Sunday, May 6, 2012

Original Recipe: Real Food Key Lime Pie

When a wonderful cousin of mine mentioned to me that I should do a version of key lime pie, I immediately knew she was right. Mr. D loves key lime pie and his birthday was just days away, the first in our married life. He told me last year that he'd be really happy with a food gift and I obliged. Now that our lives are entwined, it feels odd to purchase him a gift. He isn't the type to take note of something he would like and sit around not buying it indefinitely - that one would be me. If he finds something he wants and it's befitting the budget and all that, he just goes ahead and gets it! In contrast, I hem and haw about finding the absolute best version of what I seek and pondering how well I can do without it relative to its cost. And yes, I am a revenue management business analyst at my day job. However did you guess?

So instead we went shopping together on his birthday and he picked out his own gift and we got foods he liked that we don't ordinarily purchase, such as asparagus and mushrooms, and made a fantabulous steak dinner. And that's where my dessert aspirations come in.

When I began hunting down a key lime pie recipe, I did my usual search to get a sense of what typical recipes are. Meh. Sweetened condensed milk? We avoid most canned goods as part of minimizing BPA and other known and unknown harmful chemical exposures. This is why we try not to use plastic in the kitchen. We aren't Nazis about it, though. If the only way to have key lime pie is to open a can, then we'll just have it once in a while, and no worries. But...the thing about those kinds of ingredients is that they are rarely the original way something was made. There had to be a way around it.

Unfortunately, I eventually figured out that canned milk is the traditional, original way to make key lime pie. Who knew? This wasn't going to be as easy as I thought. I saw a recipe with a coconut milk base, which looked like a great idea, but I wanted a straight up key lime flavor for this one. So...I decided it was time to improvise. Mr. D was zesting and juicing a pound of itty bitty key limes. I inferred a few ideas and decided to risk making an experimental pie filling even though we were having guests and I wouldn't want to leave even the nicest guest hanging with no birthday pie to enjoy.

Thank goodness it worked just as I had hoped! My primary concern was that the pie would not set up firmly, so I thought I should make a thick pastry cream-type base and include gelatin. According to my husband, the pie would ideally be rather airy, so I folded in whipped egg whites. Most importantly, however, the key lime juice and zest made it taste right. Deciding that sour cream is thick and tangy and delicious, just like the pie should be, I incorporated that as well. I have been constitutionally incapable of not changing something about a recipe for several years, but only recently have I started creating entirely original concoctions. It's a lot of fun.

Yummy, delicious fun.
Real Food Key Lime Pie
2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 t. powdered gelatin (1 envelope)
2 T. cornstarch, arrowroot powder, tapioca starch, or potato starch
1/2 cup plus 3 T. sugar of some kind*
3 eggs, separated
pinch of unrefined salt
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup key lime juice (but I won't tell if you use regular limes)
1 T. key lime zest (same as above)

In a 2-qt. saucepan, whisk together milk, gelatin, starch, and 1/2 cup sugar over medium heat. Bring to a bubble, stirring constantly until thickened, and continue stirring the thickened mixture as it cooks for several more minutes. Remove from heat to cool slightly.

In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks and sour cream together thoroughly with 1 T. sugar. Add about 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly. The idea is not to let chunks of egg cook and get egg pieces in your pie. Yuck. Fortunately this is unlikely since the sour cream is already dispersed in the yolks.

Now add the yolk-sour cream mixture to the saucepan and whisk it thoroughly with the milk mixture. Turn the heat back on medium-low and cook a few more minutes, whisking the entire time. Turn off the heat and let cool again. Stir in key lime juice and zest.

To make a fluffy pie and if you don't mind a little undercooked egg white, whisk egg whites with a pinch of salt to soft peaks in a large mixing bowl. Add 2 T. sugar and whisk to stiff, glossy peaks. With a wide spatula, fold a large dollop of whites into the lime base in the saucepan to lighten. Pour the saucepan contents into the mixing bowl and gently but thoroughly fold it all together. If you prefer to leave this out, I bet you'll still have a fine pie.

Ready to pour
Immediately pour into a pre-baked pie crust. Refrigerate overnight to set. This was not quite set after dinner for dessert, having only been in for about two hours, but it was perfect the next day.

We ate this with strawberry ice cream and strawberry syrup that Mr. D made. However, this is great on its own.

*I personally think non-GMO white sugar is OK to use rarely and in small amounts, but a light coconut/palm sugar is encouraged! The strong taste of truly unrefined cane sugar would not work. I think a mild-flavored honey would do nicely, in which case I suggest using 1-2 T. less and adding it all in with the milk. I have not tested this but plan to the next time I make this pie.

Do you like key lime pie? How do you feel about improvising in the kitchen?

This post is part of Monday Mania, Real Food Wednesday, and Hearth and Soul.


  1. I will give this a try with honey. Sounds delish!

  2. Your key lime pie sounds delicious, and perfect for a birthday meal! It's great you managed to do it without the addition of the sweetened condensed milk and I like the way you added the egg whites.