Food: Oh, *That's* What Key Lime Pie Was Missing

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Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Founding Editor and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

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Seeing a pie topped with a spectacular, toasty-tipped coif of meringue, your first reaction might be: That looks stunning! I would really like…someone else to make it for me. (It’s definitely mine.)

Meringue pies are mercurial. Meringue pies have rules. Meringue pies are just waiting for you to dedicate a chunk of your day to making a crust and a curd and a fluff, only to see them slowly self-destruct before dinnertime. Or emerge so cloying you abandon your slice for more Ranch Fun Dip instead.

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But not Petra Paredez’s meringue pie. It comes equipped with a meringue you won’t undercook or overwhip, a curd that balances the creamy sweet with floral tang, and—maybe most memorably—the subtle-but-emphatic power of more salt than you think should be there.

After tasting the pie from Petee’s Pie Company, where Petra is the co-owner and head baker, our co-founder Amanda Hesser sent it my way. “There were no frills—just thoughtful layering of flavor,” Amanda wrote. “Delicious lime curd, not too sweet. And it was topped with a salty—salty!—meringue that was arranged in swirls and lightly toasted. I thought the salty-sweet thing was GENIUS.”

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And that was before she knew how simple it is to make at home.

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As Petra told me, “The challenge for me was just to make something that was as good as my dad’s—and then make it different.” Her dad’s are sold frozen, also swirled with meringue, at her parents’ business—Mom’s Apple Pie Company in Leesburg, Virginia—where Petra learned how to make and sell great pies.

Like most Key lime pies, the creamy middle in Petra’s is as simple as whisking together sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, and lime juice and zest. But Petra skews hers tart rather than sweet, adding extra lime juice and just enough extra egg yolks to help the curd set. She’s tried Key limes and grocery-store Persian limes, and while both will work, the latter are her favorite. “Perhaps another unpopular opinion, but, yes, I think Persian limes are just as good,” she told me. “And super tasty and less of a pain in the neck to get a lot of juice out of.”(1)

Petra goes with an Italian meringue (egg whites whipped with a hot sugar syrup)—which is more forgiving and stable than French (whipped with not-hot sugar) and Swiss (heated over a double boiler with sugar, then whipped), and is cooked through before it even blops onto the pie. Even if you think you’ve messed it up—in the video above, I actually did a little, letting my fear of overwhipping keep me from full billowing floof—it will be edible and, in fact, delicious.

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  Make a Cherry Key Lime Rickey and feel like a real soda jerk I have recently learned that not every American had the good fortune to grow up drinking cherry lime rickeys, and that’s the sort of tragedy I cannot turn a blind eye to. The cherry lime rickey is a soda fountain staple throughout much of the northeast that is, just like soda fountains themselves, gradually vanishing from the landscape. I haven’t been able to find one in the wild ever since I moved away from my hometown of Brooklyn five years ago; while I have been able to find some sort of cherry-lime relief at a suburban Sonic, no “-ade” or “slush” is comparable to the tart, fizzy perfection that is a rickey.

And you really don’t need to worry about overwhipping it. Petra has discovered that it can rebound, if you just give it a little time. “If you find that you’ve gotten to the point where it’s beyond stiff peaks and it’s a harder foam," she told me, "Just chill, have a glass of wine, and then re-whip it afterwards and find that all is not lost.”

Far from lost, the salty-sweet meringue will keep tugging you forward. And you—not some future someone—will want to make it again and again.

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Key Lime Meringue Pie From Petra Paredez

By Genius Recipes

Key Lime Meringue Pie

  • 1 14-ounce (420-milliliter) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 milliliters) freshly squeezed lime juice, from about 7 Persian limes, or about 15 Key limes
  • Zest of ½ Persian lime or 1 Key lime
  • 1 par-baked crust of your choice—see Author Notes

Vanilla Sea Salt Meringue

  • 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) egg whites (equivalent of 3 large egg whites), at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

View Full Recipe

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(1) For more about why the Key limes available to most of us aren’t what they used to be, see this informative rant from Stella Parks over on Serious Eats.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thanks to my boss and Key lime pie superfan Amanda Hesser for this one.

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Pie Weights: What They Are and How To Use Them .
No soggy bottoms here.

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