I used to work for Hillstone Restaurant Group. My friend’s step-dad Rob, aka “Handsome Rob” (for some reason he was always nicknamed that), was obsessed with their key lime pie. He said it was the best he’s ever tried. So naturally I got to work on making my own recipe, doing everything I could to make it better than what he deemed to be “the best”.
After a few trial and error runs, I made a version of it with lemon. Next time I saw him, I made a point to personally serve it to him.
“Hey [handsome] Rob, how was it?”, I asked.
He literally go up out of his chair to hug me. “You did it! You made it better than theirs!” I don’t know if he was just being nice, if he had a few too many drinks, or if he truly ,honestly believed it. But it doesn’t matter. This recipe is really fucking delicious, and insanely simple. You can use any kinds of citrus you’d like in the recipe, just make sure the base juice tastes as acidic as lime juice. If it doesn’t (let’s say oyu want to make it with Meyer lemons while they’re in season), supplement the juice with citric acid until you have the right formula. It might take some trial and error, but those tests are always fun for me. Citric acid is widely available online in powdered form. It dissolves easily in water (including, but not limited to, citrus juice).
Graham Cracker Crust
2 packets (9.6 oz) graham crackers, finely ground in food processor
2 tsp cinnamon, ground
3/4 c unsalted butter, melted
Key Lime Filling
6 ea large egg yolks (7 medium)
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
Zest of 2 key limes
1/2 c key lime juice, freshly squeezed
Note: You can use regular limes or even regular lemons for this dish. I have a STEP-BY-STEP TUTORIAL on how to make it. Since key limes weren’t in season during the filming of the video, I used regular limes. You’re looking for a total of about 1 Tbl of zest, so I only used 2 regular limes.
Step 1: Make the graham cracker crust (up to 2 days in advance)
In a bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs with the cinnamon and butter. Combine very thoroughly with a rubber spatula. Then, will either 2 sharing-sized pie pans or one large (9-inch) pie pan with the crumbs. With a flat-bottomed vessel (I used a water glass), firmly press the crumbs onto the rim of the dish.
Continue pressing until the edges are about 1/4″ thick and the bottom is firmly packed. If should look something like this:
Transfer to the refrigerator to cool. If you are making this a few days in advance, cover it loosely in plastic wrap. Remove the plastic wrap before step 2.
Step 2: Make the filling
Preheat your oven to 300 F.
If you haven’t already done so, get the zest from the limes using a microplane and juice them.
Separate the egg yolks and place them into a large bowl. Reserve the whites for another use.* Add the condensed milk, zest, and cream. Whisk thoroughly to combine.
Step 3: Add the lime juice and mix carefully
This is the most crucial part of the pie making. It requires the most amount of skill.
Do not over-mix this once you add the juice. Do not think about using a blender, stand mixer, hand mixer, or anything other than a plain old-fashioned whisk. Whisk carefully. You need the mixture to be homogenous. But if you over-mix this filling once you add the juice, you’ll get a soupy mess instead of a dense, sexy pie.
The mixture will thicken as you incorporate the juice. This is a good thing. As soon as you don’t see any watery traces of the lime juice left. Stop mixing. Just walk away. Do it.
Step 4: Fill pie crusts, then bake at 300 F.
This part is easy, because you haven’t over-mixed your filling (right?) Fill the pie shells evenly to the top and give the pies a gentle shake to even out the mixture. If you have one 9-inch pie shell, this mixture should perfectly fill one pie.
Bake for 16-20 minutes on a sheet tray. I always check after 16 minutes. To test if the mixture is done, give the sheet tray a shake. The filling should jiggle freely but bounce back to the immediately. If it makes a kind a wobbly motion and looks like it wants to spill over the sides of the pan, give it a few more minutes.
Let it cool to room temperature, then cool completely in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
I served it with a whipped cream quenelle (don’t know what that is? look it up) and a few gratings of fresh lime zest, but you can use whatever you like. A spoon is always a good idea. I would suggest a spoon.
* #nerdalert: When separating eggs to use in recipes, it is often imperative to keep any trace of yolk out of the white, especially if you will be whipping the whites (I talk more about it in my nerdalert in my marshmallow fluff recipe. When using yolks in a recipe, however, usually having a little extra white in there won’t hurt. Do your best to keep the whites out of the yolk, but don’t have the anal-retentive tendencies that you must have while separating egg whites.