Traditional Key Lime Pie
The perfect blend of textures and flavors, this traditional key lime pie is uniquely sweet and tangy with a creamy consistency. The citrus custard filling is quick and easy to make from scratch while the homemade graham cracker crust adds a buttery crunch. You’ll love having this classic recipe on hand for your next gathering!
I’m just going to come out with it and say this key lime pie is simply the best. Seriously, you will love it. I’m not one for custard pies (I much prefer fudgy brownies), but this pie got me. The filling is the perfect balance of tangy and sweet while the graham cracker crust is buttery and thick.
My dad always begs me to make key lime pie for him because it’s his favorite. Now I understand why. When this pie is done right, it’s pure bliss. Let’s break it down, shall we?
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Traditional ingredients. This authentic recipe is made with key lime juice, egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk.
- Perfect taste and texture. The tangy, sweet filling is like a custard—thick and creamy—and it sits on a buttery, yet sturdy, graham cracker crust.
- Easy to make ahead of time. The pie can be made the day before and stored in the refrigerator right up until you’re ready to serve.
- Delicious dessert for summer. This chilled dessert is refreshing on warm days. It’s light, citrusy flavors is a nice conclusion to a meal.
- Eye-catching appearance. The bright yellow-green custard against the warm-colored crust makes a stunning contrast. It’s makes for an impressive dessert to serve guests!
Did You Know?
History has it that key lime pie originated in Key West, Florida, in the late 1800’s by a cook known as Aunt Sally. She cooked for a ship salvager and Florida’s first self-made millionaire William Curry.
Residents in the Keys relied on sweetened condensed milk because there was no delivery of fresh milk. The overseas highway to the Keys wasn’t built until 1930. The sweetened condensed milk and key limes are staple ingredients for the pie.
- Key lime juice and zest: Use fresh lime juice and zest for the best taste.
- Sweetened condensed milk: You will need one 14 ounce can for this recipe. It’s usually found in the baking aisle at your local grocery store.
- Egg yolks: I find that separating the eggs when they are cold is much easier. Let them come to room temperature before using in the recipe.
- Graham crackers: You will need 10 graham cracker sheets (or 1 cup crumbs) to make the crust.
- Heavy cream: If you choose to make the whipped cream topping from scratch, make sure the heavy cream is cold.
- Confectioners’ sugar: For a little sweetness in the whipped cream, add 1 tablespoon sugar.
Refer to the recipe card for exact measurements and detailed ingredient information.
Add coconut to the graham cracker crust. I do this in my coconut cream pie recipe and it tastes delicious! Use 9 graham cracker sheets instead of 10 and add 1/4 cup toasted coconut to the food processor. Blend crackers and coconut until fine crumbs form.
Make a different crust. Try using Nilla wafers or chocolate graham crackers to make the crust! Aim for about 1 cup fine crumbs.
How to Make Traditional Key Lime Pie
- Make the graham cracker crust: In a food processor, pulse graham crackers until find crumbs form. Add sugar and melted butter, and process until combined.
- Bake crust: Transfer graham cracker mixture to a 9-inch springform pan. Press it firmly into the bottom and 1 inch up the sides of the pan. Bake at 325 F for 15 minutes.
- Make the key lime filling: Whisk egg yolks and lime zest together until it turns a greenish-yellow.
- Add sweetened condensed milk and lime juice. Whisk thoroughly, then let the mixture sit for 30 minutes to thicken.
- Bake the pie: Transfer the filling to the cooled graham cracker crust. Bake at 325 F for 15 to 17 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then chill the pie in the refrigerator for 3 hours.
- Garnish: Make the whipped cream toppings by whisking together the heavy cream, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Decorate the pie with fresh whipped cream and lime slices.
Use fresh key lime juice and zest. This is where the unique flavors comes from! Zest and juice the limes yourself. In a pinch, regular limes work or you can use Nellie and Joe’s key lime juice, but you will still need fresh lime zest.
Make the crust from scratch. It tastes much better than store-bought crust—believe me! It’s worth the extra effort.
Don’t over-bake. You know the pie is done when it’s creamy and jiggle slightly in the center when gently shaken. If the pie is over-baked, it will crack and become dry.
Let the pie cool completely and then chill it for 3 hours before serving. This is essential for any type of custard pie because it helps the curd filling set. Don’t put the pie in the refrigerator if it is still warm otherwise condensation will occur on top of the filling.
Make Ahead and Storage Tips
Make ahead: The graham cracker crust may be made ahead and storage covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. The filling cannot be made ahead of time as the acidity in the lime juice will cause the filling to separate.
Storage: After the pie has cooled completely, store it covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. I suggest garnishing right before serving for best results.
Freezing: Once the pie has cooled, place it as is in the freezer to set and harden (about 2 hours). Remove pie from the freezer and detach the side of the springform pan (leave the bottom or transfer to a cake board). Wrap the pie in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil to prevent freezer burn. Freeze the pie for up to 2 months. Defrost in the refrigerator before cutting and serving cold.
Frequently Asked Questions
Key limes are packed with more acidity and flavor. They are found in Florida and are smaller than standard Persian limes you typically buy at the grocery store.
Technically yes, you can use regular limes in key lime pie. I have made this recipe with both key limes and Persian limes, and there was only a subtle difference in taste. Key limes added a touch more flavor.
If you can’t find key limes, the solution is to use Nellie & Joe’s Key Lime Pie Juice—I swear by this stuff. Do not use regular store bought lime juice. It doesn’t provide nearly enough flavor.
Looking for more citrusy recipes? Try these desserts next!
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Get the Recipe: Traditional Key Lime Pie
Graham Cracker Crust
- 10 graham cracker sheets/rectangles, (or 1 cup graham cracker crumbs)
- 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- ¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar
Key Lime Pie Filling
- ½ cup (120 ml) fresh key lime juice, (about a dozen key limes or 4 standard limes)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime zest
- 4 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 14 ounces (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
Homemade Whipped Cream
- ½ cup (120 ml) heavy cream, cold
- 1 Tablespoon confectioners' sugar, sifted
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Graham Cracker Crust
- Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and set aside. (I personally like to put parchment paper on the bottom of the pan, but it's not necessary.)
- In the bowl of a food processor, crush graham crackers into fine crumbs, about 30 seconds. Add sugar and melted butter. Process until combined, about ten 1-second pulses.
- Transfer mixture to prepared pan. Press the graham cracker crumbs into the bottom and 1 inch up the sides of the pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until fragrant. Keep the oven on and let the crust cool completely. While the crust is cooling, prepare the filling.
Key Lime Pie Filling
- In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks and lime zest together until the mixture turns greenish yellow, about 2 minutes. Add sweetened condensed milk and whisk until combined. Add fresh lime juice and whisk until incorporated. Let the mixture sit at room temperature to thicken, about 30 minutes.
- Pour the lime filling into the graham cracker crust. Bake at 325℉ for 15 to 17 minutes or until the edges are set and the center jiggles slightly.
- Let pie cool on a wire rack until it reaches room temperature, then transfer it to the refrigerator to chill for 3 hours.
Whipped Cream Topping
- Place the metal bowl of a stand mixer into the freezer for 10 minutes. Place chilled bowl back on stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Turn mixer on low and add confectioners' sugar one tablespoon at a time. Add vanilla extract, then slowly start turning the mixer speed up to medium-high.
- After about 2 minutes you will see the whisk leaving trails in the cream. Mix until stiff peaks form (in other words, when the whisk is pulled out of the whipped cream a peak forms and doesn't fall). Avoid stopping the mixer or over-mixing the cream.
- Transfer whipped cream to a piping bag with tip and decoratively pipe the key lime pie. Garnish with lime slices and zest if desired. Alternatively, you can spread the whipped cream across the entire pie.