipes in them. I have already envisioned layered ice cream treats of a thousand varieties. This is not an original idea and I owe it to the writers of Our Best Bites who do a pie in a jar that is much more ambitious that you can freeze and bake one at a time. Anyway, I wanted to deliver a taste of this pie to my friend Laura Lucia so I just baked a little bottom crust into two of the jars and filled them and baked them just like I did the big pie.  They turned out great and I think would be really fun for a picnic.

Second, I decorated this pie by sprinkling it sparingly with sugared lime zest.  To do this, I zested an extra lime and covered the zest thoroughly in sugar. An hour later they were ready to sprinkle on the pie.  They are tart so don’t overdo it.  But I think it was a pretty touch.


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24 comments to Key Lime Pie…a classic

  • Kelly

    Wow. That is a very good question. I only use the lid like I would saran wrap, not to obtain a vacuum seal like you might for canning. My impulse would be more about keeping them cool than on getting a vacuum seal. My guess is that if you sealed them while they were hot, when they cooled then the lids would pop down. But, given that it is a dairy and egg based pie I’m not sure that would buy you anything in the way of safety. I honestly don’t know. If I were shipping them, I’d probably put on the after cooling and just pack those gel coolpacks all around them and ship them overnight….and concentrate on the cool aspect and not the seal aspect. It is a great question for which I just don’t have a good answer. Let us know what you decide to do. And now that I think about it, since these are whipped cream topped, you would have to let them cool, then do the whipped cream, and then seal them. I wonder if the whipped cream would make it.

  • Heather

    Hi! These look fantastic, and I was wondering if you let them seal when they’re hot?
    I want to ship mini pies like this but I’m worried they’ll spoil if I don’t do it right.

  • Kelly

    I recall doing the jars almost the same amount of time for the crust…check on the last few minutes for over browning, and the same 15 minutes for the filling. Again, I would check the last few minutes so you don’t go too far past “wiggles” when jiggled. Start with 10 and peek, and give it a few more minutes if necessary. Have fun. ( you might also consider halving the recipe if you don’t need too many. Have fun!

  • Suzanne

    Ok, so this pie looks amazing!! I love the idea of the ball jars, perfect for giving my bf a treat without tempting him with the whole pie (he loooves key lime). How long did you bake the crust for in the jars…then about how long did you bake the filling for? Can’t wait to try this!

  • Melissa

    Thank you for sharing this recipe. It is absolutely delectable. Instead of cream I made a meringue top and worked out great.

  • Thanks for posting this link. :) A friend of mine sent it over and I made it to delicious results!

  • Kelly

    I think I got them at Albertson’s. A big enough grocery store will have them in the housewares department near the plastic containers and brooms and all those goodies. And they are just regular Ball canning jars. They have to withstand the tortures of canning (i.e. boiling for 30 minutes, and freezing) so they actually behave great in the oven. I’ve been using them for ice cream dessert inventions, too. Just think how easy it would be to throw them in a cooler and cart them off to a picnic. I think I’ll be using them a lot.

  • made this pie for a group last night – it was DIVINE.
    where to find the jars to make mini pies, and can you put those little jars in the oven?? thanks!

  • Arlene

    Made the pie…it was heavenly!! Thanks for breaking me out of my same old same old!

  • Oh my. I love key lime anything, but this pie is gorgeous. And what a cool idea to use those little jars for dessert. (I have to admit I’ve almost put my own arm through the bottom of a tart pan, but it’s never actually hit the floor.)

  • heidi

    Lovely and delicious. Thank you.

  • We love key lime pie – I’ll have to give this recipe a try. I make whipped cream the same way – it is the best! Beautiful photos.

  • Yummmm! I tried making a key lime pie once a looooong time ago, but I added food coloring to it and it looked so scary that no one wanted to eat it.

    This really sounds fantastic right now, and I love the idea of baking in the small glass jars. Oh, and the way you put the whipped cream on top is just gorgeous. Beautiful work!

    And for the record, I can’t crack eggs without making a mess, either :P

  • Amy Dean

    I love the picture on TasteSpotting! Good job and Congratulations Kelly! It looks fabulous!

  • Beautiful pictures of your key lime pie!!!

  • Kelly

    Nope. That was all legitimate human consumption. Come to think of it, it has been awhile since Poppy had any baked goods. Knock on wood, but I think that golden is mellowing out a little.

  • Carol

    Are you sure Poppy didn’t get to the pie and Pitts was just covering for her?

  • Amy Dean

    My mouth is watering!!!! This looks so very yummy! Thanks for sharing – I’ll have to learn how to make this one.

  • This looks amazing. I love key lime pie, and cannot wait to try this recipe

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