The truth hurts

I feel like I’ve just found out Santa Clause isn’t real. You should probably sit down before I tell you this.

Did you know that most (seriously, it’s basically ALL) key lime pies are made with bottled key lime juice? Even the ones in Florida!!!!!!

It’s like finding out Friends is really shot in LA, and NOT New York. It’s like when my brother found out he was year of the rabbit, and not year of the dragon, apparently a very hard time for him. Just think of something that you used to believe in and when you found out the truth, it was devastating, totally changed your view on the world, and you will be where I am now.

I have been talking about making key lime pie for about a week. I researched recipes on the internet for about 10 minutes, selected the best recipe (my criteria being how many tablespoons of butter go into the crust; I went with 7 tablespoons, versus 5 or 6), and set out to buy ingredients. The sweetened condensed milk and graham crackers were obviously a piece of cake. I knew that the key limes would be the tricky component, but I’d seen them at Whole Foods before. The Tribeca store didn’t have them. The Columbus Circle store didn’t have them, with no estimate of when they would get any. I called Gourmet Garage, Food Emporium. They also did not have any. I was so dismayed. My dreams of key lime pie up in smoke. My last resort: a plea to Facebook friends for any knowledge they had of key lime availability in the city.

That’s how I found out. My pastry chef friend Stephanie messaged me with the following:

Stephanie Jayne Shaiken Buy the key lime juice in the bottle, otherwise ull pay a small fortune for enough tiny limes to make enough juice 🙂

Okay, I thought to myself, if Stephanie says it’s okay, then I can do that! But then I had a thought: if a pastry chef is saying real key limes are too expensive, and to use the bottled stuff, is this a common practice? Not quite wanting to know the answer, and not really fully ready to accept this truth, I took our conversation offline, and texted her, asking if the pies in restaurants were made from bottled juice. This was her response:Yes, even in Key West.


Do you know that last summer on our road trip through the south, we drove through the pan-handle of Florida, and I was NOT going to leave Florida without key lime pie. It comes from there! I had to introduce Mike to one of the best things out of Florida besides Mickey Mouse. We made a special stop at a pie shop just for key lime pie, and I relished every bite, imagining how fresh the key limes were when they were squeezed into my pie, humming “Key Lime Pie” by Kenny Chesney in my head. Which, incidentally, I’m not 100% sure is about actual key lime pie, but that’s besides the point.

So as any millennial would do, I took the internet. I found this site: and did some reading. Most key limes these days come from Mexico!

So I dug deep, returned to Whole Foods, and bought the key lime juice. Damn it, I was going to have key lime pie.

And one final question – if the use of bottled key lime juice is so common, why didn’t ANY of the recipes I looked at mention that? I mean, come on Saveur and Bon Appetit! This is vital information one should know! It would have saved me a couple trips to Whole Foods, and probably would have softened the blow on this news.

So here’s the recipe. I checked through a bunch of them, and they are all about the same. I made minor changes to this one from, but also consulted a different recipe from Saveur, and of course the always reliable Mark Bittman. The variable that changes the most from recipe to recipe is the amount of butter in the crust. Obviously I picked the one with the most butter!

For the crust:
7 tbsp. butter, melted
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
(about 10 crackers)
3 tbsp. sugar

For the filling:
4 pasteurized egg yolks
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup key lime juice (8–10 key limes)  <—– see? No mention of the bottled stuff

1. For the crust: Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 9″ glass pie plate with some of the melted butter, and set aside. Combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and remaining melted butter in a medium mixing bowl; then transfer to prepared pie plate. Spread crumbs evenly on bottom and up the side of the pie plate; then, using your fingertips, firmly press down on crumbs to form a crust. Bake crust until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Remove crust from oven, and set on a wire rack to let cool to room temperature.

2. For the filling: Briefly whisk egg yolks in a large mixing bowl; then gradually add condensed milk, whisking until smooth. Add lime juice, and mix until just combined.

3. Pour filling into prepared crust (filling will thicken as it sits). Bake for about 10 minutes. Take pie out, let cool, and then cover pie with plastic wrap, being careful not to let it touch the surface of the filling, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 6 hours or overnight.

I also skipped the traditional meringue. More space in my tummy for key lime.


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