"Norman is a true gastronomic pioneer, even a culinary pilgrim. A self-taught chef, he is equally steeped in both James Beard and the classic European traditions of gastronomy. He found his true cu...
- ¾ cup sliced almonds, lightly pan-toasted
- One 4.8-ounce package graham crackers, crushed in the bag
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2⁄3 cup unsalted butter, melted
- Two 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
- One 12-ounce bottle key lime juice
- 10 extra-large egg yolks (reserve the clean whites for the meringue)
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup egg whites
- Pinch of kosher salt
Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse a few times. Add the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pulse until well ground, but not quite dust. The mixture can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week if not using right away.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the melted butter to combine. Divide evenly between 2 pie pans.
Press the crust firmly onto the bottoms and up the sides of the pans, making a small rim. Bake the crusts until bubbling and turning from shiny to matte, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool in the pans on a wire rack. Pour the condensed milk into a large bowl and stir in the key lime juice. In another large bowl, whisk the egg yolks until pale yellow Add the key lime mixture, stir well and pour into the pie crusts. Tap the pans on the countertop to remove any air bubbles and bake for about 15 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time. Let the pies cool to room temperature, then wrap and refrigerate for up to 10 hours.
When you are ready to serve the pies, make the meringue. Set a pan of water large enough to fit the bowl of your mixer to a simmer. Add the sugar, egg whites and salt to the bowl and whisk gently by hand over the simmering water until the mixture is room temperature and you can’t feel any sugar granules when you roll the mixture around in your fingertips. Transfer the bowl to its mixer and whip on high speed until the meringue turns bright white and holds medium peaks. Apply the finished meringue to the chilled pies. Torch at will. Yields 2 pies (of course!).
About this recipe
Ingredient Note: The so-called key lime, a small, round fruit with a thin skin and a mottled yellow-green look, is, according to some, the “true” lime, Citrus Aurantifolia. It is more tart than Citrus Latifolia, the lime commonly found in the produce section of most grocery stores. Key limes are also known as Mexican, West Indian, and Bartender limes. Key lime trees love the warmest weather and only grow down in the Keys in the United States. Trees were established as early as 1839. Gail Borden invented condensed milk in 1853 to give people in pioneer conditions safe milk that would keep longer than fresh whole milk. Some creative genius in the Keys combined sweetened condensed milk with key lime juice and eggs to make the first key lime pies. He (or she) would not be the last!
“The first time I saw a key lime pie was a few days after I started at The Midget. It was about eight A.M. and I was having a cold beer, reading a newspaper, and getting ready to go home to bed. I noticed a young lady named Sunshine arriving through the doorless bar on her bicycle, wearing a cotton barely-there dress, a large hibiscus flower behind her left ear and bearing a tray containing two pale yellow pies. She explained that she only prepared two at a time or the taste would “get lost”; besides, she only had room for two pies in her bicycle basket. I drained the beer and saved my pie for later. (By the way, Sunshine went on to manage some business affairs for a guy named Jimmy Buffett, so she probably makes pies only for pleasure now.)” – Norman Van Aken
Recipes taken from My Key West Kitchen by Norman and Justin Van Aken, published by Kyle Books. Photography by Penny De Los Santos