There’s nothing like squeezing dozens of key limes to make you extremely acquainted with your open wounds. It’s like a roll call for injuries. You’re suddenly very much aware of what you thought was just a small scratch, and any and all paper cuts take the chance to remind you that they still exist. And key limes are tiny, so you’ve got a long way to go. Let’s get started.
I haven’t had a very good history with making this pie.
The first time I made it, I’d previously pulled hangnails on a couple of my fingers, so squeezing each key lime brought me twinges of pain.
The second time, as I was cutting the very first key lime in two, I cut my thumb. Determined to have a pain-free experience (and a non-bloody pie), I fashioned a protective cast of sorts using a paper towel and generous amounts of plastic wrap, and then I carried on squeezing, trying to use my thumb as little as possible. And for a while it worked.
But then, while cutting up the second batch of key limes–because, again, key limes are tiny and I keep underestimating how many I need–it happened again. I cut my index finger, quite deeply this time. As I watched the blood stream out, I could only sigh and hope this pie would be worth it.
And it was. Even though it meant making another awkward, bulky bandage and squeezing tiny key lime after tiny key lime, the final result was deliciously tart and sweet–a smooth filling surrounded by a crumbly, crunchy graham cracker crust. And I hadn’t gotten any blood in it, so, you know, another victory.
This time around, the pie was just as delicious, made more so by the fact that the process was painless. Squeezing twenty-two key limes got a little tedious, but I’ll take tedium over the drama of injuries any day.
I like a mostly tart pie, so I tend to use just under 2/3 of a cup of key lime juice, but anyone who likes things on the sweeter side can use 1/2 a cup instead. Feel out where you think you are on that 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup scale. Find your sweet spot (pun intended).
My crust was crumblier than usual, which I suspect may have been due to the low-fat graham crackers I used (I know. I was going through a phase). And due to some poor crust distribution on my part, the crust ended up being thin in the center and thicker toward the edges. But that just makes it more rustic, probably. Or should I say crustic?
This pie, like most things, is best topped with whipped cream. The recipe I used had directions for whipping your own cream, but I’m partial to cream out of the can. When I whip cream to put on top of a pie that I’ll ultimately put in the fridge and eat over the course of several days, the whipped cream starts to deflate, get sad, and taste like the fridge. And I don’t like sad, fridgey whipped cream. This is a happy pie. Even if it hurts you sometimes.
Key Lime Pie
Source: Adapted from Smittenkitchen.com
Makes one 9-inch pie
- 1 1/2 cups ground graham cracker crumbs (from 9-10 crackers)
- 3 tbsp sugar
- a pinch of salt
- 6 tbsp. butter, melted
- 1 1/2 tbsp key lime zest (or lime zest)
- 3 large egg yolks
- one 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 2/3 cup freshly squeezed key lime juice (or lime juice), if you like it tart; use closer to 1/2 cup if you like it sweeter. For me, 22 key limes merited a scant 2/3 cup
Zest the key limes into a small bowl. Then squeeze the key limes into a different bowl to get your desired amount of juice. I recommend doing this first because it takes roughly six years. The juice and zest can be covered and stored in the fridge for a day or so if you want to prepare this beforehand.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and salt. Pour the melted butter over the mixture and stir with a fork until the crumbs are coated evenly. Use your fingertips to press the crumbs into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie dish. Bake the crust for about 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Let the crust cool on a cooling rack and leave the oven on while you prepare the filling.
To prepare the filling, use a whisk or electric mixer to beat your egg yolks with the key lime zest until the mixture is pale yellow, thick, and ribbony (about 3-5 minutes). Add the condensed milk and beat for another 2-3 minutes. Whisk the key lime juice into the mixture until combined. Pour it into the graham cracker crust and bake for ten minutes. It won’t look much different physically, but trust that it will be ready after ten minutes. Take the pie out of the oven and let cool. Transfer it to the fridge after an hour or so to let it cool completely.
To serve, top with whipped cream (which you can make by beating 3/4 cup heavy cream with 1-2 tbsp powdered sugar until soft peaks form) and enjoy.