Pepe’s Cafe Key Lime Pie

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Christiana George
Christiana George
Welcome to The Tart Tart, my not-so-tart take on food, writing, and photography. I decided to start up this sucker after repeated nagging from Chris, my fiance, who cannot understand why the sight of a farmer’s market would send me into ecstatic convulsions (okay, total overstatement. I can be quite the histrionic at times).With that said, my interests, though chiefly in food, also span fashion, design, literature, and photography. So don’t mind the seemingly non sequitur odds and ends I toss in posts at times.

Until Chris met me, he had never eaten a cherry tomato. Astounded upon learning this fact, I felt the need to remedy it immediately–he didn’t know what he was missing out on!—so I took him to the nearest Safeway where we bought a little prepackaged bagful. When we got back, I insisted he eat one straight away, right out of the package. I didn’t think one unwashed tomato would kill him, and I was sure he would fall in love straight away. Instead, he got food poisoning.

He has since let this incident go, which I think is very gracious of him considering the fact that I continue to guilt him into eating foods he has no interest in trying. I guess I have this underlying belief that I know better than him, at least in matters of the palate. That my refined tastebuds trump his any old day, that his will become elevated through my influence. Bombastic, sure, but we’re talking about a guy who didn’t eat his first cherry tomato until he was in college. Enough said, right?

I think I’ve mentioned that I dislike citrus-flavored baked goods, right? Besides this (like I said, Meyer lemons are in a league of their own), I’ve never met a citrus-y dessert that didn’t taste like a cough drop.

But last week, a bag of key limes fell in my lap, and I took it as a sign that it was finally time to tackle a classic that I’d never before tried: key lime pie. If you’d seen the limes, you, too, might have wanted to do something with them right away. They are so cute! Like toy dog versions of regular limes, except I know a lot of you don’t like toy dogs, and I normally can’t stand them either except I watched Seven Psychopaths recently and Bonny the shih tzu stole my heart.

I knew I was taking a major risk, but sometimes denial gets the better of me. After all, isn’t key lime pie a thing? Aren’t people fanatical about it? Maybe there was something more amazing than amazing about it that would sway my food prejudices.

Chris, on the other hand, took the realistic approach. “Don’t make it. You won’t like it, and I don’t want you to force it on me.”

I plowed ahead anyway. An afternoon later, the pie was ready.

I took it out of the fridge. It looked lemon-y. I smelled it. It smelled lemon-y. I started feeling uneasy.

In the end, with great hesitation, I ate a slice. It was… disappointingly citrus-y, tasting like every other citrus dessert I’ve ever eaten. But then, the flavor sort of, I don’t know, mellowed out, and distinguished itself. The lime emerged, cool, invigorating. It went fantastically with the graham cracker crust, a pairing that legitimized its taste. With whipped cream for the finishing touch, the whole experience was luscious but understated. The sugary-tart foretaste never diminished, unfortunately, but for a lot of you, that’s a good thing.

Chris’s turn. I showed him a bite to try, and his face twisted into simultaneous disgust, fear, and suspicion. It’s so hard to get one past him these days, I tell you! But he relented, and took a tentative bite.

“Do you like it?” I asked. “It’s not bad, right?”

“I don’t like it,” he said. And that was that.

In the end, even in the face of Chris’s rejection, I ate way more slices than I care to admit. I’m pretty sure you’d call that a breakthrough!


Adapted from Epicurious

Makes one 9-inch pie

Another reason I wanted to make this pie was because of this article. It’s fascinating! I love food history! Also, in case you’re wondering, Pepe’s Cafe is a cafe in the Florida Keys, quite an establishment I take it, that serves a very classic version of this pie. It’s always good to start with the classics.


1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large egg whites
4 large egg yolks
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup Key lime juice (I must’ve squeezed 20 of these suckers)
Whipped cream to serve


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the graham cracker crust: Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom in a medium bowl. Stir in the melted butter until well-combined. Press the mixture evenly in a 9-inch pie tin. Bake for about 10 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool and set aside.

Make the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the yolks and condensed milk. Add the lime juice and whisk until combined. Gently fold in about half of the whipped egg whites, then fold in the other half, stirring until just evenly combined.

Pour the mixture into the graham cracker crust and bake until set, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cool, then let cool further in the fridge for about 2 hours.

Serve with whipped cream if desired (whip together about 1 cup heavy cream, a few Tbsp powdered sugar, and a dribble of vanilla extract).

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