When it comes to the best key lime pie recipes, I have fond memories of one in particular—and, of course, it dates back to middle school. The Olive Garden was home to my younger self’s peak-pie indulgences. Sure dinner was fine, but what I couldn’t wait for was dessert: a slice of black tie mousse cake and one of key lime pie. Piled high with whipped cream, the latter was a true pièce de résistance. While I couldn’t tell you what actually went into the dreamy-delicious pies of my youth, there’s one thing I know for sure: My discerning dessert palette has only evolved over the years.
With summer in full swing, my dessert cravings lean bright, zingy, and full of zest. Sweets that are refreshing at the end of a meal but still satisfy the need for a little treat. The best key lime pie recipe checks all the boxes of a stellar summer dessert. It’s one that celebrates the season and will keep everyone lingering around the table a little while longer. To confirm once and for all what constitutes the best key lime pie, I was more than a little excited to put a few recipes to the bake-off test.
Rules of the Road
Normally, this is where I tell y’all that all recipes are followed exactly as written without any adjustments for personal taste or flavor preferences. This is still true, but for this particular bake-off, I made a half-serving of every recipe instead of a full pie (my pie-loving heart does have its limits!). I used a scale to weigh out the halves to ensure accuracy when baking. Just trying to minimize food waste over here! All pies were baked the night prior and tasted the next day.
My team of seven taste testers all aligned on the following guidelines when ranking each of the pies.
- Filling Flavor. Bright and zesty without being too acidic or sweet. Lime should be forward but not overwhelming.
- Filling Texture. Creamy and smooth, not too dense but firm enough to hold its shape.
- Crust Texture. Should add a nice crunch without detracting from the pie.
Most key lime pie recipes only call for a handful of ingredients. Limes, condensed milk, and egg yolks. Because of this, seeing slight variations in quantities or additional ingredients added to the subtle distinctions that made each recipe stand out.
Now for the best part! Keep scrolling to discover which recipe reigned supreme in our Key Lime Pie Bake-Off.
When I first tried this recipe, I had to go back and double-check that I hadn’t missed something, which usually isn’t a great start. The nice part of this contender for the best key lime pie recipe is that it’s almost entirely no-bake. The graham cracker crust is baked and then filled and frozen. The rest of it, however, we had a few issues with.
First, I had a few taste testers who weren’t so keen on the raw egg yolk situation. While there are some traditionalists who insist key lime pies be made with the uncooked filling, my team was unanimously anti-raw eggs. This also impacted the flavor as some noted it was a little eggy.
The biggest issue, however, was the texture. The recipe notes setting the pie out ahead of slicing so that you can slice through, but the pie basically melted within 30 minutes (not ideal!). Overall, I like the novelty of a frozen pie, but we had a few structural qualms with this one. If you try it, eat it straight out of the freezer to ensure a solid pie.
Our notes on this pie were actually pretty positive and everyone enjoyed their slices. The pie filling flavors were very well-balanced without being too sweet, and the taste of lime was nice as well. There was some debate about whether the meringue topping was really needed. While the salted vanilla meringue was tasty, most taste testers preferred a whipped cream topping to the meringue.
As the person who assembled every single recipe, I thought it was a lot of extra effort and dishes to make meringue when whipped cream would have been perfectly fine. (Though it was a great way to use up the leftover egg whites from using only yolks in the filling!) In the end, this pie recipe was good, but some of the other recipes edged it out on technicalities.
To be clear: this is a really good key lime pie recipe. However, I have to admit that I was skeptical when I discovered that it doesn’t use lime zest and includes vanilla in the filling. But upon further consideration (and more intentional tasting), I found that the vanilla adds a lovely, almost floral savoriness to the filling.
Taste testers noted that this one leaned on the slightly-sweeter side, but it did satisfy the group’s many sweet teeth. My testers who weren’t fans of key lime pie enjoyed this one the most as well. However, I think the lack of lime zest does make a difference in the flavor. If you really want to punch up the limey-ness, mix it into the filling. The texture was incredibly smooth and overall, this made for a pretty good pie.
This key lime pie had all the makings of a classic and earned very high marks. The recipe combines Miette’s homemade graham crackers with Martha Stewart’s Key Lime Pie Filling mixed together in one pie pan. I’ll admit, this was my first thought: Do we really need to make homemade graham crackers when it’s so easy (and convenient!) to buy a box? However, the homemade crackers give the crust a noticeable textural difference. Yes it’s extra effort, so you have my permission to use store-bought crackers. When it came to the final judging, we loved the filling’s zingy, lime-filled flavor. And with this pie’s creamy texture, we were all fast fans.
Drumroll please… this might be one of the best key lime pies I’ve ever had. But I’ll admit: I was skeptical at first because of the coconut milk added to the filling. I knew the flavor would work well, but I didn’t know if it would be too overpowering when paired with the limes. However, the coconut milk acted as a nice sweet base that helped temper the lime and kept it from being too acidic.
Some tasters couldn’t even tell there was coconut milk in the filling! The lime flavor was upfront without being overwhelming, and the one thing I noticed after baking every single pie was that Adriana’s recipe is the only one that calls for salt in the filling. That makes a difference in terms of bringing out the flavors. The texture was absolute perfection in its thick creaminess, and it was the one pie that all of my taste testers ate in its entirety. Run, don’t walk to make this pie.
This post was originally published on June 9th, 2022, and has since been updated.