#BecauseGluten: Crustless key lime pie that's every bit as tasty as the real thing

With apologies to our food critic.

click to enlarge For celiacs, does it get much better than handheld key lime piecakes? - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
For celiacs, does it get much better than handheld key lime piecakes?

I have to apologize to CL's restaurant critic, Jon Palmer Claridge. I've broken one of the holy Key Lime Pie Commandments, and if anyone is gonna take me to task, it's gonna be him. See, JPC feels almost as strongly as I do that there's one way to make key lime pie — fresh key lime juice, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, graham cracker crumbs and butter.

That's not empirical, by the way, it's actual, factual stuff.

Sunshine State guru Gary Mormino teaches the key lime pie gospel in his Florida Foodways class — part of the Florida Studies program at USF St. Petersburg, and, yes, you do have to eat a lot of key lime pie to get your diploma — explaining it as an elegant solution to pre-air-conditioning food storage issues in the Florida Keys. Every ingredient has a reason: Key lime trees are the citrus that can most easily weave their roots down through the pockmarked limestone "soil" in the Keys, condensed milk replaces fresh cow's milk when there's no refrigeration, and graham crackers don't go rancid as quickly as flour (again, refrigeration).

As for eggs? Well, if you've been to Key West, you know the place has no shortage of roosters that're around for the ladies, resulting, of course, in an abundance of eggs.

There's no reason, JPC argues, to change a recipe that's served so many so well for so long. I, too, make this argument. Well, made — until my first trip down to the Keys since my celiac diagnosis. As I leave, it's tradition to stop at Key Lime Products at mile marker 95 in Key Largo, buy a pie or two, and enjoy them in bits and pieces over the following weeks. But tradition was slowly killing me from the inside out, and when I returned to the Keys last month to work on a series about the state of the island chain six months after Irma, I realized there would be no stopping for a pie.

Because graham crackers have gluten, which meant key lime pie was off limits.

Nights after my latest return from the Keys I'd open the freezer drawer and stare down into it, wishing I had a tangy bit of pie. And then I remembered another road trip — this one north to St. Augustine. After a sobering look at Lincolnville, dinner at Meehan's Irish Pub & Seafood House included a dessert of crustless key lime pie. It looked like a giant scoop of ice cream.

I thought, what if I made just the filling?

Turns out, if you use an ice cream scoop to divide key lime pie filling into cupcake liners, you have handheld piecakes. Handheld piecakes, y'all! What could be more perfect? OK, yeah, technically they don't qualify as "pie," but they're as close as I'm likely to get, and — even if Mr. Claridge may chafe — every bit as tasty as the real thing.

Crustless Key Lime Pie

Makes 10 decent-size piecakes

4 egg yolks

1 can sweetened condensed milk

12 key limes or 1/2 cup key lime juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat egg yolks on medium until you have a thick yellow mixture and can't tell where one yolk ends and another begins. Add sweetened condensed milk. With mixer on low, slowly incorporate key lime juice. Pour mixture into a shallow baking dish. Bake for 12 minutes. Allow to cool, then freeze for at least 1 hour (or refrigerate for at least 6 hours). To serve, use an ice cream scoop to evenly divide the mixture into cupcake liners.


Since 1988, CL Tampa Bay has served as the free, independent voice of Tampa Bay, and we want to keep it that way.

Becoming a CL Tampa Bay Supporter for as little as $5 a month allows us to continue offering readers access to our coverage of local news, food, nightlife, events, and culture with no paywalls.

Join today because you love us, too.

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
Scroll to read more Food News articles

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.