The key lime pie a friend ordered from his local bakery to satisfy a major craving was as disappointing as most of the key lime pies I’ve had over the years — cloying, gluey with barely the taste of lime. It sparked a sort of challenge in my brain:  How could I quickly create the effect of great key lime (or lemon or Meyer lemon) pie without actually making a whole pie?  The answer is this delectable stripped-down hand pie, made of a few readily-available ingredients.  Fast comfort for desperate times.

Key lime pie is based on an essential chemical reaction: When sweetened condensed milk is mixed with the right amount of lime or lemon juice, it thickens.  The resulting two-ingredient curd/cream is an intensely-flavored balance of sweet and tart, deeply perfumed with the zest. Spooned onto a butter cookie with a dab of creme fraiche or whipped cream, it becomes a sloppy, divinely satisfying “hand pie”.

Sally Schneider

I plunk a jar of the lime curd on the table, along with a stack of the best butter cookies I can find (that is, if I don’t want to make my own Ethereal Brown Sugar Butter Cookies, downloadable pdf of the recipe here.)  You can also use tartlet shells.  If I have creme fraiche or whipped cream, I put a bowl of that out. Then, instruct  your eaters to assemble the hand pies themselves.

The chemistry works equally well with Key limes, ordinary limes, and lemons. I’ve found that stirring Meyer lemon zest into a straight lemon curd transforms it into Meyer Lemon Curd.

Sally Schneider

Recipe: Tart, 2-Ingredient Citrus Curd for Key Lime or Lemon Hand Pies

This isn’t like a dense curd, more an ethereal cream. You can use it to fill tartlett shells, but as a 9″ pie, it will be a tad too loose to slice (which is why most key limes are baked), though still delicious.

The curd can be folded with whipped cream and frozen for a creamsickle-ish dessert.

One 14-ounce can of condensed milk yields about 1 1/2 cups of intense curd. I like to divide the can and make half Key lime curd and half lemon curd, spiked with Meyer Lemon zest.  The formula:
     2 parts sweetened condensed milt to 1 part lime or lemon juice + zest to taste OR
     1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk + 1/4 cup lime or lemon juice + 1 to 2 teaspoons zest

Makes 1 1/2 cups

1 pound Key limes; 5 or 6 lemons; or 5 to 6 regular limes (1/2 cup juice and 3 to 4 teaspoons zest)
1 can sweetened condensed milk, preferably organic

To make the curd:  With a fine grater, zest enough fruit to make about 4 teaspoons.  Then cut the fruit in half and juice it.

In medium canning jar, combine the sweetened condensed milk and the juice; stir with a fork to combine. Add zest to taste, keeping in mind that the flavor will intensify as it sits; you can always add more later. Refrigerate until thick (when you run a knife through it, it will hold the groove.)

The curd will last several weeks in the refrigerator but will begin to lose it’s thickness after about a week becoming more like thick cream.


To assemble the hand pies: When ready to serve, set out the jar, cookies and creme fraiche with spoons for dolloping and a lot of paper napkins…

Related Posts:

Earl Gray Tea (And Other) Butter Cookies

Brown Sugar Butter Cookies With Thyme-Rosemary-Lavender Salt

Anti-Anxiety Cookies: Chocolate Planets + Wonders

Midnight Snack: Homemade Peanut Butter Cups



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One thought on “Key Lime or Lemon Hand Pies for Desperate Times

  1. I’ve been thinking about using the dough from your Ethereal Brown Sugar Butter Cookies recipe to try and make a mini, bite-sized tart. Instead of cooking the dough flat, I was going to see what happens if I form the dough in the bottom of muffin tin and create a lip of 1/2 of an inch or so. It might make a nice little tart where I can bake a few at a time to have tarts on demand. I have some frozen rhubarb compote from last year. Since I am going to the grocery store today, I am also going to try and get the ingredients to make this curd.

    By the way, I wanted to let you know that your cookbook, The Improvisational Cook, is my favorite cookbook and it fundamentally changed how I cook. I am much more confident either winging it or just using a recipe as a very rough base and going off in my own direction from there.

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