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 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!
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!
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!
What You’ll Need
- 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.
- 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.
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) 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.
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 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.
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
- Candied Ginger Orange Scones from Blogghetti
- Chocolate Pecan Banana Bread from That Recipe
- Chunky Oatmeal Date Cookies from Palatable Pastime
- Key Lemon Pie from Art of Natural Living
- Orange Poppy Seed Bread from Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks
- Pizza Burger Bomb from A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures
- Popovers from Karen’s Kitchen Stories
Key Lemon Pie
- 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
- 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)
Originally published Sep 3, 2020.
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