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A creamy, tart Key lime pie filling sits on top of a buttery graham cracker crust… It’s so much easier than making a whole pie!
Easy Key Lime Bars
My first experience with Key lime pie was, naturally, in Key West, Florida.
I took Matt on a cruise for his college graduation present (yep, pretty great girlfriend– he proposed 6 months later!), and our first stop was Key West. We knew it wasn’t going to be a beachy port, so the only thing on our “must do” list was to get Key lime pie.
While we were walking down Duval Street, we figured our best bet was to ask a local where the best place to get a slice was.
We were directed to a restaurant called Blue Heaven, and oh my goodness gracious, I wish we could have gone back to find the man who sent us there and thanked him for directing us to an amazing treat!
When we told our waiter what we were there for (at 9am), he told us that Adam Richman had been there just a couple weeks before specifically for the pie while filming an episode of Man vs Food.
Before we even had a bite, we knew we were in the right place!
Sidenote: let’s take a moment to look at that amazing layer of meringue. It was so fluffy, and I remember thinking it was so delicious, I could have eaten a plate of it alone. It was the perfect pairing with the lime filling and graham crust!
The waiter brought us our pie and we were so confused.
Maybe you already knew this because you’ve had key lime pie before, but I hadn’t, and neither had Matt, so we were surprised to find that it was yellow. YELLOW! Aren’t limes green?
Funny you should ask… Because although they look mostly the same on the outside, Key limes are quite different from regular limes.
What is the difference between Key Lime Juice and Lime Juice?
First of all, Key limes are smaller than regular limes, and can have a lighter green peel.
Secondly, they are a bit sweeter than regular limes (kind of like the whole lemon/Meyer lemon deal which you can read about in my blueberry lemon pie bar recipe) and have a slightly orangey taste.
Since Key limes are not so easy to find and they’re quite expensive, there’s a really great company (Nellie and Joe’s) that bottles up the juice nicely for your baking enjoyment!
You can find this juice on Amazon, or you can find it in the mixer section of the grocery store (with seltzers, cocktail mixes, etc.).
Key Lime Bars Recipe ingredients
For the graham cracker crust, you will need:
- graham cracker crumbs
- brown sugar
- ground ginger
- ground cinnamon
- unsalted butter
For the Key lime filling, you will need:
- block cream cheese
- egg yolks
- sweetened condensed milk
- Key lime juice
- lime zest
Key Lime Bars substitutions and additions
If you can’t find or don’t have Key lime juice, you can use regular limes and lime juice. You can even use lemon juice or any citrus juice that you want to make a citrus pie bar!
WHAT IF I CAN’T FIND KEY LIME JUICE?
If you can’t find it, don’t feel like buying it, or just don’t want to use it, you can use regular lime juice (I suggest freshly-squeezed for best flavor) + lemon juice in its place.
Use half lime and half lemon juice to mimic the brighter flavor of Key lime juice vs regular lime juice.
Just keep in mind, you’re no longer making Key lime bars, just regular old lime bars. And the ones from the Keys sound much yummier… Just sayin’…
How to make Key Lime Pie Bars
These bars are quite simple to put together. The hardest part is waiting for them to chill in the fridge or freezer before you can eat them!
You’re going to start with a graham cracker crust for your base, for which I used my homemade graham crackers. You may most certainly use regular graham crackers, but nothing beats the buttery flavor that the homemade ones produce (besides, with leftovers, you can make some s’mores)!
When I decided I wanted to create this recipe for a housewarming party I was attending, I knew I needed to make them sturdy because they would be outside.
To help them hold up to the summer heat, I added some cream cheese to the Key lime pie base, and not only did it make the bars sturdy, but the creaminess mixed very well with the tangy lime flavor.
Egg yolks, some sweetened condensed milk, a little cream cheese, your Key lime juice, and some lime zest is all you need for the filling!
The creamy, tart filling pairs nicely with the oh-so-buttery and crunchy crust that it sits so perfectly on top of. There is just enough tart to balance the sweetness, and it really satisfies the sweet tooth while also throwing some savory undertones in the mix.
How to serve Lime Bars
This really is a perfect dessert, and you should probably consider making it for your 4th of July celebration that’s coming up soon… I promise, this is easy, only takes a few ingredients, and will really wow your party guests.
You might be their favorite person ever after sharing these. That’s a pretty bold statement, but whenever I make these, my empty container is always proof these bars are epic!
How to store Key Lime Squares
Store these Key lime bars in the refrigerator. They freeze well for long-term storage or for a frozen version to enjoy.
Key Lime Pie Bars FAQs
Like most citrus, Key limes will last about 2 weeks at room temperature and about 3 weeks in the refrigerator. If you remove any zest, be sure to store them in a covered container with a damp towel to prevent them from drying out.
You can juice a lime by using a citrus juicer, or you can simply buy the juice already prepared in a jar (my personal preference, since it can often be hard to find Key limes in the store).
True Key limes are grown in the Florida Keys and other parts of Florida. They are typically smaller than traditional limes and their juice is more yellow than green.
For more Key lime desserts that aren’t pie and a way to use up some more Key lime juice, consider one of these recipes:
•3 ingredient Key lime sherbet from Cooking With Carlee
•Key lime cupcakes from House of Nash Eats
•Key lime fudge from Berly’s Kitchen
•Key lime pie mojito from We Are Not Martha
•No bake Key lime mousse pie from Beyond Frosting
•Pressure cooker Key lime curd from This Old Gal
•Key lime pie popsicles from Easy and Delish
•Key lime pudding cake from 2 Cookin’ Mamas
•Key lime coconut parfait from A Hundred Affections
•Vegan Key lime ice cream from The Roasted Root
Key Lime Squares
GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST
- 2 cups (170g) graham cracker crumbs approximately 16 rectangles
- 1 and ½ Tablespoons (18g) brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 Tablespoons (57g) unsalted butter melted
KEY LIME FILLING
- 4 ounces (115g) block cream cheese softened to room temperature
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 14-ounce can (397g) sweetened condensed milk full fat
- ½ cup (120g) Key lime juice
- zest of one lime
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF (177ºC).
- Line an 8″ x 8″ or 9″ x 9″ baking pan with foil. Leave an overhang on the sides and spray with nonstick spray. Set aside.
GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST
- In a small bowl, blend the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, ginger, and cinnamon. Pour in the melted butter, and then mix to combine.
- Press the mixture evenly into prepared baking pan, being sure to press firmly. Bake the crust for 10 minutes.
KEY LIME FILLING
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a medium sized bowl with a handheld mixer, beat cream cheese on high until smooth. Beat in egg yolks one at a time, scraping down the sides as necessary. Beat in sweetened condensed milk, Key lime juice, and lime zest and mix until combined.
- Pour filling into prepared crust and bake for 23-25 minutes. Edges should just start to brown and middle should no longer be jiggly. Allow pan to cool at room temperature on a wire rack. When completely cool, chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours, or in the freezer for 1 hour.
- When bars are completely chilled, lift out of the pan using foil overhang and cut into squares. Bars can be stored covered in the refrigerator up to 1 week.
All nutritional values are approximate and provided to the reader as a courtesy. Changing ingredients and/or quantities will alter the estimated nutritional calculations.
Try my Key lime cookies next!