Key lime pie’s history is a little like gazing through a foggy window. Most credit a woman known just as “Aunt Sally” as the inventor. A cook at the mansion of Key West resident and Florida’s first millionaire, William Curry, in the late 1800s, Aunt Sally was apparently attempting to make lemon ice box pie when she substituted lemons with the readily available key limes that grow throughout the Florida Keys. The result was something astonishingly better as the small key limes are more tart and aromatic than their lemon counterparts.
Whether or not this story is true (another theory says that a Key West botanist was the real inventor), today, there seems to be a key lime pie for every palate, with versions varying greatly depending on the region and the maker. It could have a pastry crust or a graham cracker crust. The sweet yet tart filling may be a pale yellow or bright green. It may come topped with a pillowy cloud of meringue or maybe just a dollop of whipped cream. So it’s no surprise that Dawn Runge, pastry chef at Little Palm Island Resort on Little Torch Key, has her own version. And what a version it is: Little Palm Island’s key lime pie is, and always has been, the number one seller on the dessert menu. It has even been featured on Food Network’s Food Nation with Bobby Flay. That’s partly owned to the unique cashew crust but also its “just right” balance of sweet and tangy. Sometimes topped with both meringue and different flavored whipped creams, it’s startling in its simplicity yet mouthwateringly delicious.
Here, Runge reveals her recipe that will impress even your most skeptical of pie tasters. She has just one piece of advice: “The filing is very easy to make because there are only three ingredients. But the technique is important because of overmixing will result in a runny pie that tends to be over baked.”
Little Palm Island’s Cashew Crusted Key Lime Pie [Florida Keys, FL]
2 c. chopped cashews
1 c. graham cracker crumbs
½ c. sugar
¾ c. melted butter
- Mix all ingredients together and line in a greased nine-inch pie pan.
- Par-bake crust in a 350-degree oven until golden brown.
3 c. sweetened condensed milk
9 egg yolks
1½ c. key lime juice
- In mixing bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks until smooth.
- Add key lime juice slowly.
- Pour into par-baked crust and bake in a 300 degree oven for 20 minutes or until center is set.
2 c. heavy cream
2 oz. sugar
zest of one orange
- Whip all ingredients together, then spread over cooled pie.
- Allow to set for at least 30 minutes.