The key to great Key lime pie? Hold the Key limes

Columnist Tammy Swift recommends using plain, old Persian limes to create an egg-free Key lime pie that's every bit as tart and tasty as one made the traditional way.

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This Key lime pie is made with Greek yogurt and Persian limes.
Tammy Swift / The Forum
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FARGO — I used to view Key lime pie as the “grandma candy” of the dessert world.

It was fine if it was the only pie left on the menu, but it couldn’t hold a candle to real, solid, church-goin’, parade-attendin’, state fair-winnin' pies like Dutch apple or lemon meringue or French silk.

Then again, to be honest, I think I judged this pie solely on its name, envisioning it as a tart filled with whole, unpeeled limes and crumbled piano keys.

That all changed when my sister, Mabel, moved to Florida and introduced her Midwestern siblings to a pie so revered by Floridians that they’ve made it their official state pie.

This made perfect sense after sampling the dessert’s one-two punch of creamy sweetness and citrussy tartness.


It's a pie so light and tangy that you actually crave it in hot weather.

Even more impressive is the recipe, consisting of just a handful of ingredients.

How could something so tasty be so simple? This particular recipe only called for the juice of those aromatic Barbie-sized limes, egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk and a graham cracker crust.

Key limes, native to Malaysia, were probably brought to the Florida Keys by the Spanish as far back as the 1500s.

These Lilliputian limes are a major pain to juice or zest, as they are as tiny and thin-skinned as Joe Pesci's Tommy DeVito . But foodies believe t hey are worth the elbow grease , with their slightly floral aroma and a tart but less acidic taste than the common Persian lime.

I would argue otherwise. In the 1920s, a major hurricane wiped out most of Florida’s commercially raised Key lime trees, so most of the Key limes you buy today come from faraway locales like India, Egypt and Mexico.

Considering the distance these teensy fruits travel, they usually resemble tasteless marbles by the time they hit our produce sections in the Upper Midwest. More than once, I've bought a whole bag of those tiny, rock-hard limes from the grocery store and attempted to juice and zest them.

After going through the whole bag, I only succeeded in zesting my knuckles and producing enough lime juice to make a mojito for an ant.


So unless you have access to fresh Key limes, don’t bother with them.

Of course, shoppers have the option to buy the bottled Key lime juice, although that can be corrosively strong.

For this recipe, I took the advice of Once Upon a Chef blogger Jenn Segal and used Persian limes. These limes produce plenty of juice, are easy to zest and still impart the pie with an intriguing tartness which I’ll argue is comparable to the flavor created by their tiny cousins.

The following recipe is a mashup of Segal’s recipe and the most popular Key lime recipe on

key lime pie.jpg
This Key lime pie is made with Greek yogurt and Persian limes.
Tammy Swift / The Forum

Both versions replace eggs with either Greek yogurt or sour cream, which creates an incredibly smooth, silky texture.

The result is a dessert which more than deserves its moment in the pie world’s limelight.

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Key Lime Pie

1½ cups finely crushed graham cracker crumbs (about 12 whole crackers)
⅓ cup packed light brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Two 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
1 cup (2% or whole milk) Greek yogurt OR 1 cup full-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
¾ cup fresh lime juice
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 to 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon grated lime zest (for topping)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon almond extract
8 to 10 thin lime slices


Preheat oven to 375 degrees and set oven rack in middle position. In a medium bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar and melted butter; stir with a fork first, and then your hands until the mixture is well-combined. Using your fingers and the bottom of a glass or dry measuring cup, press the crumbs firmly into the bottom and up the sides of a deep-dish 9-inch pie pan. The crust should be about ¼-inch thick. (Tip: do the sides first.)
Bake for 10 minutes, until slightly browned. Let crust cool slightly. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.
In large bowl, beat sweetened condensed milk, yogurt or sour cream, lime zest and lime juice. Pour into warm crust. Bake 15 minutes until the filling is almost set; it should wobble a bit. Cool to room temperature for 30 minutes, then chill thoroughly in fridge (about 30 minutes).
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch (which will help the cream stabilize), powdered sugar and almond extract; beat until medium peaks form. Top the pie with whipped cream. Decorate with the lime zest and lime slices. Keep refrigerated and serve cold.

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Tammy Swift, Forum columnist.

Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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