If you’re a fan of the iconic Key Lime Pie but crave a little extra “magic”, then look no further. Allow me to introduce you to my long time favorite, Twisted Key Lime Pie Bars. Imagine the zesty zing of fresh key lime and an unexpected guest… lemon juice. Combined with a buttery graham cracker crust for a twist of flavors that will leave your guests wondering, “What’s the secret ingredient?” Keep reading, I have a few more tricks up my sleeve to share with you.
The History of Key Lime Pie
I love to get to the nitty gritty of where foods come from, so let’s uncover a little bit some history of the “original” Key Lime Pie before we dive in.
We can trace its roots back to the 19th century shores of the Florida Keys when local residents took the juice from tart key limes (native to Malaysia). These fruit trees grew abundantly on this small island… and a dreamy citrus pie with a graham cracker crust was born when it was discovered that mixing it with the sweetness of condensed milk & creaminess of egg yolks made a dessert that captured the essence of this little tropical paradise.
Amazing how making something so simple with local fruit could become such a massive worldwide sensation. Now it is served in restaurants and bakeries all over the globe and it seems like everyone has their own version of this delicious pie including me!
What You’ll Need:
So, why make bars and not pie? You totally can make pie, but I prefer bars because it is a little easier to serve and transport to a party if needed. Not to mention, I like the way it looks in neat little squares with a dollop of whipped cream.
Let me show you how to make one of my family’s favorite desserts. When I make these, it brings back fond memories of Father’s Days past and other summery celebrations. The great thing here is the ability to bring warm weather flavors to your kitchen all year long with a few adaptations provided below. It certainly does not need to be a seasonal treat!
Key Limes- As any seasoned foodie will tell you, the quality of your ingredients is important but don’t let that stop you from making this. Fresh is best but bottled tastes great as well. Most grocery stores carry one-pound bags of limes. I will say that a benefit of fresh is the zest that speckles the “custard”, but it is not a deal breaker. If you choose to buy bottled, just make sure it is quality, authentic key lime juice.
NOTE: You will need approximately 3 pounds worth of fresh limes for one cup of juice. I always air on the side of caution and pick up 3 pounds. If you don’t have enough for one cup then compensate with either bottled, or additional lemon juice.
Lemon Juice- Fresh only please, this is a must! Especially if you are using bottled key lime juice.
Key limes are still the star of the show, but you might be wondering why a touch of lemon juice is mixed in? While all of the original recipes already have a vibrant citrus kick, adding a bit of lemon juice takes the flavor to a whole new level. The lemon’s subtle acidity complements the key lime’s zinginess.
Adding lemon gives it just enough balance, taking the uniqueness of key lime juice to an even more complex place. It also helps prevent a bitterness that can sometimes occur with fresh limes. If bottled is being used then it blends in some freshness, it is a win, win.
Juicer & Sieve: I use a hand juicer with a glass measuring jug and a sieve to catch any pulp and seeds.
Condensed Milk- The creamy, dreamy binding agent that adds richness and decadence to the filling. It’s the calm within the citrus storm that we all love. You also have options here, most grocery stores carry healthier versions of this sweet & processed milk. I prefer the organic version with just milk and sugar but you can even opt for a coconut condensed milk if you are dairy free.
NOTE: If you have cans that have been on your shelf a little while, the color will be more of a caramel hue. For a lighter color condensed milk, purchase just before making your Twisted Key Lime Pie Bars.
Egg Yolks- Room temperature. See below for ideas on how to use the egg whites.
Food Processor– For the crumbs. If you don’t have one, just use a zip top storage bag and a rolling pin. As far as the toasted pecans? Chop them as finely as possible.
Graham Crackers- Perfect to pair with your favorite citrus desserts. Graham crackers bring a subtle sweetness that complements the tart filling perfectly.
TIP: Want to make this healthier? Try making your own. Check it out here. No need to cut them out. Just roll the “dough” out into a sheet and bake a day or two in advance!
Toasted Nuts- (optional) I prefer pecans or walnuts, but if you are nut-free, just add an extra 1/2 cup of crackers or cookies.
Butter- The real stuff, no margarine and I prefer unsalted so I am in control of balancing the sweetness of the crust.
Vanilla Extract- Adds a hint of creaminess added to the crust gives another contrast to the citrus.
Brown Sugar- Any brown sugar will do but I prefer to make my own with Blackstrap Molasses as shown here. You can also swap it out in a 1 to 1 for coconut sugar for an unrefined sugar option.
Salt: Not much, just a few pinches. Believe it or not, salt is a flavor enhancer even in desserts.
Digital Thermometer- (optional) The cooked internal temperature is 145 F.
Digital Gram Scale: I mention this in every post I can because I prefer measuring by weight and is easily my most used little kitchen gadget. It is quicker and I find that I use less dishes. It is also more accurate. Metric measurements are provided in the recipe card below.
Baking Dish- Use an 8×8″ square pan or if you would like to make a pie, use a 10″ deep dish pie plate.
Aluminum Foil- I recommend something heavy duty to prevent rips when lifting the bars out.
Heavy Whipping Cream- (optional) Home baked goods are still treats no matter which way I look at it, but making the smartest choices I can does give me the peace of mind to know that though this is indulging that I am still making that effort to skip the extra, unnecessary ingredients. I recommend looking for a cream without gums and/or carrageenan.
How to make Sweet Whipped Cream: Place the cold whipped cream, powdered sugar or coconut powdered sugar and vanilla extract into a medium mixing bowl. Whisk by hand or use a electric mixer until light and fluffy. When it stiffens and holds it’s shape, stop whipping. Refrigerate for up to one week.
The “Keys” to Success!
What do if I can’t find fresh key limes? So, you’re all set to whip up a batch of Twisted Key Lime Pie Bars, but those special fresh key limes are playing hide and seek? No worries, I’ve got some options. While the juice fresh key limes is dreamy, you can totally work your magic with bottled key lime juice. If you are in a real pinch and can’t your hands on bottled either, then regular lime juice can step in as a close cousin, offering that tangy kick just in a little bit of a different way.
What if I don’t have enough fresh key lime juice? uh-oh, you’re running low on fresh key lime juice? No big deal, you can mix in a bit of regular lime juice or bottled key lime juice to top it up. It’s good to have a back up plan if you intend on using fresh, we never know how much juice they will actually pump out.
Can I use regular limes? the supermarket seems to be having a key lime shortage? No worries – regular limes can step in as the hero of the day! But here’s the scoop: while they’re close cousins, regular limes bring a slightly different flavor game to the table. Key limes have a unique zing with a touch more sweetness, while regular limes flaunt a tad more tartness. So, don’t be surprised if your pie packs a subtly distinct taste. It’s like a remix of your favorite song – still amazing, just with its own groovy twist. Happy baking, and remember, the adventure is all in the flavors!
Do I have to line my pan with foil? Lining with foil is always best when making bars of any kind. After they have cooled and chilled, the foil makes it possible to lift out onto a cutting board with ease. It is a must.
Why should I take the extra step and pre-bake my crust? The plain and simple answer is, to prevent sogginess.
Can I make pie instead? Yes! Simply use a 10 inch deep dish pie plate.
What happens if I over cook it? I recommend setting a timer and using a digital thermometer to check the internal temperature to prevent over cooking. Yes, it can happen and when it does the texture will change from a creamy custard to a spongy, curdled mess. It can still be eaten but the experience won’t be dreamy & creamy. I would say that this happens most when a timer is not set and the slight jiggle is mistaken for under done. It will still move, but not in the way liquid does. If after 25 minutes, it is not done give it another 5 to 10 minutes max.
My key lime pie bars are not setting properly, what do I do? There could be two reasons that I am aware of. First, it has to bake long enough for the egg to set. It should be “wobbly” like gelatin when you take it out of the oven but settle more as it cools. Second, it may need to chill a little longer. It should firm up within an hour or two of fridge time. I find that this recipe sets particularly well because of the amount of egg yolks.
Serving & Storage
As I mentioned before, this dessert is best served cold and chilled for at least 2 hours, best overnight. As for the leftovers, you can cover the dish with a cling wrap or foil or transfer them into an airtight container before storing them. They will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Egg Whites: Get Creative with Leftovers
Wondering how to use up leftover egg whites? Give these ideas a try.
Variations: Playing with Flavors
- Regular lime
- Meyer lemon
- Blood Orange
Play with your favorite citrus fruits, they all work great! Any one of them on their own or combinations that peaks your interest. All you need is 1-1/4 cup of juice.
Have a sweet tooth? Check out some of these recipes!
If you try these Twisted Key Lime Pie Bars or any of my other recipes tag me on Instagram @joymakersandco, and rate in the recipe card below!
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Twisted Key Lime Pie Bars
- 1 Juicer & Sieve
- 1 Zester
- 1 Food Processor
- 2 Medium Mixing Bowls
- 1 8×8" Baking Dish, or 10" Deep Dish Pie Plate
- Aluminum Foil Heavy Duty
- 1 Digital Thermometer optional
- 1 Whisk or Electric Mixer, for whipping cream
Toasted Pecan Cookie Crust:
- 2-1/4 cups graham crackers, store-bought or homemade, SEE ARTICLE ABOVE.
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar, store-bought or homemade, SEE ARTICLE ABOVE.
- 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, toasted, optional, SEE NOTES
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 pinches salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup fresh or bottled key lime juice, SEE NOTES BELOW.
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, do not use bottled, about 2-3 lemons
- 1 teaspoon key lime zest
- 8 egg yolks, from large eggs, room temperature
- 2- 14-oz cans sweetened condensed milk, SEE NOTES BELOW.
- 2 pinches salt
Sweet Whipped Cream:
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream, cold
- 3 tablespoons powdered sugar, or powdered coconut sugar. SEE ARTICLE ABOVE.
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or vanilla paste
- Pre-heat the oven to 325 F. Line your baking dish with foil and set aside.
- Lightly toast the pecans in a dry frying pan on medium heat. Be sure to stir to prevent burning. When they are done, remove from the hot pan and set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, break apart the graham crackers and place them into a food processor. Pulse until a fine crumb texture is achieved. SEE PHOTOS. Place the crumbs into a medium bowl. Set aside.
- Next, add the cooled pecans to the food processor. Carefully pulse until they are a fine texture but not liquified like butter. Add to the bowl with the crumbs.
- Melt the butter and add to the crust ingredients along with the brown sugar, pinches of salt, and the vanilla extract. Mix to combine. You want it to be like the texture of sand that holds together when damp. If it does not melt another couple tablespoons of butter and slowly add.
- Dump the crust mixture into the bottom of your prepared baking dish. Firmly press into the bottom. Place the dish onto a baking sheet.
- Bake the crust for about 8-10 minutes. Take it out a let it cool while you prepare the filling. This step is to prevent sogginess.
- Zest enough key limes until you get 1-2 teaspoons of zest. Set the zest aside and juice enough limes to get one cup of juice or use bottled. SEE NOTES.
- Juice enough lemons to get 1/4 cup add to the key lime juice.
- Next, separate your eggs. Place the yolks into a another medium mixing bowl and set the whites aside for another use if you want to make something out of them later.
- Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk, juices, and zest. Add 2 pinches of salt. Mix well.
- Pour the filling into the dish with the prepared crust.
- Set a timer and bake on the middle rack for 25 minutes. Check for doneness after the timer is up. It should jiggle firmly and have a cooked internal temperature of 145 F.
- Cool on the counter for 1 hour and refrigerate for 2-4 hours before cutting, best overnight. To serve, lift out by the foil and place on a cutting board. Peel the foil back from the sides and cut into about 12 equal pieces. Top with fresh whipped cream. See direction below.
Sweet Whipped Cream
- Place the cold whipped cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract into a medium mixing bowl.
- Whisk by hand or use an electric mixer until light and fluffy. When it stiffens and holds it's shape, stop whipping.
- Refrigerate for up to one week.
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