As you probably guessed, Key Lime Pie (and key limes) come from the Keys. Many southerners consider the Florida line to be the official end of the south, but it is south of the Mason-Dixon so it counts.
When key lime pie is done right (i.e. made with key limes) it can be magical. Refreshing yet sweet, and creamy and cool.
All of the traditional Savannah restaurants offer some version of key lime pie on their dessert menu. When I speak of traditional Savannah restaurants I am referring to the ones that have been around forever, like the Olde Pink House or Garibaldi’s.
Since summer has officially begun in Savannah, it felt natural to make a southern dessert that is inspired by the season. Note: it is not officially summer, but when you live this deep in the south, the heat makes it feel like summer arrives early.
And to be completely honest, I did not feel like making a pie crust so baking a version of the dessert without a pie crust was my approach for this one. What is just as good a pie crust? Cake!
The base flavors/components for key lime pie recipes are always the same, key limes, graham cracker, and meringue. This recipe includes all of the essential components. A graham cracker cake, key lime pudding, toasted meringue, and a graham cracker crumb.
As for a poke cake, the concept is simple. Bake a one-layer cake in a cake pan and once it is cool poke holes into and pour something delicious over the cake. I finish my version off with a slathering of meringue and a blow torch.
- For the Cake:
- 8 Tablespoons of Unsalted Butter, room temperature
- 1/2 Cup of Granulated Sugar
- 2 Eggs
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder
- 1/2 Teaspoon of Baking Soda
- 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
- 1/2 Cup of Whole Milk
- 12 Graham Crackers, processed into crumbs
- For the Pudding:
- 4 Limes or 12 Key Limes
- 2 Cups of Whole Milk
- 1/2 Cup of Heavy Whipping Cream
- 2/3 Cup of Granulated Sugar
- 4 Eggs Yolks
- 4 Tablespoons of Cornstarch
- 4 Tablespoons of Unsalted Butter
- 1/4 Teaspoon of Salt
- For the Meringue:
- 4 Egg Whites
- 1/2 Teaspoon of Cream of Tartar
- 1/2 Cup of Water
- 1 Cup of Sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a square baking pan by greasing it and coating in flour. Set aside.
- Cream together the sugar and butter to start making the cake batter. Once combined, cream for approximately 4 minutes on medium speed or until butter is light and fluffy.
- In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Set aside.
- In another mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining wet ingredients.
- With the mixer on medium, pour in 1/3 of your dry ingredients, followed by 1/3 of your wet ingredients, and continue until all of the ingredients are fully combined and well mixed.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepare cake pan. Bake, on the middle rack, for 30-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Allow the cake to cool while you prepare the pudding.
- First zest half of your limes, then set the zest to the side.
- In a small bowl, combine the milk for the pudding, the heavy cream, and the juice from all of the limes. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and limes zest. Whisk together. Next add in the egg yolks and whisk to combine.
- Slowly whisk in the milk mixture and stir until smooth.
- Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick. This should take approximatley 10 minutes. The mixture will coat the back of a wooden spoon.
- Remove the pudding from the heat and whisk in the butter until it is melted and combined.
- Allow the pudding to cool while you prepare the meringue.
- In a small sauce pan, combine the sugar and water. Stir to dissolve sugar. Turn the stove to medium-high heat.
- Cook the sugar until it reaches 240 degrees Fahrenheit.
- While the sugar is cooking, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk on medium speed until soft peaks form.
- With the mixer on low, carefully and very slowly pour the cooked sugar down the side of the mixing bowl.
- Once the sugar syrup is fully poured in, increase the mixer speed to medium and whisk until stiff peaks form.
- Assemble the cake by poking holes into the cake with the handle of a wooden spoon.
- Pour over the lime pudding, spreading until the pudding fills all of the holes.
- Finish by gently spreading the meringue over the top of the cake. You can toast the meringue with a torch.
- Optional: Top each slice with a sprinkle of graham cracker crumbs.