Key lime pie is typically a collection of supermarket convenience foods: canned condensed milk, bottled lime juice, pre-made graham cracker crust. That's why chef Nicole Rucker didn't intend to serve it at Fiona, her Fairfax bakery and restaurant.
She originally created her take on Key lime pie for Bludso's Bar & Que three years ago, which "felt appropriate" for the casual barbecue joint on La Brea Avenue. But when she opened Fiona last year, she decided to focus on fruit pies made with from-scratch crusts; the Key lime pie was left off the menu.
And then Thanksgiving hit. Fiona sold out of pies and vendors were no longer delivering ingredients. Rucker remembered her Key lime pie and sent her team to the grocery store, instructing them, "Go get the graham crackers."
Rucker turned to that pie because it is fast, easy and doesn't require fresh ingredients, aside from limes. It quickly became the restaurant's signature item. "This pie is irony at its finest," Rucker said. "I thought this pie was so cheap and tacky, but sometimes you don't know what's best for yourself."
Rucker had never tasted a Key lime pie before she created her own, but she nailed it. The crust — made with store-bought graham crackers — hits the perfect balance of salty, buttery and sweet. The floral and tart notes of limes lace the sweet filling, which is balanced by sour cream in the unsweetened whipped cream topping.
Nicole Rucker’s Key lime pie
30 minutes, plus cooling and chilling. Makes one 9-inch pie.
You can use pre-ground graham cracker crumbs to make the crust or finely grind about 10 whole graham crackers. To serve a crowd, try the slab pie variation below and cut into bars.
1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
6 medium limes
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
¼ cup sour cream
- Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly coat a 9-inch pie plate (not deep-dish) with nonstick cooking spray.
- Make the crust: Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, salt and melted butter in a large bowl and stir until moist crumbs form. Transfer to the prepared pie plate and press evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the plate (but not over the rim).
- Bake the crust until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Leave the oven on.
- Make the filling: Finely grate 1 tablespoon zest from the limes into a large bowl, then halve the limes and squeeze ½ cup juice. (You may not need all 6 limes.) Add the condensed milk and egg yolks and whisk until all the egg yolks have been incorporated and the zest is speckled throughout the mixture. Pour into the cooled crust.
- Bake until the filling is set around the edges and the center wobbles slightly when touched, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely, at least 2 hours.
- In a large bowl, whisk the heavy cream and sour cream with an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or by hand, until soft peaks form; do not overbeat. Pile the cream on top of the pie and swirl and swoosh with a spoon or rubber spatula. Refrigerate the pie for at least 3 hours before serving.
Key lime slab pie
Double all of the quantities above. Use a 9-by-13-inch cake pan or quarter-sheet pan instead of the pie plate and prepare and bake the crust and filling as above. To serve, cut into squares and top each with a large dollop of the cream mixture.
The pie can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.