key lime pie

Ok I will be the fist to admit that I am a bit of a key lime pie snob.  I think I have a right to be since I grew up in Florida…right?  I think that’s how that works.  Like when New Yorkers come down to to the south and laugh at anyone who thinks Panera bagels are good.   Ummm I’ll keep my grits, mint julep, barbecue, pecan pie, sweet tea, and bread pudding and you can go back up north.  Also, Panera bagels are good.

I remember growing up my family would drive down to the Florida Keys every summer for vacation.  On one particular trip we decided that we would eat key lime pie at as many restaurants as possible to try to find the best one.  This was my favorite trip, for obvious reasons.  Unfortunately this experiment was not well documented (understatement) and we are not sure which pie was this winner.  I am pretty sure one of the best pieces was from my favorite restaurant in Key West, Blue Heaven, and looked something like this.  It was the tallest pie I have ever seen.  The meringue was a solid 4 times taller than the filling and it was simultaneously fluffy and crisp.  If you want to see more of this pie check it out on the Key Lime Pie episode of Food Wars on the food network!….or Rachel Ray, or Man vs Food.  This pie is a pretty big deal.

My pie wasn’t quite as tall as the Blue Heaven slice, but it came out perfectly flavored.  I was lucky enough to get my hands on a bad of fresh key limes.  Or unlucky looking back at how long it took to juice all of them…my poor hands! 

I know key limes aren’t really something that you com across if you don’t live in the south-east, but regular limes really aren’t the same thing.  Key limes are much smaller, seedier, and more tart.  Whatever the difference is, they make a mean pie. Luckily for you key-lime-pie-craving-yankees Nellie and Joe’s Famous Lime Juice makes an amazing bottled key lime juice.  They also make key lemon juice, key lime and mango juice (I cannot even imagine how good this would be in a pie!!) and marinades.  They sell all of their products online – including the 4 gallon jug for all you key lime addicts – and have lists of retail stores that sell their product by state plus lots of recipes!

This pie really is good all by itself but is traditionally served with a meringue.  It is also delicious with whipped cream or a drizzle of chocolate sauce, mango sauce, and/or raspberry sauce.  If you want it to be as tall as the Blue Heaven version, consider doubling, or maybe tripling my meringue recipe!  This refreshing dessert is so pretty and easy to make, especially if you ge the bottled juice.  It is perfect for parties too as it can be made the night before and kept in the fridge.  Just put on a dollop of whipped cream the next day and you are good to go!

Ingredients

Crust:

  • About 24 graham crackers (enough to make 1 1/3 cup of crumbs)
  • 1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut (optional, but delicious)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (1/4 cup if not using coconut)
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling:

  • 3/4 cup key lime juice (fresh if available) 
  • 1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 egg yolks (keep whites if you are making a meringue)
  • 2 tbsp key lime zest (optional)

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350°.

For the crust:

  • Place graham crackers in a large freezer bag.  Seal and crush with a rolling-pin.
  • Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar, and coconut (if using).
  • Press the crust firmly into the bottom and sides of a lightly buttered 9″ pie pan or 4 4″ personal tart pans to form an even crust.
  • Bake at 350° for 8 to 10 minutes until lightly golden – much less for the individual pans.
  • Let crusts cool while preparing filling

For the filling:

  • In a mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks until fluffy
  • Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk
  • Gradually whisk in the lime juice untill all ingredients are well combined
  • Stir in the lime zest, if using
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared shell
  • Bake at 350° for approximately 15 minutes, until the filling is just set (it will harden up when it cools so dont’ overcook!) 
  • Remove from the oven, cool completely, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight
  • Before serving, prepare topping

For the meringue:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Place  the egg whites in a mixing bowl* and beat on medium speed until the egg whites form soft peaks, about 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly add the sugar and vanilla. Beat until the whites form stiff, glossy peaks, another 2 or so minutes. Do not over mix or the whites will dry out.

Spread the meringue onto the pie using the back of a spoon to create peaks and dips in the topping, or, if you are fancy (I am not), place the meringue in a piping bag and pipe the meringue onto the chilled key lime pie. Completely cover the top of the pie. If you have a blowtorch, you can use it to caramelize the meringue. If not, broil the pie under the broiler of your oven until golden brown. Watch carefully because this takes practically no time at all and the meringue can easily burn under the broiler. *Keep the oven door cracked so you can see when it begins to brown and immediately remove it from the oven.

* Meringue can be a little bit temperamental at times so here are a few tips to keep your meringue fluffy!  Use a very clean stainless mixing bowl and hand mixer attachments if possible.  Place the bowl and attachments in the fridge or freezer for a minute before beginning as this will help the peaks form.  Using very cold egg whites will also help!  While you are beating the mixture it will feel like it is taking forever and there is no way it is ever going to thicken.  Be patient.  I always feel that way and it has been perfect every time…knock on wood.

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