The Authentic Florida Key Lime Pie (No-Bake)
A few weeks ago I visited the Florida Keys, home of the Key Lime Pie. It such an enormously famous dessert now that its hard to imagine its humble beginnings on a little island off the coast of Florida. Key Lime Pie is indeed a creamy, lime-flavoured pie. I don't think I've eaten a particularly bad one, but there are better ones and I've often found the best Key Lime Pies to be the simplest ones, not a lot of ingredients and quick to make. You're at will to make whatever in whichever way you like, but there are some dishes, like this one, that I consider to be like a historical document, not to be messed around with. It's best to keep it as true to its form in order to appreciate its relevance. There's something wonderful in enjoying a recipe which people have eaten for decades, knowing that you are tasting exactly what they will have tasted. It makes you feel connected to generations before you. It is, as well, the original formula of a dish that perhaps led to it being so well-known, so it's nice to preserve that. That's my prescriptivist view anyways.
The Key Lime Pie uses elusive Key Limes, a special sort of lime native to Central and South America. Key Limes are different to out normal limes (know as Persian limes). Firstly, they are smaller and more yellow. Secondly, their flavour is tangier, a touch more sour and they have a complex, ultra-citrus aroma that's spell-blinding. At one point, key limes were in demand in the UK and you could buy them in large markets and some supermarkets. However, since the noughties, people have forgotten about them and they're pretty hard to locate. You can buy the juice online, which I've found pretty great for key lime pie. It tastes just fine with normal lime juice - though at one point you would have been fined $100 for advertising Key Lime Pie without key lime juice! Fortunately that bill was dropped from Florida law!
You'll be pleased to know this Key Lime Pie isn't a pastry pie, it's made with a biscuit crust. Some Key Lime Pies are pastry-held, which taste lovely, but fishermen and labourers that settled on Key West wouldn't have been skilled pastry-makers. Being a tropical climate, pastry would have been almost impossible to make without refrigeration. The lack of refrigeration also meant fresh dairy spoiled easily. The only form of dairy available to Key Westers were cans of condensed milk.
This Key Lime Pie also isn't a baked pie! Most recipes you find for Key Lime Pie would contain egg yolks and it would be baked for about 15 minutes to set it. Being created at such a primitive time in Key West's development, domestic ovens would have been hard-come by, and given the tropical climate, people avoided that kind of heat. In fact, Key Lime Pie cooks itself. By mixing condensed milk and lime juice, the reaction causes the mixture instantly seize and thicken on its own - no baking required!
Finally, it is good to add a bulking ingredient, and this is where I find the most debate. Some people use cream cheese, some people use whipped double cream, I personally use soured cream. It's not sure whether these products would have been easily stored back then, I imagine they would have thrown in anything they could get their hands on. So you're at liberty to use any - whatever *you* can get your hands on.
KEY LIME PIE
- 300g Digestive Biscuits/Graham Crackers
- 100g Butter
- 5 Limes (or 150ml of Key Lime Juice)
- 400g can of Condensed Milk
- 300ml Soured Cream/Cream Cheese
- 300ml Double Cream
- 2 teaspoons caster sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- Let's start with the crust. Take your 300g of Digestives and crush them to crumbs. You can use a food processor or a freezer bag and a rolling pin. Melt your 100g of butter until liquid and pour into your biscuit crumbs. Stir until you have something like damp sand, that you can press together into clumps. Tip into a pie dish, something roughly 10 inches wide all around. Set in the refrigerator to allow it to set.
- Take a large mixing bowl and add your cream cheese or soured cream and beat gently to get rid of any lumps. Pour in your 400g can of condensed milk and stir until combined.
- Take your 5 limes and zest only 3 of them into the mixing bowl. Then take all of the limes and juice them until you have approximately 150ml of juice. If using bottled Key Lime Juice, simply pour into the mixture. Stir the lime juice into the dairy mixture - you will notice it begin to seize and thicken immediately to a yoghurt-like consistency. Taste the mixture to see how it tastes: it may require some more lime juice if your limes were weak, or a little bit of caster sugar if your limes were very strong and the mixture is too sour. If you're happy with how it tastes, pour into your biscuit-lined pie dish and place in the fridge to set for 3 hours.
- After 3 hours, the pie should be children through and well-set. Take 300ml of double cream and pour it to a mixing bowl. Add two teaspoons of caster sugar and a half-teaspoon of vanilla, then beat it all together until you have soft peaks, like Greek yoghurt. You can simply spread this over the top of the pie, or fill a piping bag and pip swirls around the pie. Whichever way you do it, garnished with slices of lime, slice it up and serve it to your hungries!