Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park

A Taste of the Florida Keys: Key Lime Pie

January 14, 2011, 11:15 am

No exploration of Florida Keys cuisine would be complete without the famed Key lime pie, which owes its trademark tartness to its namesake main ingredient, the Key lime -- a juicier and more acidic alternative to traditional limes.

We’ve searched far and wide for an authentic Key lime pie recipe, and bring you this one from the book Southern Pies, by renowned southern dessert expert Nancie McDermott. Here’s an excerpt from her recipe book, which gives a little background on the famed southern pie, and of course, the authentic recipe.

The classic Key lime pie always strikes me as a modern sort of confection, but it is a genuine old-timer, a pie that South Florida’s people were devouring with glee back in the 1890s. Key limes are walnut-sized citrus fruits with an uneven yellow- green rind and a cool, pale green inner pulp. Though they thrive in the necklace of islands that make up the Florida Keys, Key limes are not from there. Most likely, they blew in long ago on trading ships, by way of South Asian ports of call.

The traditional Key lime pie is simple, elemental, and delicious. Sweetened condensed milk has been in the American pantry since the 1860s, and without pastureland nor dairy cows to provide milk, residents of the Keys took to it early on and spun it into a local specialty that the nation adores. The original Key lime pie called for a baked pastry crust, but graham cracker crusts were embraced as an early variation, and they are my favorite.

Look for Key limes in small net bags in the produce section seasonally, or order Key lime juice by mail. Allow a little time for this pie. While it’s one of the simplest to put together, the filling needs three hours to chill once it’s made.

Key Lime Pie

One 9-inch Graham Cracker Crust

4 egg yolks
1 14-ounce sweetened condensed milk (1 1/4 cups)
1/2 cup Key lime juice (from 10 to 15 limes), bottled juice, or regular lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9-inch pie pan with the crust, then crimp the edges decoratively. Bake the crust as directed in the recipe.

In a medium bowl, combine the egg yolks and the milk. Use a whisk or fork to mix them together evenly and well. Add the lime juice and salt, and stir well until you have a smooth, thick filling.

Spoon the filling into the graham cracker crust. Place the pie on the middle shelf of the oven, and bake for 15 minutes, until the filling is set.

Place the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel and let cool to room temperature. Cover loosely and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and as long as overnight.

To make the topping: Whip the cream in a medium bowl. When it thickens and increases in volume, add the sugar and vanilla, and continue beating until the cream is billowing and thick, able to hold soft peaks beautifully and easily. Pile the whipped cream onto the pie filing. Refrigerate for 1 hour or more before serving. Serve cold. Makes one 9-inch pie.

Recipe from Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes, From Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan by Nancie McDermott.