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Key Lime Pie in a Glass

We’re still drawing culinary inspiration from our jaunt to the Florida Keys this past winter, and when Lisa saw fresh key limes at our local grocery store, the timing was perfect to bring the taste of the tropics to the farmstead.

by John D. IvankoJune 19, 2013

Key Lime Parfait - Photo by John D. Ivanko/ (
Photo by John D. Ivanko/

We’re still drawing culinary inspiration from our jaunt to the Florida Keys this past winter, and when Lisa saw fresh key limes at our local grocery store, the timing was perfect to bring the taste of the tropics to the farmstead. Key limes’ flavor has the perfect tang with a dash of sweetness, and when added to a dessert, they offer a refreshing antidote to summer’s rising heat index.

Historically, key limes are a Florida crop, though most today come from Mexico. Fresh key limes can be a bit tricky to find, but we’re heading into key lime season, so they’ll start popping up in Mexican or Asian grocery stores. Key limes are traditionally used in a graham-cracker-crusted pie, made with sweetened condensed milk. Key lime pie remains the official pie of Florida. You can still wander up and down Duvall Street in Key West and sample a buffet of key-lime-inspired fare, but we’re partial to the classic combo, where you can really taste the key lime essence. (Remember, key lime juice is yellow; avoid all pies with green food coloring added!)

Our super-easy Key Lime Parfait draws inspiration from the pie, layering the key lime filling with crushed graham crackers. It’s great for a potluck or summertime family gathering, as you can make the servings ahead of time in individual punch cups or half-pint canning jars. Dollop the sweetened whipped cream on right before serving, and garnish with a lemon balm leaf. To make the dessert even more simple, layer all the ingredients in a large trifle bowl so folks can scoop and serve individually.

If you don’t have access to key limes, this recipe can be made with Persian limes (the green limes you typically see at the supermarket), but it will have a different flavor. Key limes are much smaller, round in shape and have thinner skin. A 1-pound bag will typically hold about 20 to 22 key limes, which equals approximately 3/4 to 1 cup juice. They can be a bit of a challenge to juice because they’re so tiny; try placing them in a microwave for 30 seconds to release the juice, then cut in half and squeeze hard. You can find bottled key lime juice, but thoroughly read the label to make sure you’re buying 100-percent key lime juice and not a blend.

Taste the filling before serving to make sure the tartness-to-sweetness ratio is to your liking. The recipe is very flexible, so feel free to adjust accordingly. My friend, Brenda Carus, our local Soup Night hostess, makes a sweeter version of the filling that she uses to top pavlova, a New Zealand-inspired meringue.

Recipe: Key Lime Parfait

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Yield: 15 servings


  • 1¼ cup graham cracker crumbs (about 18 single graham crackers)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup key lime juice juice
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter until well combined and has texture of wet sand. Press mixture into bottom of greased 9×13 pan. (Don’t worry about making it look pretty because you will be breaking it up.) Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Cool completely and break into small crumbs.

Beat the cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk until creamy and smooth. Blend in lime juice. Refrigerate until slightly firm.

Right before assembling, beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. Whisk in confectioner’s sugar and vanilla.

To assemble, layer graham cracker crumbs and key lime filling in trifle bowl or individual glasses. Top with whipped cream and garnish with lemon balm leaf.

Savoring the good life,

John and Lisa's Signatures

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