Easy and Impressive Key Lemon Pie

Sunny yellow-gold, sweet and tart, this key lemon pie is super easy and tasty. A classic dessert or snack based on key lime pie!

Key Lemon Pie

Key Lemon Pie is a family favorite in my house!  And we eat it all year long. The bright, fresh flavor and ease of preparation make it a go to pie for all kinds of events.

Yes, when the citrus harvest comes in winter, it’s time to celebrate.  And when Easter and Mother’s Day arrive, I love how the sunny yellow color reminds me of the spring sunshine.  Finally, it’s a favorite on Thanksgiving where our big celebration means at least four varieties of pie.  

It’s just that good!  

Key Lemon Pie

What is Key Lemon Pie?

If you haven’t heard of key lemon pie before, that’s because I made it up (shhh), though I expect others have had the same idea.  Key Lemon Pie is just key lime pie made with lemons instead of limes!  Now with limes you have both regular (aka Persian) limes and key limes, but there is no such thing as key lemon.  But I wanted a nod to the original!

Of course there is a special kind of lemon called a Meyer lemon that is a bit sweeter and I think slightly more herbal than your standard lemons.  But just like I’ll make “key lime” pie with either kind of lime, you can also make “key lemon” pie with either kind of lemon. 

How nice is that!

Meyer Lemons

Why You’ll Love This!

Tasty.  Key Lemon pie is sweet and tart with a bright fresh flavor!  I bring it (or key lime pie) to every Thanksgiving.  The gathering is large, so we have lots of variety in pies.  But Key Lemon Pie is always the first to disappear!

Easy.  Even though this pie looks like something fancy and difficult, it’s actually one of the easiest pies you can make.  Most of the time I don’t even make my own crust, but go with a packaged graham cracker crust. 

Impressive. This pie comes out tasty and beautiful,  even for bakers with light skills.  Yes, your guests will think you’re amazing!

key lemon pie ingredients

Photo credit: Mary Wilkerson

What You’ll Need

Ingredients

  • Sweetened condensed milk.  This sweetens and adds creaminess.  It was traditionally used because milk tended to spoil in the Florida heat.  
  • Egg yolks.  Adds richness and thickens the pie.
  • Fresh lemons.  These provide the lemon flavor.  You’ll use both the juice and some finely grated lemon zest, which is important to enhance the flavor without adding too much liquid.
  • Graham cracker crust.  I use a packaged commercial crust.  The filling is sparse for a standard homemade pie pan (see tips).
  • Optional garnish.  If you’d like add whipped cream, lemon zest and lemon slice(s) as a garnish.

Special Tools

  • No special tools are required.

Step by Step Directions

Zest 1-2 lemons to get 2 teaspoons of zest.  Juice enough lemons to get ½ cup of juice. 

juice lemons

Photo credit: Mary Wilkerson

Whisk together sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, zest and lemon juice (add half at a time) until well combined.

Whisk filling ingredients

Photo credit: Mary Wilkerson

Pour filling into prepared crust and bake for 15 minutes at 350 F. Cool pie completely on rack, then chill for a minimum of 1-2 hours (filling will continue to set as it cools). Store covered.

Pour filling into crust

Photo credit: Mary Wilkerson

Optionally, before serving, top with whipped cream rosettes, lemon zest and lemon slice(s) or other toppings of your choice.

How to Serve

When I serve the pie, I like to decorate with whipped cream rosettes topped with lemon zest. If you are short on lemons, reserve some zest and cover to keep it from drying out while the pie sets. Or if you have enough lemons, go with fresh zest at serving. 

This is a delicious dessert that works for almost any occasion.  And while it’s special enough for company and special occasions, it’s easy enough to have anytime you’d like a treat.

Key Lemon Pie

Variations and Special Diets

For variety, preference or tradition, this pie can be made with limes for key lime pie.  And for a fun twist on that, for pi day, I once made some cute mini my key lime tartlets with the pi symbol in meringue on top.  You could do this with lemon as well.

key lime meringue tartlets

Special Diets

Key lemon pie is vegetarian as is. 

If you are gluten free, you’ll just need to make your own crust using gluten free graham crackers.  I usually use Nairn graham crackers when I go gluten free.  If you do make your own crust, be aware of matching the amount of filling and crust size since the commercial crust this is designed for is smaller than a 9 inch pie pan.  See the note in Tips for more detail. 

If you are on a keto or low-carb diet, it is possible to make your own keto sweetened condensed milk using cream and sweetener. See my no churn keto ice cream recipe for instructions. I have actually tested it in this pie, and it worked beautifully.  In that case you’d also need to use a different crust–perhaps something nut based.  This is not something I have tried.  See the note below on matching the crust to the filling amount if you decide to make your own crust.

Key Lemon Pie

Tips & FAQs

The amount of filling is good for a packaged graham crust but will be short for a standard larger homemade crust. If you are making your own crust, I recommend trying to approximate the packaged size, by using a smallish pan or perhaps going just partway up the sides. Alternatively, you could double the filling and increase the baking time, but your filling/crust ratio might be less optimal.

I like to use a microplane to zest citrus.  It will remove just the outer layer of peel and leave behind the bitter white pith so you get the very best flavor!

Can I turn this into a key lime pie?  Of course, since that’s what this is adapted from!  So for variety, or based on the contents of your refrigerator, you can substitute limes for the lemons and you’ll have a classic key lime pie.  They’re both delicious!

How do I always have lemons and limes around?  Lemons and limes both freeze beautifully!  You can just pop them into a zip loc bag or other freezer container and store them in the freezer.  To use, thaw at room temperature or defrost briefly in the microwave.  

All About Baking

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Key Lemon Pie

Key Lemon Pie

Sunny yellow-gold, sweet and tart,this key lemon pie is super easy and tasty. A classic dessert or snack based on key lime pie!
Author: Inger
4.67 from 21 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Additional Time 2 hrs
Total Time 2 hrs 30 mins
Course Desserts & Snacks
Cuisine American
Servings 8
Calories 298 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk 1 can
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3-4 lemons)
  • 2 teaspoons fine lemon zest no white
  • 1 graham cracker crust gluten-free if desired
  • optional whipped cream lemon zest and lemon slice(s) for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Zest, then juice lemons, to get 2 teaspoons of zest and 1/2 cup of juice.
  • Whisk together sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, zest and lemon juice (add half at a time) until well combined.
  • Pour filling into prepared crust and bake for 15 minutes at 350 F. Cool pie completely on rack, then chill for a minimum of 1-2 hours (filling will continue to set as it cools). Store covered.
  • Optionally, before serving, top with whipped cream rosettes, lemon zest and lemon slice(s)

Nutrition

Calories: 298kcalCarbohydrates: 42gProtein: 6gFat: 12gSaturated Fat: 5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 114mgSodium: 168mgPotassium: 234mgFiber: 0.5gSugar: 31gVitamin A: 263IUVitamin C: 7mgCalcium: 160mgIron: 1mg
I am not a health professional and nutrition data is calculated programatically. Accuracy may vary with product selection, calculator accuracy, etc. Consult a professional for the best information.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Originally published Sep 3, 2020.

20 thoughts on “Easy and Impressive Key Lemon Pie

  1. Dee S

    I could not find what temperature you cooked this on? I cooked this at 350 degrees and it came great!

      1. Dee S.

        Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. No, it did not come out pink. So good with the pink lemons though. I wish they were still in season. I made this again today with regular lemons and it came out even better. I love this recipe. I made two pies in the diamond brand pecan crust. To fill the pecan pie shells I had to triple the recipe and cook an extra 6 minutes for them to set. Your recipe in the pecan crust came out fantastic. Thanks again.

  2. David Scott Allen

    What a great idea. I never thought of making a Keylime pie using lemons. It’s especially funny because lemon is probably my favorite dessert flavor… why didn’t I think of that?

    1. Inger Post author

      I was happy I finally tried it! You could probably even do it with local lemons!

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