A Key Lime Treat

Key lime pie has gone from hometown treasure to coast-to-coast favorite.

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Key Lime Pie Dessert

Key lime pie - made with South Florida Key limes, of course - has gone from hometown treasure to coast-to-coast favorite.

The feather-light texture and pleasing sweet-tart flavor make it a popular dessert in both white-linen-tablecloth establishments and neighborhood pubs almost anywhere the limes (or bottles of Key lime juice) are available.

While some call for fresh eggs and others substitute frozen whipped topping or cream cheese - grated lime and cream of tartar sometimes appear as options - the right juice and Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk are the cornerstones of a proper Key lime pie. Those garden-variety supermarket Persian limes don't produce the same result, and Eagle is the undisputed brand of choice among professional chefs as well as home cooks. Eagle Family Foods, in fact, is the company that introduced the product in 1856.

According to legend, about 75 years it made its way to remote South Florida when a shipment of the stuff was sent to the cook who fed crews building the Overseas Highway connecting Florida's mainland with the Keys during the Depression. The cook mixed it with juice from the small yellow limes that flourished locally, and a dessert masterpiece was born.

Naples attorney Larry Ingram's best-liked recipe was handed down by his mother, who took it off the side of a can of Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk years ago. He picks the limes off a tree in his yard.

"With this particular recipe you can make the pie in the traditional way by not adding in more than a 'glop' of the beaten egg whites," he says. "On the other hand, if you like a lighter pie - more like a chiffon filling - you can add more of the beaten egg whites to the egg yolk/condensed milk mixture."

Key Lime Pie I

Ingredients:

4 eggs
1/2-cup Key lime juice
1 can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
8 Tbsp. sugar
1/4-tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 prepared pie shell (regular or graham cracker)

Preparation:

Separate egg yolks from egg whites. Mix can of sweetened condensed milk with egg yolks. Mix Key lime juice with egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk. Gently fold a spoonful or two of meringue (recipe follows) into mixture. (The more meringue you add, the lighter and fluffier the pie filling will be.)

Pour into pre-baked or graham-cracker pie shell.

To make meringue, add cream of tartar to egg whites. Then add vanilla extract. Beat egg whites until mixture begins to foam. Slowly add sugar while continuing to beat egg whites. Beat egg whites until whites stand in "peaks" in beating bowl.

Cover egg mixture in pie shell with meringue and bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until meringue is lightly browned.

- Courtesy of Larry Ingram, Naples, Fla.

Key Lime Pie II

Ingredients:

1 can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
12-ounce container Cool Whip
6 ounces Key lime juice, strained if necessary
1 large graham-cracker pie crust

Preparation:

Mix first three ingredients together. Pour into prepared crust. Some people recommend freezing the pie for 24 hours before serving. Others suggest placing the finished product in the refrigerator for a minimum of four hours.

Note: Nancy Stewart uses four packages (2.1 ounces each) of frozen mini phyllo dough shells in place of a traditional crust. After spooning the pie mixture into the shells, refrigerate the tarts for at least an hour or two. Garnish with raspberries and mint.

- Courtesy of Mrs. Frank White, Eileen Casali, Joan Gokey and Nancy Stewart, all of Naples

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