Last summer, I discovered a magical dessert recipe with a cult following: lime cracker pie. It's made with only four ingredients, there's no heating of any kind involved, and it packs a refreshing citrus punch that I can't get enough of in sweltering summers. I haven't stopped making it since.
The recipe's credit goes to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt on Serious Eats, though it's technically from his wife's Colombian aunt. It matches the icebox cake format — a type of dessert usually made by layering premade cookies or crackers with pudding-like ingredients and then refrigerating it so the cookies soften and give the cake structure — that has been around for about as long as refrigerators have.
All you have to do to make this recipe is mix some ingredients together, then layer everything up like a key lime pie lasagna. The most involved part is zesting and juicing your limes. But all told, it only takes 10 or 15 minutes to put it together and get it in the fridge. Plus, the ingredients are cheap and easy to find: limes, heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, and Ritz crackers.
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The real magic behind the recipe comes when you mix the lime juice into the heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk. It immediately thickens into a pudding without the need for heating or gelatin. That's because the acid from the lime juice thickens it, and there's enough protein and emulsifiers in the condensed milk to keep it creamy and smooth instead of curdling. That's some science trick.
Once the lime cracker pie hangs out in the fridge for at least a few hours, you can cut it cleanly if you're entertaining guests for a dinner party or just scoop with a big spoon for a beach picnic. It's versatile, has a great sweet and tart balance, and has all the best qualities of key lime pie without the work or effort.
Tips for Making Lime Cracker Pie
- Don't skimp on the lime zest or juice. Though the recipe only calls for juice in the filling, I add zest as well because I want the lime to sing. Taste the filling with the called-for half-cup of lime juice, and add more juice if you want it more tart. I usually add close to 3/4 cup.
- Make it ahead of time. Lime cracker pie needs at least four hours of time in the fridge for the crackers to properly soften, in my experience. It's the perfect make-the-day-before dessert.
- More layers isn't necessarily better. You may be tempted to add more cracker layers to bulk it out, but if there's not enough filling between each one, it'll turn out dry in the end.
- You can halve it. Because the recipe calls for two cans of sweetened condensed milk and two cups of cream, it's very easy to halve if you only want to make a smaller amount.
- Have fun with additions. Feel like raspberries? Great sale on strawberries? Add them to a few layers, or on top. You could also change up the Ritz crackers with graham crackers, Saltines, Nilla wafers, or other similar crunchies.