Not Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie

posted in: Desserts, Pies, Recipes | 23

me (not Steve) grating zest into a not-so-authentic crust

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve nothing against the venerable institution that is Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies. There is no contest — key lime pie greatness has been said for, and I couldn’t tell you of a better way to spend an afternoon than to go down to the waterfront in Red Hook and sit on the picnic table outside the old warehouse where the key lime pie magic happens and pet one or two of the dogs hanging around in the shade as you kill your afternoon appetite with a 4-inch pie, or better yet, one dipped in dark chocolate on a stick, called a Swingle. But for the home chef, there is nothing like the pride of making a pie that tastes almost as good as Steve Tarpin’s. And I’ll speak to that.

There are a few reasons why this version is decidedly not Steve’s recipe. The most obvious is that it’s not made with real key lime juice. I’m hard pressed to find one of these distinctly tart cousins to the common Persian lime that we use to spike our marinades and top our tonics with around here. I can understand why — have key limes graced any recipe besides that of its infamous pie? It just wouldn’t make sense to stock it at any Northeast grocery store in its right mind.

The second rule about not making Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie was not doing the no-bake, just chill-and-set custard method. I’ve tried this in the past and gotten varying degrees of mush; for one reason or another, the custard never quite gelled. So I’m following the directions of most of the key lime pie recipes I’d found in magazines and online recipes and baked mine for 15 minutes before chilling it overnight. This turned out a success at first attempt.

The third rule, and it’s certainly just an option, is sprinkling zest into the homemade pie crust mixture just to reinforce the lime flavor a little. I highly recommend baking your own graham cracker crust, as it tastes so much fresher and butterier than the flat, cardboard-like store-bought ones. And there you have it: a simple, fresh, crowd-pleasing pie unlike that of its declared master and still, in my opinion, pretty darn good. I suppose I shouldn’t get any points for decorating though, since it could have done without the stupid zest swirl I placed on top of the pie (stupid because when serving, everyone just had to move it over each time they cut themselves a slice, not because it wasn’t beautiful-looking).

patting your own crust into a pie dish is easier said than done — but still only took about 5 minutes

Not Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie
(makes 1 9-inch pie)

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 Tb unsalted butter, melted
1 Tb sugar
2 tsp lime zest
4 egg yolks
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (preferably from key limes, if you can find them)

To make the crust, combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and lime zest thoroughly in a bowl. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Press crumb mixture into the bottom of a pie pan with a spatula or the back of a spoon to make a somewhat even crust. Bake for 6-8 minutes, remove and let cool completely before filling.

Very gently beat egg yolks with a fork or whisk (without beating in any air). Stir in sweetened condensed milk until completely blended, and stir in lime juice just until mixture is a smooth consistency. Pour into pie pan with crust and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove, let cool completely and chill for several hours before serving.

Cost Calculator
(for about 8 servings)

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (1/3 of a $2.99 box): $1.00
5 Tb butter (at $3.50/8 oz): $0.90
4 egg yolks (at $3/dozen): $0.50
1 can sweetened condensed milk: $1.59
1 Tb sugar: $0.03

Total: $4.02

Health Factor

Seven brownie points: Key lime pie is a very classic custard encased in buttery graham crackers. Its lime juice offers some Vitamin C, and I find that its intensity and creaminess help fill me up pretty quickly after one slice — just like any good dessert should.

23 Responses

  1. Deborah Dowd

    I love key lime pie (where can I get a swingle!!), and I love your twist of grating rind into the crust. Even if it is not Steve’s, your version sounds like a perfect end to a summer meal!

  2. rachel

    It looks great. Oddly, here in Baltimore, we frequently have key limes-both at our local HMart and whole foods.

  3. martha

    I’ve been reading for a while but haven’t commented before now. I felt compelled to share that I’ve never thought of patting a graham cracker crust with anything other than my own fingers – I can’t imagine how difficult it would be with a spatula or spoon since it’s so dependent (for me, at least) on feeling the thickness of the crust and slowly pushing it up the sides of the pie plate….

    I think I may have to try this recipe this weekend though – I’ve always wanted to make key lime pie. I think that the limes at our local bodega are somewhere between regular limes and key limes – mmmm I’m hungry for this now.

  4. amanda rae

    This reminds me that I have a bottle of Key lime juice bought on a trip there last year…finally, I’m inspired!

  5. cathy

    Please excuse the problem I’m having with italics — ah heck, who cares? —
    Deborah, come on down to Red Hook, that’s where, and let me know when you’re here!
    Rachel: that’s amazing. I wonder if it’s a seasonal item, perhaps?
    Martha and Amanda Rae — thanks!!

  6. Kara

    The pie looks absolutely perfect and you’ve made my mouth water. But good heavens! 15 minutes to get a crumb crust patted into the pan? I’m just dying to know how you did it that would take so much time. I honestly don’t mean to sound snide or offensive, so I hope you don’t take it that way. I’m genuinely curious. Because my experience with graham cracker crust has been that it can’t take more than 7 minutes, start to finish. Put the crackers in a plastic bag, crush them with a rolling pin. Melt the butter, put it in a bowl with the cracker crumbs, add the sugar. Toss it together. Dump it in the pan. Pat, pat, pat until it sticks together. Even out the thickness and the side coverage. Nothin to it!

  7. cathy

    Hi Kara — Actually, it says 5 minutes was all it took me, and I agree, 15 would be pretty ridiculous! But that’s a great idea about crushing the graham cracker crumbs yourself–I managed to find a box of just the crumbs and used that for this one, though.

  8. Stacy

    Thank you for the inspiration! I made the pie this weekend and it was great. I doubled the recipe and made a monster pie and while the crust was a touch thick it was still fabulous. I also did a quick meringue (sp?) with the egg whites that were left over which was fun and festive. (And man the pie took a lot of those key limes. They are so little!!!)

  9. anna

    I made the delicious pie for a wedding last week. It was a total hit. Voilà the result:

  10. hiutopor


    Very interesting information! Thanks!


  11. Josh

    When fresh key limes are not available I find that the best alternative is Joe and Nellie’s Key Lime juice. Most supermarkets carry it. I also like to make whipped cream to top it with instead of meringue.

  12. Jack

    I made the pie this afternoon for a bbq this evening. It’s chilling in the fridge now, and I can’t wait to cut into it!

    BTW, I found key limes (via Mexico 🙂 at the local farmer’s market for only 38 cents a pound – much cheaper than I expected. It took about a pound and a half to get a half cup of juice, but it was fun making this pie.

  13. KeylimeSteve

    What a compliment Cathy, thanks for the reference, and don’t downplay the results by making a comparison to my pies. The fresh egg yolks and zest in the crust could easily compensate for the use of Persian limes. I always recommend using FRESH Persians when key limes are not available (not a plug, but we sell them here at the bakery). Bottled juice is highly recommended when stripping paint or removing rust, NOT in food. I also agree with Martha, all of our 10″ pie crusts are hand (finger) made.

    By the way, I get requests for KLP recipes all the time, if you don’t mind I’d like to include this URL when replying. Again, thanks much, say hello next time you’re here and next time you’re in the mood to make another one, the key limes are on me.

  14. Anna Banana

    Steve’s Key Lime Pie! You haven’t really eaten Key Lime Pie until you have eaten “The World’s Greatest Key Lime Pie”, at Kutchie Pelaez’s “Kutchie’s Key West Kutcharitaville Cafe.”…Google Kutchie’s Key West. See what I’m talking about. Key Lime Pie just doesn’t get any better than Kutchie’s World Award Winning Key Lime Pies. My family has been eating Kutchie’s Key Lime Pies for Over 30 years. Now that’s saying something. God Bless You Kutchie, keep-it up. Love and Kisses.

    ….Anna Banana


    I just took my Key Lime Pie out of the oven and am waiting for it to cool before I chill it for dinner later tonight. I tasted the batter just before I folded it into the pie crust and it was unbelievable!!
    While shopping at the store I was able to get real Key Limes so I obviously tweeked that and used just under than 1/2 cup of juice with some advice from a friend about the tartness of the keylime.
    I also bought the store-made pie crust but to increase the taste, I melted butter and whipped an egg white and brushed them both on the crust, including some key lime zest from your original recipe, and baked just the crust for 6 min on 375 and let cool before adding the mixture.
    Im sure, because of your help, my family and friends will enjoy the finale to our meal tonight. Thank you!

  16. Darryl

    @ NOLA IS HOME, how did that melted butter adn ess white work on that crust? I may want to try that.

  17. Darryl

    haha a couple of typos, I meant “and” / “egg white”

  18. Nina

    I just made this pie, I am not a baker but I am a broke pregnant woman sick of paying 6 dollars for a small slice. I have to stress I don’t bake well and was able to make this and it was delicious! The crust and filling were so easy and tasty. The only thing I did differently was add a little more lime juice because I am craving tart pies, the pie actually is not overly tart with a little more than half a cup of line juice. I also didn’t put sugar in the crust because I forgot but I don’t miss it at all. I actually feel like the sugar would make it too sweet. Again great recipe thanks!

  19. Brother Stallone

    How can we be sure in a world that’s constantly changing, where to get our key lime pies? Well the Lovely and Beautiful, Sexy and Sassy, Gracious and Extremely Talented, just the Sweetest Little Darling you could imagine. The Fine Lady that bakes the Country’s Favorite Key Lime Pies Mrs. Anita Pelaez who along with her Loving Husband Mr. Kutchie Pelaez together the Finest Husband and Wife Working Partner Team in the Country. I am sure that they would be more than happy to bake one for you. You can find the Loving Couple in Asheville, NC. Near the Biltmore House at their Anita’s & Kutchie’s Key West-Key Lime Pie Factory & Grill. Where the Hearts and the Ovens are always warm and waiting just for you and your family. The Smiles are Epidemic around they’re Sweetest Place on Earth. The Tastes of Paradise and Heaven. You deserve the Best and Thank God that Anita and Kutchie are together working Hand in Hand and Side by Side baking you The Best of The Best. Please don’t miss them. And that is something you can be sure of in this constantly changing world.

  20. Lorno Fraizer

    \OH\, Anita Pelaez and That Fine Young Ass That I Would Just Love To Drill That Little Hole In It…And \OH\, The Magic Of Anita’s Key Lime Pies To!…How Yummy Are Those Too!…I’ll Just Hush My Mouth Before I Stick My Foot In It.

  21. Lorno Fraizer

    There was a time when A True Original Key Lime Pie Was Only Prepared With True Key Lime Juice, It Was A Time When Staying True Meant More Than Just Trying To Stay Ahead Of Your Competition, Ahead Of The Quick To Profit Operators That Seem To Continually Perpetuate The Market Place With False Hopes And Promises….Well That Very Time We Are Discussing Happens To Be Now!..”AH”, YES, It’s That Magic Of Lovely And Wonderful Mrs. Anita Pelaez And Her Loving Husband Mr. Kutchie Pelaez….Both Of Whom Together Own And Operate The Legendary “Kutcharitaville Key Lime Pie Factory And Grille’, Conveniently Located Near The Biltmore House and Estate In Beautiful Asheville, N.C…..”AH” Yes, No Body Does It Better Than Mrs. Anita And Captain Kutchie Pelaez….It’s Like When Captain Kutch Told His Loving Wife, The Pretty Mrs. Anita,….”We’re Gettin The Band Back Together! Well, That’s Not Some Shot In The Dark!…Anita and Kutchie Are The Hottest Two Names In The Food Business! For Crying Out Loud, America’s Favorite Key Lime Pies, The World’s First Original “Cheese Burgers In Paradise! ” Who Could Ask For Anything More?…

  22. Jan Marie

    It just doesn’t get any
    better than seeing the gorgeous “Mrs. Anita Pelaez” over at her and her
    husband “Captain Kutchie’s” place..Some Folks Also Call Him..”The
    KutchMan others call him The Kutchmon!”…Most Just Call Him “The Most
    Interesting Man In The World”….(Anita and Kutchie Pelaez’s Key West, Key
    Lime Pie Factory and Grill)…Just watching the lovely couple baking together all those Yummy
    Key Lime Pies at their Key Lime Pie Factory and Grill in Asheville.
    …It’s always worth the trip to visit them in they’re Historic Key Lime
    Pie Factory and Grill…It should be on everyone’s bucket list for
    sure..And The World’s Best Key Lime Pies!..YUM-YUM-YUM….­­.”Talk About
    World Class” What An Understatement!…….AA­­HHHHH!….The Magic Of The
    Lovely..”Mrs. Anita Pelaez” And Her Delicious Key Lime Pies Baked With
    Pure Love…Always……40 Years And They’re Still Going Strong….

    ….May GOD Continue Blessing “Anita And Kutchie Pelaez” and They’re World
    Famous Key Lime Pie Factory And Grill Where The Personalities, Ovens And
    Smiles Are Always Warm And Inviting. “Kutcharitaville” You’re The Best We Love You!….

    …Now You Know Who Is The Hottest!…And Baby Let Me Tell You, Mrs. Anita Is No Act…She’s The Real Thing Baby!…

    ….Located Near The Biltmore House And Estate…..
    ….Who Could Ask For Anything More?…Anita’s Key Lime Pie…(Hell Yes!)

  23. Patti Salmon

    The infamous “Captain Kutchie Pelaez”.! That’s it!! I just got it!…It just popped into my head, right-out of the blue!
    I can’t believe that we have all been so stupid for the past 20 or so years about something that was right in front of our noses. Elder, you hit the nail on the head! Can’t you all see it?..Elder called the mystery key lime pie man “The Infamous Captain Kutchie Pelaez”. Can all of you Morons see it now? It’s just Brilliant, just Brilliant Elder. Elder called Kutchie Pelaez…..”The INfamous Captain Kutchie Pelaez”!!!..INFAMOUS! That’s It!!! INFAMOUS, INFAMOUS Means
    More than FAMOUS!

    Captain Kutchie Pelaez is MORE than FAMOUS, He’s more than famous, he is INFAMOUS! And that’s pretty DAMN SMART if you ask me. HELL, that’s “INSMART”. Captain Kutchie Pelaez is more than FAMOUS, Captain Kutchie Pelaez is MORE THAN SMART!….Pardon all the dots, no they’re not some kind of secret code or anything that I know of.

    The One really Big Thing that none of these crazy posts ever comments about are The Million’s of Dollars that the Infamous Captain Kutchie Pelaez gives away to his lucky Prime Rib eaters every month. We usually only hear about his famous cheese burgers in paradise but the man’s Prime Ribs in Swamp Water are the best thing that I have ever put in my mouth! The finest Prime Ribs this side of Heaven, they will melt in your mouth. Our whole family goes over to Kutcharitaville at least twice a week for Captain Kutchie’s amazing Prime Ribs. Also we can enter the contest for the monthly million dollar give away every month. My cousin won a million dollars last year. His wife won a new Jaguar car
    two months later. I won a car before Christmas and you talk about nice. It was INNICE!…that means it was more than nice.
    Y’all keep eating at Captain Kutchie’s and keep you’re fingers crossed whenever you enjoy Kutchie’s World Famous Roast Prime Ribs of Beef and Key Lime Pie and just maybe, if you’re lucky you might win yourself a cool Million Dollars!

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