Quintessentially laid back

I can’t believe I haven’t yet posted on Key Lime Pie, a favorite of many, including me. Once you’ve had a taste of its tart-sweetness, just thinking about this luscious pie makes your mouth water.

Key Lime Pie

This is a recipe that comes from my cheffing days based out of Florida—where  small, flavorful Key limes are readily available. If not, no worries, just substitute bottled Key lime juice or regular limes. It really doesn’t matter—it’s always good.  For a tropical climate with a laid back attitude, this legendary pie is one that everyone can wrap their minds around.

It’s a curious pie that hasn’t changed much in decades. One of its quirks comes from the inclusion of sweetened condensed milk. The knowledge that acid combined with evaporated milk could yield a thick filling was a boon to those living on the water or in remote locales. No need to fret over fresh milk or cream, and the addition of sugar in the canned milk made it even easier.

Chilled Out 

Still, there are many versions of Key lime pie.  I like to lighten the filling just a bit with a couple of  beaten egg whites.  An optional sour cream topping can introduce an interesting counterpoint to the sweetness of the pie.  Also included, a graham cracker crust alternative that bakes for only three minutes in the microwave.

Most Key lime pie lovers would agree that it is perfectly good morning, noon, or night—anywhere there’s a cool breeze and a little shade.  At times, I’ve been known to get further carried away by making candied lime slices ahead for garnish points. But that’s another story.

Key Lime Pie

1 recipe Graham Cracker Crust, baked (below)
1 – 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand is good)
¼ cup Key lime juice (6 small), bottled Key lime juice, or fresh lime juice
1 tsp grated lime zest
2 eggs, separated
½ tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Optional:  Topping: 1 cup sour cream, ⅓ cup granulated sugar, 1 tsp vanilla; lime slices


  1. Ahead bake the crust. Pre-heat oven to 325-350°F.
  2. For the filling, whisk condensed milk, lime juice and rind in a bowl to blend. Whisk in egg yolks and vanilla until smooth and thick.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the whites until soft peaks form, sprinkle on sugar and continue until stiff. Gently fold into lime mixture.
  4. Pile filling into the pre-baked shell and bake 15 minutes to set; remove to rack to cool while making the topping. If not using, bake a total of 30 minutes.
  5. For topping, gently combine sour cream, sugar, and vanilla and spread over the warm pie. Bake the pie with topping an additional 15 minutes.
  6. Cool and chill well. Slice into wedges and serve with a lime slice. Yield: 8 slices.

Graham Cracker Crust
1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (10-12 graham crackers)
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
⅓ cup melted butter

  1. Spray a 9″ pie plate with cooking spray.
  2.  For the crust, combine ingredients and pat into pie plate; chill for 15 minutes.
  3.  Bake the crust in the microwave for approximately 3 minutes, or in 375°F oven 6-8 minutes, until firm and crisp. Set aside to cool.

The Art of Dulce de Leche

The other day while rummaging around in my larder, I came across a can of sweetened condensed milk that had shifted to its far reaches.  Normally this wouldn’t be reason to break out in a big smile, but it struck me as utterly serendipitous, since I had been thinking about it earlier in the week.

There was a time when I always had one or two cans of Eagle Brand milk on hand.  Back in my Florida days of hanging out in marinas with the live-aboard community, it was regarded as a provisioning staple.  With little else, you always knew you could whip up a quick dessert worthy of company  ̶  Key lime pie, for example.
Eagle Brand Milk

Dulce de leche is a by-product of sweetened condensed milk that all boaters know about because the method couldn’t be simpler.  The sealed can is simmered in boiling water for two to three hours until it is transformed into a lovely caramelized confection.

Compounded by the fact that almost anything tastes better on the water, I suspect I could have smeared dulce de leche on just about anything and would have been happy.  But as intriguing as it sounded, I was more fearful of blowing up the boat and becoming lost at sea than zoning out on dulce de leche, and I never quite reached that level of distraction.

I certainly have thought about making it since, but the apprehension has remained.  So nothing could have been more co-incidental than reading a couple of different references to David Lebovitz’s baked dulce de lecheand then happily discovering a can of the sweet stuff adrift in my cupboard.

It’s difficult to read anything by David and not get swept up in his seductive prose, which is often in contrast to his straight forward approach. His preparation could not be easier: bake the contents of a can of sweetened condensed milk in a water bath for just over an hour.  David promises positive results without the cataclysmic two to three hours of sweaty hovering.

Granted, I am such a pushover I could eat sweetened condensed milk straight out of the can  ̶  without any further cooking, but the dulce de leche is as good as David claims.  The process is angst-free and and the toasty, nutty, caramelization makes it well worth the effort.  dulce de leche

I’ve since learned that one 14 oz. can does not yield much when reduced: perhaps one cup.  If you sample it at all, there goes the cup.  Next time, I will make a double batch, for sure.  Also, know that it sets up as it cools.  Store it covered in the refrigerator and simply warm it until spreadable  ̶  or dipable.  Use it anywhere you would a caramel sauce or dulce de leche.  If you are like David, you’ll want to try a little on your day-old baguette with your café au lait.

Dulce de Leche or Confiture de Lait

Adapted from David Lebovitz, The Perfect Scoop

14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
pinch of flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425° F.

  1. Pour 14-oz. can of sweetened condensed milk into a glass pie plate or shallow baking dish. Stir in a few flecks of sea salt.
  2. Set the pie plate within a larger pan, such as a roasting pan, and add hot water until it reaches halfway up the side of the pie plate.
  3. Cover the pie plate snugly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 to 1¼ hours. (Check a few times during baking and add more water to the roasting pan as necessary). Once the dulce de leche is nicely browned and caramelized, remove it the oven and let cool.  When cool, whisk until smooth.

Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Warm gently in a warm water bath or microwave oven before using.  Yield: about 1 cup.