Labor Day

Labor Day, We Give You 10-Minute Lime Cracker Pie

August 29, 2018

Every Wednesday this August, we’re giving you sneak peeks of some of the most gloriously summery recipes in our almost-born cookbook Genius Desserts. (You can order your signed copy now to get your mitts on the rest when the book drops September 4th!)

Sometimes you want to throw yourself into baking a beautiful, elegant dessert. And sometimes you want a big payoff with a much more casual level of investment. (Genius Desserts—landing on Earth in 6 days!—has lots of both, for all your moods and seasons.)

I would argue that when it’s 89 degrees in August—and especially when it’s Labor Day weekend and you’re doing cannonballs and otherwise having your last hurrahs of summer—you want the latter, to do as little as possible to get a happy dessert. (This, in part, explains s’mores.)

Extra points go to the desserts you can make in any poorly-stocked kitchen, with any amount of ramshackle equipment. In the heroic case of J. Kenji López-Alt’s Ten-Minute Lime Cracker Pie, you could get by nothing more than a fork, knife, bowl, and some sort of serving caddy.

This icebox-style cakey-pie recipe, like a majority of those in Genius Desserts and its big sister Genius Recipes, came my way thanks to one of you. The Food52er formerly known as Trucster (currently known as Frank Ball) sent me the following very thoughtful note back in 2012, basically doing 90% of my homework for me:

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This is a genius variation on the traditional condensed milk key lime pie. It avoids the crust issue and neatly sidesteps the raw egg quagmire. Best, it tastes stunningly new and good -- and really does take only 10 minutes. Genius!

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Top Comment:
“Lime Charlotte, inspired on the french dessert Pear Charlotte, but since there are many limes in mexico, Nestle made it popular decades ago and it's a very humble , easy and delicious recipe from mexico. ”
— Alma

Trucster, aka Frank Ball, July 2012

All that was left was to learn more of the backstory from Kenji, try it for myself, and observe the magic that happens when you stir a bunch of acidic lime juice into cream and sweetened condensed milk. It all thickens immediately, essentially making a custard while saving you the work and the quagmire, as Frank says, of dealing with eggs and cooking—all that stuff that sometimes we really want to do, but right now, not at all, thanks, and please pass the hot dogs. Below is the story and recipe straight from Genius Desserts—thank you to both Kenji and Frank for making that possible.

Genius Desserts Sneak Peek!

J. Kenji López-Alt’s Ten-Minute Lime Cracker Pie

This icebox cake has the spirit of a Key lime pie and can be layered up in 10 minutes (if you’re not too precious about lining things neatly), then sent to the refrigerator to meld into a glorious tart-sweet-creamy-cakey pudding. But it has a salty secret: its structure comes from Ritz crackers.

A recipe this slapdash is a bit unusual coming from J. Kenji López-Alt, Serious Eats’ Food Lab columnist-wizard who famously published a 21-ingredient meatloaf recipe, including gelatin, Marmite, anchovies, and soy sauce. But smart kitchen hacks are smart kitchen hacks. This one comes by way of his wife, Adriana, who learned it from her aunt Gloria in Colombia, though there they use Ducales, a local buttery cracker, instead.

This is not the first time we’ve seen Ritz tiptoe into a dessert—the original Mock Apple Pie, a Depression-era invention, was crackers masquerading as apple slices when the fruit was unavailable or too expensive. But it does serve as a good excuse for a PSA: (almost) anything can be an icebox cake. You can use any dry, crunchy cookie-like thing, store-bought or homemade. Excellent contenders include crispy chocolate chip cookies like Tate’s, graham crackers, brown-sugary Biscoff cookies, and now (insert your favorite salty cracker here).

Photos by James Ransom

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to Trucster/Frank Ball for this one!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kelsie
  • mikael
  • HalfPint
  • Mary Rice
    Mary Rice
  • Kayley Meredith
    Kayley Meredith
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Kelsie September 2, 2018
Do you think orange zest and juice would work? To make a creamsicle ice box cake?
Kristen M. September 2, 2018
Oranges don't have as much acid to thicken the cream and condensed milk, so you might need to whip more and/or add in some lemon or lime juice to help out (and balance the sweetness), but seems like you'll get something delicious no matter what!
mikael August 30, 2018
ok so y'all need to come camping with us!! we bring the dutch oven and its ON!! Paella, Biscuits & gravy, stuffed shells and YES COCKTAILS!!! So love food52!~
Kristen M. September 2, 2018
Love this—you're such a pro!
HalfPint August 29, 2018
I've always loved the Kenji's backstory for this pie. So funny. This also works with Keebler Clubhouse crackers. Really any salty cracker will work.
Mary R. August 29, 2018
Can I use bottled lime juice?
Kristen M. August 29, 2018
Hi Mary, fresh limes are best if you can find them, but if not, go for it! See my response to Kayley below.
Kayley M. August 29, 2018
Can I substitute bottled lime juice for all but a little of the juice? Limes are hard to find in the rural far north
Kristen M. August 29, 2018
Hi Kayley, yes, if that's all you can get, go for it. I know bottled Key lime juice in particular is a favorite for desserts like this, since Key limes can be so hard to find.
Alma August 29, 2018
This recipe is the Mexican dessert called Carlota de Limon. Lime Charlotte, inspired on the french dessert Pear Charlotte, but since there are many limes in mexico, Nestle made it popular decades ago and it's a very humble , easy and delicious recipe from mexico.
Chris August 29, 2018
Thank you! Good to know, I googled it :)
Kristen M. August 29, 2018
Thank you for letting us know! Seems like it made its way to Colombia to Adriana's aunt Gloria, too, and has morphed a bit and used local crackers wherever it goes.