Deliciously tart and smooth, this gluten free key lime pie is made with a simple gf graham cracker crust and filled with a rich, classic key lime custard. You won’t believe how quick and easy it is.
What makes this recipe for gluten free key lime pie special?
As a kid, I had the perfect slice of key lime pie while in the Florida Keys. I’ve been chasing that moment ever since. That first creamy-crunchy sweet-n-sour bite, the brightest lime flavor, and that smooth custard.
When I returned to Key West just a few years ago, the pie was just as I’d remembered it. But if I’d had my gluten free son with me, there would have been no safe gluten free key lime pie for him to eat.
If you’re from Key West, or your family is, you may do things a bit differently. I’m always happy to learn from someone who knows more than I do.
The best gluten free key lime pie recipe
If you’ve ever shied away from making a key lime pie because you thought it was too complicated or would take a long time, I’m here to put your fears at ease. With my gluten free key lime pie recipe, you only spend about 15 minutes putting things together before you can put your feet up while it bakes.
Other reasons I love this recipe?
- It really is so incredibly easy to make. Short on time? Just use bottled key lime juice and a premade gf graham cracker crust (Mi-Del makes one that looks good!)— your secret is safe with me!
- Why is this gf key lime piece recipe so easy to make? It only requires a few, simple ingredients despite being such a decadent dessert.
- And of course, everything but the crust in this key lime pie is naturally gluten free!
What are the ingredients in key lime pie (gluten free style)?
- Key lime juice – Depending on local availability (and how much time and effort you want to put into this recipe), you can use fresh key limes, bottled key lime juice, or a blend of lemon and lime juices.
- Egg yolks – The egg yolks are what give this gluten free key lime pie all of its structure and creaminess.
- Sweetened condensed milk – The sweetness of the condensed milk really tapers the tanginess (and sometimes bitterness) of the lime juice, and helps the filling set up beautifully.
- Salt – Just a dash of salt amplifies the sweetness and tanginess in such a delicious way.
What is the difference between (gluten free) key lime pie, and lime pie?
Key limes are a type of lime. Their juice is brighter and more tart than conventional limes. Key lime pie is made with the juice of this tiny, green-yellow citrus.
The recipe for the filling has only 3 main ingredients: lime juice, egg yolks, and sweetened condensed milk. It’s named for Key West, Florida, but the origin story of key lime pie seems to be in dispute.
For every 6 eggs in the recipe I use, below, there’s an entire cup or 8 fluid ounces of juice. The acidity in the juice helps to “cook” the egg yolks, which we finish in the oven for a clean-slicing pie.
Because you need the acidity of the citrus juice, you can’t make this pie without an acidic liquid. But if you can’t find key limes or bottled key lime juice, you can come close to the taste with equal parts fresh lemon juice and fresh conventional lime juice.
Where to find fresh key limes (and how to know they’re authentic)
There are some companies that sell what they call fresh “key limes,” but seem inauthentic to me. Key limes are small, for limes. And they’re not as dark as conventional limes, and they have a yellow-ish cast.
Of course, with any fresh fruits, there can be a lot of variation in color and size. They typically come in a mesh bag, and they’re really quite small.
How to juice key limes
By the way, have you ever juiced a key lime? They have lots of pits, and their size makes using a juice reamer impractical.
To juice them, slice them in half, and squeeze as hard as you can with your fingers over a bowl. Then strain out the pits and any pulp.
Is Nellie and Joe’s key lime pie juice gluten free? Is Manhattan?
The only 100% certain way to get pure key lime juice is by juicing key limes. But they can be difficult to find, and you need a lot of them to make enough juice for this pie.
The ingredients listed on the bottle of Nellie & Joe’s Key West Lime Juice are: filtered water, Key West lime juice from concentrate, sodium benzoate (preservative), and lime oil. There is no statement on their website about whether the product is officially gluten free.
The ingredients on the bottle of Manhattan key lime juice are: water, key lime concentrate, and less than 1/50 of 1% sodium metabisulfite (preservative). I feel comfortable using either bottled juice based on the ingredient list. Please make whatever decision is appropriate for your family, based on your own risk tolerance.
Making a gluten free pie crust for key lime pie
I won’t go into too much detail here on making the gluten free graham cracker crust as I discuss my two options at length on the gluten free graham cracker crust recipe page.
If you have the time to make your own crust, I highly recommend you do that. Whether you choose the baked version or go the no-bake route, a DIY crust really contributes to the freshness of this homemade gluten free key lime pie.
For the no-bake crust, you only need gluten free graham crackers and unsalted butter. If you opt for the baked crust, you’ll need gluten free graham crackers, butter, and an egg.
Of course, if you want to save time or just aren’t a fan of crust, you can always go crustless — that just means more soft, creamy, delicious key lime pie filling with every bite.
How to make meringue as a topping for your gf key lime pie
Many Key lime pie recipes call for topping the pie with whipped cream (including the bottle of Nellie & Joe’s Key West lime juice). That’s how I remember it being served whenever I was in Key West.
But there’s a lot of chatter on the web about how the only “right” way to serve Key lime pie is with an Italian meringue topping. Of course, there’s no reason you shouldn’t serve it however you prefer.
If you’re interested in Italian meringue, I’ve linked to two recipes from other sources below. It’s nearly the same as our recipe for homemade marshmallow crème.
To make Italian meringue, you simply cook sugar and water to the “softball stage,” then whip it together with egg whites into stiff (but not dry) peaks. You can then pipe the mixture in mounds and bake it at a very low temperature, or just serve it as is on top of your pie.
If you make baked meringues (which are amazingly delicious, by the way), you can make them weeks ahead of time and store them in a single layer, in a sealed container in the freezer. They will retain their crispness that way.
Either way, don’t top the pie until you’re nearly ready to serve it. The soft meringue will begin to weep, otherwise, and the baked meringues will lose their crispness.
Tips for making the best gluten free key lime pie
Be picky about your ingredients
There are only three ingredients in key lime pie filling, so each one plays a pivotal role in the overall taste of the pie.
Whenever you’re making a recipe that has so few ingredients, you should really try to go all out quality-wise.
For the best taste, I recommend making your own sweetened condensed milk. If you can swing fresh key limes, go that route; otherwise, choose a quality brand of the bottled stuff. And for the eggs, grab the freshest ones rather than the ones that have been sitting in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
Bake your key lime pie on a baking sheet
Right before and after baking, your gluten free key lime pie will be delicate. The uncooked filling will be runny, and the baked filling will be soft and jiggly.
Because pie pans have such thin rims, it can be difficult to transfer your pie to a hot oven, not to mention remove it after baking without accidentally dipping your oven mitt into the pie.
To make it easier to handle the pie before and after baking, try using a baking pan under the pie dish. You’ll have a larger handhold for keeping errant fingers out of the filling and maintaining balance as you move through the kitchen.
Give your gf key lime pie time to set
When you pull your baked gluten free key lime pie from the oven, you’ll notice it’s a bit wobbly. It won’t be runny per se, but it could feel that way if you were to dig in right away.
To ensure the right texture and consistency, you have to give the pie time to firm up. Let the pie cool completely, and then transfer it to the refrigerator to cool down further so that it can set.
How to store a gf key lime pie
A key lime pie isn’t the type of pie you can leave out on the counter. It must stay refrigerated to maintain its texture. That’s actually a good thing because 1) the consistency of a cold slice of key lime pie is absolutely divine 2) refrigeration lets you store your pie longer.
When storing your gluten free key lime pie in the fridge, wrap it with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out or taking on fridge odors.
Can you freeze key lime pie?
My gluten free key lime pie freezes wonderfully. To store it in the freezer, let it cool completely, and then wrap it with plastic wrap or aluminum, just as if you were storing in the fridge. After that, give it a bit more protection from freezer burn by slipping it into a zip-top bag.
While the pie will technically last up to three months in the freezer, I find that the texture starts to change after about a month. When you’re ready to eat the pie, remove the zip-top bag and place the pie in the fridge to defrost overnight.
Gluten free key lime pie: substitutions
The custard in this recipe is naturally gluten free—but has 2 other prominent allergens. Here are my best guesses for what you can try to substitute if you must, and how.
For substitution information regarding the cookie crust, please click over to the gluten free graham cracker crust recipe. There are bake and no bake options, plus “ingredients and substitutions” information, there.
Gluten free dairy free key lime pie
You must use sweetened condensed milk in this recipe. You can make a different sort of recipe with the flavors of key lime pie, and without sweetened condensed milk (try our no-bake key lime pie and our gluten free key lime pie bars recipes), but you can also make this recipe dairy-free.
There are companies that actually sell cans of non-dairy sweetened condensed milk, usually made with coconut milk. They’re relatively expensive, but I’m glad they’re an option.
You can also make your own sweetened condensed milk more easily than you might think. That recipe (please click the link in the previous sentence) has instructions for making the milk dairy-free.
Gluten free key lime pie without eggs?
Here’s where my powers fail me. You cannot make this recipe, as is, with anything other than the actual yolks of actual eggs. If you’d like the taste of key lime pie without eggs, try our no bake gf key lime pie recipe. It’s naturally egg-free!
If you’re wondering what to do with all those egg whites, after separate the eggs, they’re a good start on the roughly 12 egg whites you need for our gluten free angel food cake recipe.
Substitute for key limes
If you can’t find fresh key limes at your local grocery store, I suggest that you next reach for a high-quality bottle of key lime juice.
If you’ve having trouble finding that, you can create an alternative using one part fresh lemon juice and one part fresh lime juice. Of course, you can also use the bottled versions of these juices, but I think the taste won’t be as vibrant.
Is lime juice gluten free?
Yes, unadulterated lime juice is naturally gluten free. If you’re purchasing a bottle of it rather than squeezing your own, be sure to check product labels carefully. While the lime juice is unlikely to have gluten-containing ingredients, it could be subject to cross-contamination at the factory.
Is key lime pie gluten free?
Classic key lime pie filling is typically gluten free. Assuming a baker is following a traditional recipe, the main ingredients are just eggs, sweetened condensed milk, and key lime juice.
Where you run into problems is the graham cracker crust. Most store-bought pies will use graham crackers made from wheat.
Is there flour in key lime pie?
There’s rarely flour in key lime pie filling, but you’ll usually find it in the crust.
Is key lime pie healthy?
You may think that key lime pie is healthy since it’s made with such few ingredients, one of which is a fruit, but it’s a bit actually high in calories and fat due to the sweetened condensed milk. However, that’s no reason to turn up your nose; key lime pie is a dessert, and like any dessert, you should enjoy it in moderation.
How many key limes for this key lime pie recipe?
If you’re squeezing key limes to get the juice for this recipe, you’ll want to do some hand stretches beforehand. That’s because you’ll need to squeeze roughly two pounds of limes — or about 40 in total.
Can you use regular limes in key lime pie?
If you absolutely cannot get your hands on anything else, yes, you can use regular limes to make this gluten free key lime pie recipe. But if you can find limes at the store, you can probably also find lemons, so I suggest buying equal parts of both to make a faux key lime juice.
How to make the perfect gluten free key lime pie
Gluten Free Key Lime Pie
- Handheld mixer or stand mixer
For the crust
- 1 ¾ cups (350 g) gluten free graham crackers crushed into crumbs
- 8 tablespoons (112 g) unsalted butter melted
For the filling
- 1 cup (8 fluid ounces) key lime juice (juice of about 2 pounds key limes) (See Recipe Notes)
- 6 (150 g) egg yolks at room temperature
- 2 14-ounce cans (28 ounces total) sweetened condensed milk
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- For the optional meringue See Recipe Notes
For the pie crust.
- Grease well a 9-inch pie plate and set it aside. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
- In a medium-sized bowl, place the cookie crumbs and melted butter, and mix until the crumbs are moist and begin to hold together. Scrape the crust into the prepared pie plate.
- With plastic over your hand to prevent the crust from sticking, press the crust firmly and evenly over the bottom of the pie plate, and halfway up the sides. Set the pie crust aside.
For the filling.
- In a large bowl, place the lime juice, egg yolks, condensed milk and 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, and beat with a handheld mixer or stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment until smooth.
- Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Tap the pie plate flat on the counter a few times to break any air bubbles that have formed.
Bake the pie.
- Place the pie in the center of the preheated oven, and bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until the filling is mostly set, but jiggles a bit when moved gently from side to side.
- It’s a controlled shake, not like it’s still liquid. The filling will have darkened in color a bit.
- Remove the pie from the oven, and place it on a wire rack. Allow the pie to cool to room temperature.
- Cover the cooled pie, still in the pie plate, and place it in the refrigerator and cool at least 2 hours or up to overnight before slicing and serving.
- If you are serving with Italian meringue, do not top the pie at all until you’re nearly ready to serve it. The soft meringue will begin to weep, and the baked meringues will lose their crispness after about an hour.