Revamp Your Key Lime Pie Recipe With These 7 Upgrades

Pick and choose from these exciting upgrades to take this popular summer dessert to the next level.

Key Lime Pie. Citrus pie with meringue
Photo: Anjelika Gretskaia/Getty Images

If there's one dessert that can instantly give off sunny vacation vibes, it's key lime pie. Perhaps because of its immediate association with Florida, specifically Key West where this pie originated. It consists of a crust made from graham crackers or pastry crust, a custard made with egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, and key lime juice, and is usually topped with whipped cream or meringue.

This crowd-favorite custard pie is creamy, tart, and sweet, and as the name suggests, requires one coveted ingredient: key limes. Key limes are not the familiar, deep green fruit commonly found at supermarkets, instead, they're smaller, yellowish, and very tart. These specialty limes with floral notes are no longer commercially grown in the Florida Keys, but imported key limes can be found at grocers if you're lucky. Often it's bottled key lime juice that's used for this luscious dessert. But fret not, the zest and juice of standard Persian limes, those found at supermarkets, will do just fine. This decadent and bright dessert is perfect for summer gatherings and these seven upgrades to your favorite key lime pie recipe are guaranteed to surprise and delight.

01 of 07

Use Brown Butter

This upgrade couldn't be easier. Whether you're using crushed graham crackers or going for a pastry crust, browning the butter called for in the recipe will enhance your key lime pie without much extra effort. The crust will be nutty and fragrant and give the whole pie an added depth of unexpected flavor.

To brown the butter, heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium and cook, swirling the pan throughout, until the butter is melted and foam forms on the surface. The milk solids will drop to the bottom of the pan and begin to brown. Once the butter smells nutty and you spot solids that are golden brown, remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into a heatproof bowl. The browning happens quickly, so watch the butter carefully to avoid over-browning. If using the brown butter in a pastry crust, you will have to chill until firm to use the butter cold. But if you're doing a graham cracker crust, just let the brown butter cool slightly before mixing it with the rest of the ingredients.

02 of 07

Go Nuts

Make the crust even more flavorful by blitzing nuts, such as macadamia or hazelnuts, along with the flour you'll be using for the crust. Salted and roasted macadamia nuts are a perfect match for the tart sweetness of the custard, while toasted hazelnuts (skins removed) will offer a warm, nutty sweetness. Feel free to also add some ground nuts to crushed graham crackers if that's what you're using for a crust.

03 of 07

Get Creative With the Base

There is no doubt that crushed graham crackers make for a stellar pie crust, but for an unexpected boost, try crushing up Speculoos cookies. They're a crunchy Belgian biscuit made with brown sugar and warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and make for a delightful pairing to the sweetness of a key lime pie. Shopping tip: Biscoff is a popular supermarket brand of these treats. Simply use the Speculoos cookies as you would graham crackers in a recipe.

RELATED: 21 Classic, Delicious Cookie Recipes

04 of 07

Say Yes to White Chocolate

Milky and sweet, white chocolate is sure to elevate any key lime pie. To keep it simple, use it as a garnish instead of mixing it into the crust or stirring it into the filling, which you could do as well, if you wish. For the wow-factor, though, shave feathery bits from a bar of white chocolate using a vegetable peeler and pile it high on top of the pie, or let it land subtly onto the whipped cream topping. Another delicious option is to melt the white chocolate and drizzle it on top.

05 of 07

Go Tropical With Sweetened Condensed Coconut Milk

Sweetened condensed milk is a must in any traditional key lime pie. But why not lean into the tropical mood even more? The sweet flavor of coconut is a match made in heaven for tart key lime pie. Simply swap the sweetened condensed milk called for in a recipe for the naturally dairy-free sweetened condensed coconut milk, and get ready to be transported to a tropical island.

06 of 07

Opt for a Decadent Whipped Topping

For a special touch, take the whipped topping up a notch by adding creamy and rich mascarpone into the whipped cream. Mascarpone is a spreadable Italian cheese similar to cream cheese, and is often used in desserts. The mascarpone-spiked whipped cream will be slightly thicker yet still fluffy, plus an additional perk, besides its decadent flavor, is that it will hold its shape better on top of the pie. It's also a great make-ahead option. To whip it up, whisk about ¾ cup heavy whipping cream to ½ cup mascarpone. Add sweetness to your liking and a dash of vanilla extract, if you'd like, and beat using an electric mixer until the cream holds soft to medium peaks.

RELATED: Heavy Cream, Whipping Cream, or Half-and-Half? Here's What to Use When

07 of 07

Torch It Up

If you've got a kitchen torch, now's the time to dust it off and put it to good use. Piling a billowy cloud of meringue on top of a key lime pie will turn heads in an instant. All you really need are egg whites and sugar to make a meringue topping, plus cream of tartar for bonus points. Cream of tartar just helps to stabilize the meringue. Then swoosh the sweet fluff on top of the pie and use a kitchen torch to toast it. Alternatively, you can use the broiler, but make sure the meringue is completely covering the pie filling so no bits of the custard are exposed. Broil, watching carefully, until lightly browned, about two to three minutes.

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