Joe’s Key Lime Pie

Originally made with standard pastry crust, Key lime pie has presumably been a prized specialty of southern Florida and the Keys ever since the distinctive yellowish limes were first cultivated there in the early nineteenth century. Over the years, a richer graham-cracker crust became the norm for this pie, providing the perfect counterpoint to the highly acidic limes; and cooks now gild the lily by topping the pie with either whipped cream or meringue. Until just recently, genuine Key limes (similar to pale Mexican limes) were next to impossible to find outside southern Florida except in specialty food shops, but during the spring months, I am noticing more and more netted bags of tiny green “Key limes” in finer supermarkets. (The green color baffles me, but they do taste like Key limes.) The much larger and more common green Persian (or Tahiti) limes can be substituted, but there is a definite difference in flavor. Without question, the best Key lime pie I’ve ever tasted is the one served for decades at Joe’s in Miami Beach, Florida, the same legendary Joe’s where locals and tourists alike flock to eat sumptuous stone crabs. Of course, the folks at the restaurant insist that the recipe is a closely guarded secret, but rest assured that my rendition produces the exact same results.

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Ingredients

For the Crust

  • 6 ounces graham crackers, pulverized in a blender or food processor
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (¾ stick) butter, melted

For the Filling

  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon grated lime zest
  • One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup fresh Key lime juice (or Persian lime juice)

For the Topping

  • 1 cup heavy cream, chilled
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • Thin slices of lime, for garnish

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

To make the crust, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a 9-inch pie plate and rub the mixture with your fingertips till the crumbs are fully moistened. Press the mixture firmly on the bottom and sides of the plate, bake till the crust is golden, about 8 minutes, and set aside on a rack to cool.

To make the filling, place the egg yolks and lime zest in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer till fluffy, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the condensed milk and lime juice and continue beating till just blended. Pour the mixture into the pie crust. Bake just till the filling has set, about 10 minutes, let cool completely on a rack, and place in the freezer for about 20 minutes before serving.

To make the topping, combine the cream and confectioners’ sugar in a bowl, beat with an electric mixer till stiff peaks form, and spread evenly over the cold pie, swirling and peaking the cream with a spoon in a decorative manner. Cut the pie into wedges, garnish the top of each wedge with a curled lime slice, and serve immediately. If not serving immediately, store in the refrigerator and then place in the freezer for about 20 minutes before serving.