Genius Recipes

Oh, *That's* What Key Lime Pie Was Missing

One important ingredient—and second-generation pie baker Petra Paredez’s very forgiving recipe.

May 19, 2021

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Founding Editor and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


Seeing a pie topped with a spectacular, toasty-tipped coif of meringue, your first reaction might be: That looks stunning! I would really like…someone else to make it for me. (It’s definitely mine.)

We can do this! (But feel free to make it for us anyway.) Photo by Julia Gartland. Food Stylist: Pearl Jones  Prop Stylist: Ali Slagle.

Meringue pies are mercurial. Meringue pies have rules. Meringue pies are just waiting for you to dedicate a chunk of your day to making a crust and a curd and a fluff, only to see them slowly self-destruct before dinnertime. Or emerge so cloying you abandon your slice for more Ranch Fun Dip instead.

But not Petra Paredez’s meringue pie. It comes equipped with a meringue you won’t undercook or overwhip, a curd that balances the creamy sweet with floral tang, and—maybe most memorably—the subtle-but-emphatic power of more salt than you think should be there.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Substituting a graham cracker crust for the pâte sablée (sweet cold water) crust and using Persian limes does not a key lime pie make. I don't recall meringue topping true key lime pies until the American foodie craze began to pervert basic traditional recipes by the addition of ingredients not available in their original form. To paraphrase Einstein: things should be a simple as possible, but no simpler. A good rule for true key lime pie. I doubtless will enjoy the produce of Ms. Miglore's recipe. Given its sweet/tart contraposition and the use of Persian limes, I would be tempted to present it to my guests as a Margarita Meringue Pie. I'm sure their faces will illuminate with delight and pleasure from the first forkful to the last. Thank you for sharing. ”
— STABEACHER52
Comment

After tasting the pie from Petee’s Pie Company, where Petra is the co-owner and head baker, our co-founder Amanda Hesser sent it my way. “There were no frills—just thoughtful layering of flavor,” Amanda wrote. “Delicious lime curd, not too sweet. And it was topped with a salty—salty!—meringue that was arranged in swirls and lightly toasted. I thought the salty-sweet thing was GENIUS.”

And that was before she knew how simple it is to make at home.

As Petra told me, “The challenge for me was just to make something that was as good as my dad’s—and then make it different.” Her dad’s are sold frozen, also swirled with meringue, at her parents’ business—Mom’s Apple Pie Company in Leesburg, Virginia—where Petra learned how to make and sell great pies.

Like most Key lime pies, the creamy middle in Petra’s is as simple as whisking together sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, and lime juice and zest. But Petra skews hers tart rather than sweet, adding extra lime juice and just enough extra egg yolks to help the curd set. She’s tried Key limes and grocery-store Persian limes, and while both will work, the latter are her favorite. “Perhaps another unpopular opinion, but, yes, I think Persian limes are just as good,” she told me. “And super tasty and less of a pain in the neck to get a lot of juice out of.”(1)

Petra goes with an Italian meringue (egg whites whipped with a hot sugar syrup)—which is more forgiving and stable than French (whipped with not-hot sugar) and Swiss (heated over a double boiler with sugar, then whipped), and is cooked through before it even blops onto the pie. Even if you think you’ve messed it up—in the video above, I actually did a little, letting my fear of overwhipping keep me from full billowing floof—it will be edible and, in fact, delicious.

And you really don’t need to worry about overwhipping it. Petra has discovered that it can rebound, if you just give it a little time. “If you find that you’ve gotten to the point where it’s beyond stiff peaks and it’s a harder foam," she told me, "Just chill, have a glass of wine, and then re-whip it afterwards and find that all is not lost.”

Far from lost, the salty-sweet meringue will keep tugging you forward. And you—not some future someone—will want to make it again and again.

(1) For more about why the Key limes available to most of us aren’t what they used to be, see this informative rant from Stella Parks over on Serious Eats.

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]—thanks to my boss and Key lime pie superfan Amanda Hesser for this one.

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • P Strommer
    P Strommer
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  • STABEACHER52
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    frizz
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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."

35 Comments

P S. August 14, 2021
this is one pie we make several times a year. have a final slice in the fridge now. pretty standard recipe. not a fan of adding meringue- i prefer whipped cream with a little extra lime zest. fun fact: swap the lime/lime zest with lemon/lemon zest and saltines for graham crackers for your crust and you have a killer southern lemon pie.
 
chefrockyrd July 5, 2021
I love real key lime pie and i love lime pie too. And they do taste different. Just like meyer lemons taste different.
We never have it with meringue here in FL. Not saying its not good just different.

A comment I have made here before is that when I was in culinary school 100 years ago (seems like it) we were always taught in pastry class to use a metal like stainless or better - copper to whip egg whites. The metal whisk action against the metal bowl does help to whip them. Many mixers now have glass bowls and although I am sure its clean and dry when you put your whites in, you will get a better whip using metal. Try it. Maybe its an "old chef's tale" but it has always worked for me.
Also- it sounds to me like your kitchen aid has to be adjusted because of the way your whisk attachment was hitting the bowl. Get out the manual and there is an adjustment for that. Or call them. I have had many of them over the years and had to do that occasionally. Keep up the great videos. Looks like you are having fun.
 
STABEACHER52 May 27, 2021
This recipe sounds delicious and I appreciate the innovations it contains. The use of hot syrup rather than granulated (my grandmother's method) or even superfine sugar certainly will prevent the "weeping" of the meringue as it cools. The sweet/tart lime/salt juxtaposition suits my palate and I'll soon make an attempt at this recipe.

However, characterizing this enticing concoction as "Key Lime Pie" is a bit of an overreach. I was born in Key West, grew up in the Deep South of the Florida Panhandle and lived for many years in South Florida. It strikes me that this recipe has more in common with the Lemon Meringue Pie my grandmother would make for Sunday dinner's dessert. Substituting a graham cracker crust for the pâte sablée (sweet cold water) crust and using Persian limes does not a key lime pie make. I don't recall meringue topping true key lime pies until the American foodie craze began to pervert basic traditional recipes by the addition of ingredients not available in their original form. To paraphrase Einstein: things should be a simple as possible, but no simpler. A good rule for true key lime pie.

I doubtless will enjoy the produce of Ms. Miglore's recipe. Given its sweet/tart contraposition and the use of Persian limes, I would be tempted to present it to my guests as a Margarita Meringue Pie. I'm sure their faces will illuminate with delight and pleasure from the first forkful to the last.

Thank you for sharing.

 
Smaug May 27, 2021
Key lime pie is a very old recipe, dating to the 19th century. This filling actually has more in common with the original than most you see today, though I agree that you really need Key limes for it to be Key lime pie. I suppose it's because, other than lime jello, Key lime pie is the only lime dessert with name recognition, people will call all sorts of things Key lime pie. As I say, the recipe is quite old, older than graham crackers, in fact- it was originally made with a standard crust. It also dates from a time when refrigeration was not generally available in the area- probably why the canned milk was used- so whipped cream wouldn't have been an option.
 
frizz May 20, 2021
I watched the video and wondered if the meringue was under-whipped. I've always beat them until the bowl was room temp, and it was much stiffer, bigger, fluffier, and glossier than what was in the video.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 23, 2021
Hi frizz, thanks so much for your note. Yes, it was—I asked Petra and she recommended whipping longer after the syrup went in for a fluffier, less sticky meringue, so I added a tip to the video and recipe. The great thing about this recipe is that the Italian meringue is cooked through and delicious in many forms, even if you don't get quite what you're looking for (and Petra taught me I don't even need to be afraid of over-whipping!).
 
witloof May 20, 2021
Not a meringue fan, so I top my key lime pie with whipped cream. A dollop of raspberry coulis flavored with Meyer lemon zest and orange flower water poured over the slice of pie and then topped with whipped cream is visually stunning.
 
cosmiccook May 20, 2021
Agree w Stella. Last time I had authentic Key limes, was well in the Florida Keys back in 1980. They are also difficult to pick since the shrubs/trees have nasty thorns--at least the ones at the U-Pick-Em grove we stopped at.

On my list to make.
 
Michele May 19, 2021
So I was SOOO excited when I heard this was Petra of "Mom's Apple Pie Co"! I don't know her, but I am SO familiar with her family's amazingly delicious pies! I used to buy their strawberry/rhubarb weekly and their pecan for my dad on special occasions in a little market in Olney, Maryland. I sought them out after moving to Florida 15 years ago as I wanted to have some shipped (yes, they are THAT good). Unfortunately, they don't ship, but now I can at least make this. Thank you Kristen and Food 52 for bringing me a little slice of home :)
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 23, 2021
So glad we made the connection! (Can you imagine how great the pies are when they all get together for holidays?)
 
MBE May 19, 2021
Any one else have an issue when the tease "secret ingredient" is not explained in the first paragraph! I skimmed the article twice-saw all the ads and still not sure what was "missing!
 
Susan May 19, 2021
I had the same reaction! After also reading through more than once, I concluded that salt in the meringue was the secret ingredient... ho-hum...
 
Iris B. May 19, 2021
Agree. Totally irritating.
 
Laurel W. May 19, 2021
I had only to watch the video one time to understand that the secret ingredient was hot sugar syrup in the meringue.
 
Don W. May 20, 2021
Totally agree. And the pop-ups only made me more irritated. Seriously, being an ingredient-tease does not encourage aspiring cooks!?
 
cosmiccook May 20, 2021
I think its the extra salt.
 
MBE May 20, 2021
But that's not a secret ingredient in my mind it's how you make an Italian meringue (which I do think is the best type for a meringue pie)
 
MBE May 20, 2021
But that's not a secret ingredient in my mind it's how you make an Italian meringue (which I do think is the best type for a meringue pie)
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 23, 2021
Apologies for confusing things—what first hooked me and seemed like it could make a big impact on how people make Key lime meringue pies was this (from our cofounder Amanda, in the 4th paragraph): "And it was topped with a salty—salty!—meringue that was arranged in swirls and lightly toasted. I thought the salty-sweet thing was GENIUS." But I couldn't help myself from talking about all the other brilliant things about this pie.
 
lalocook May 19, 2021
I may find Persian limes easily (maybe at my middle eastern or Mexican markets a few blocks away?) but if not, wondering if you think adding Meyer lemon juice to regular limes will get me close to the flavor? (based on what I just read about the Persian variety). Because this has everything I love in it, including no weeping. (and I might dust the top w/ some dried black lime ? )

 
heath-tastic May 20, 2021
Persian limes ARE Regular grocery store limes. The main point of using Persian limes instead is that they’re typically so much easier to find than Key Limes.
 
lalocook May 20, 2021
Ah, guess I missed that. Thanks !
 
ymcock May 19, 2021
Yes ! Please! Yummy 😋! Love ❤️
 
Nancy K. May 19, 2021
The best pie with meringue I ever had was at Mustards Grill in Napa. The meringue was beige—from brown sugar. I think I’ll try that here.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 23, 2021
Oh yum—let us know how it goes. The extra moisture in the brown sugar might make a stickier meringue.
 
w226MLW May 19, 2021
I was raised in South Florida and spent lots of time in the Keys, in my day there was never meringue on Key lime pie and I never put in on mine. It has to be tart enough to make your jaws ache. It’s a favorite in our household and for my grandchildren.
 
IWearTheHat May 20, 2021
I live in Miami-Dade County, traveling back and forth from the Keys for 33 years and also have never seen a Key Lime pie with meringue on it. And using anything other than Key Limes makes this a faux Key Lime pie, although I'm sure it is still good.
 
Ana G. May 22, 2021
Another life-long South Florida resident here. True, whipped cream on key lime pie, but.......... Blue Heaven in Key West makes their homemade key lime pie with a generous serving of meringue on top. It is delicious and Id say the best key lime pie in the Keys.

Firefighter's Dereks pies in Midtown in Miami also makes an amazing key lime pie with whipped cream on top.
 
Ana G. May 22, 2021
And yes, key lime pie needs to be tart! Its disappointing to have a sugary-tasting key lime pie with no tart.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 23, 2021
Thank you all for sharing!
 
Picabelle May 19, 2021
I'm a decent baker but the first and only time I attempted a lemon meringue pie there was more weeping than the day my kids were born. What a mess! Lemon meringue is my dad's favorite pie so my mom made them on many occasions but never with a swiss meringue. I think I'll give dive back in with this recipe to get my confidence back! Love baking recipes that offer a bit of wiggle room.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 23, 2021
Me too! Thanks, Picabelle.
 
Laurel W. May 19, 2021
We get lots of key limes here in New Mexico, so I just enlist a helper to juice and zest. I thought that piling the meringue on top of a hot custard would help, but it was pretty weepy last time I made a key lime pie. Can't wait to try this new way of making meringue. Never thought of broiling!
 
Mkowalakperez May 19, 2021
Fun video to watch! I tried a pavlova a while back and it came out pretty but too humid of a day. I'll try this for our anniversary!
 
Smaug May 19, 2021
I think the conversion factors for Persian/Key lime are off- I don't have any around for comparison but Key limes I've known are nowhere near 1/2 the size of an average Persian lime. Zesting Key limes is a pain.