key lime pie with vanilla whipped cream

One of the beautiful things about the town we live in is its proximity to some of the best places in Florida. We’re nestled in between some of Florida’s better known cities – about two driving hours away, give or take, from Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa – and many of the state’s lesser known gems, including numerous natural fresh-water springs and state parks. When we crave the sea and sand, a short hour and a half drive east or west brings us to a coastline. To the west, Cedar Key, a quaint fishing village, sits on the Gulf of Mexico and has been a favorite lunch spot and day trip for us since I was a kid. In the other direction, on the east side of the state, is the Atlantic Ocean. I grew up going to the wide sandy beaches on the Atlantic, just south of Jacksonville. We used to stop at fruit stands along the way for fresh peaches, oranges, and nectarines to pack with us in our beach bags for snacks later in the day. And, if I went with my parents, we tended to stop for a bucket of fried chicken to eat at lunchtime, with hands still covered in sand and salt from the ocean.

We headed eastward this past weekend, over to a resort on Palm Coast, a beach community that sits between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine Beach. We were only gone a couple of nights, but those 48 hours were filled with pure fun balanced with the right amount of rest. We soaked up the sun, wiggled our toes in the sand, splashed in the pool, and ate cold ice cream in the afternoons. It was pretty much perfect.

One of the pies I associate with Florida and the beach is key lime pie. It was created initially in the Florida Keys, after all. And, apparently it’s the Official State Pie of Florida – which I did not learn until about 3 hours ago.

My husband is partial to key lime pies. Our kids are learning many of their eating patterns – both good (the love of broccoli) and bad (the complete hate and avoidance of anything resembling a tomato) – from him, including a real passion for this sweet tart pie. Madeline requested a key lime pie for our July 4th cookout, so I obliged.

This key lime pie recipe is not dissimilar to many you’ll find on the internet. I’ve added cream cheese to my version, something that is not traditional but adds a creamy note to the filling. I’ve tried it with reduced-fat cream cheese, which is really sort of a silly thing to do if you think about it. Don’t do it. The texture is not as good and the lumps in the batter tend to stick around. So, take my advice and go full-fat on this one. I like the traditional graham cracker crust, but I add shredded coconut to mine for some extra depth of flavor. Topped with a dollop of sweetened vanilla whipped cream, this pie has become a real favorite in my house.

Key Lime Pie with Vanilla Whipped Cream

Resist the temptation to reduce the fat in this by using reduced fat or light cream cheese. Stick with full-fat cream cheese for the best texture. For the key lime juice, I use Nelly & Joe's Key Lime Juice instead of squeezing fresh limes, but you could certainly do that if you prefer.


1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (from 9 graham crackers)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup shredded coconut
Pinch kosher salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup key lime juice
Zest of 2 limes

1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven rack in middle position.

Make crust: In the bowl of a food processor, process the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, shredded coconut, and salt until blended. Pour into a bowl and add melted butter. Stir well to combine; pour into 9-inch pie plate. Press graham cracker mixture evenly onto the bottom and sides of pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes and let cool on a rack. Leave oven on.

Make filling: In a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks and cream cheese until well blended and no lumps remain. Add sweetened condensed milk, key lime juice, and lime zest and beat until incorporated and smooth. Pour into pie crust and bake for 15 minutes. Cool completely on rack, then cover and refrigerate overnight or 8 hours.

Make topping: With an electric mixer (or a stand mixer using the whisk attachment), beat cream, vanilla, and sugar together on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Serve with key lime pie.

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20 Responses to “the box on the dining room table”

  1. Renee - Kudos Kitchen — June 8, 2014 @ 8:06 pm

    Such a sweet story about your father. My heart goes out to you.
    This ice cream? Divine!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2014 @ 6:46 pm

      Oh, thank you, Renee.

  2. MJ, this is a beautiful post. I can see how there’s comfort in having your dad “around’. I am sure he is smiling down at you all and I know that he will love Yellowstone XO

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2014 @ 6:46 pm

      I think this Yellowstone trip will be great for all of us. It just feels right to take Dad with us. And thank you, Mardi.

  3. Gail — June 8, 2014 @ 10:06 pm

    You outdo yourself, every single time.
    And I go through more kleenex, every single time.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2014 @ 6:47 pm

      I should post a warning label, right? (Thank you, Gail!)

  4. Kathryn — June 9, 2014 @ 4:28 am

    Such a beautiful and touching post.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2014 @ 6:47 pm

      Thank you so much, Kathryn.

  5. Colleen — June 9, 2014 @ 11:14 am

    Such a beautiful post!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2014 @ 6:47 pm

      Thank you, Colleen.

  6. jacquie — June 9, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

    beautiful post. after i have lost a significant being in my life, for some reason i always feel more settled when a piece of them come back home to me. I’m so glad your dad is going to Yellowstone with all of you. I’m sure he will let you know where he wants to rest. take care.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2014 @ 6:48 pm

      I believe you’re right, Jacquie. I think I’ll know the place when I’m there. It will feel right.

  7. Jennifer Annan House — June 9, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

    Another wonderful post I think your posts about your dad help all of us who are grieving for someone. And, love the picture, and news of your upcoming Yellowstone trip. It will be a wonderful time for all of your family.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2014 @ 6:48 pm

      Thank you so much, Jennifer.

  8. Christine — June 12, 2014 @ 10:16 am

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. I am excited for your family to have the opportunity to travel to our country’s oldest and greatest national park later this month. Be sure to visit the tourist sites such as Old Faithful and Morning Glory as well as some less-trammeled backcountry nooks. While working there with the Youth Conservation Corps for four summers, I felt continually astounded by the pristine solitude of the backcountry, despite the flooded overdevelopment of places in the front-country. Have fun!

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  10. Paula — June 17, 2014 @ 6:16 pm

    This one final road trip *with* your Dad will be fun, poignant and truly memorable…for all of you. Safe travels. Beautifully written post and I hope you write about your time, experiences at Yellowstone.

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  12. Janice @Kitchen Heals Soul — July 14, 2014 @ 4:28 pm

    I kinda stumbled on this post while browsing your blog. So my comment is coming in a little late. I can relate to the box that is there but that you can’t open, but that is such a comfort.

    I need to start by saying that my recent loss was totally not on the magnitude of losing a parent, not by any means. Still, I have the box containing what may be an urn of my cat’s ashes in it. I’ve had it on my nightstand next to my bed since March. I haven’t opened it. It’s just there. I can’t face the box, but I can’t let it go either. So, there it sits. I guess I was more dependent on that tiny little life than I realized. And because it’s been just me and her for the last 8 years (no boyfriend or anybody along the way), going through this was so very hard. It’s amazing how much a plain old cardboard box can contain.

    I am so sorry for your loss and from reading backwards through your posts to this one, I see that you took that trip with your Dad. There are no words that can make the loss of a loved one “better” but I do hope that you will find some comfort along the way.

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