First Words — 31 August 2018
Key lime pie is our gift to civilization, or is it?

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

I didn’t want the Key lime pie.

Didn’t come 4,263 miles from Miami to Edinburgh, Scotland, for a slice I could get 7.6 miles from home at Bob Roth’s New River Groves in Davie. Or Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami, 28 miles. Or Grunts Bar in Key West, 176 miles.

But there I was at the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel this summer, steps away from actual royalty – I’m not making this up, Queen Elizabeth II was just across the street at her annual Royal Garden Party – looking over the dessert menu at Chef Paul Tamburrini’s Bistro Deluxe.

The good chef that day was offering Pink Lady tarte tatin, with caramel sauce and panna cotta ice-cream. Tiramisu, with mascarpone ice cream and espresso granite. Dark chocolate soufflé and hazelnut ice cream.

And Key lime “pie.”

I didn’t want it.

What could anyone in a land famous for whisky, haggis and Nessie possibly know about our signature dessert? The pie officially designated the state pie by the Legislature in 2006. The pie we all know was created by hardy Conchs in the late 1800s from the cans of condensed milk, egg yolks and Key lime juice they had on hand?

Never mind the story in The Miami Herald this summer that our pie was actually created in a test kitchen on Madison Avenue in 1931 to sell more Borden condensed milk. Never mind the subsequent frantic search for actual, physical evidence to support claims the Key lime pie was really created by our dessert forebears.

“I’d love help from any multi-generational residents to dig up old written recipes for lime pie using lime, eggs and condensed milk,” wrote David Sloan, author of The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook. “[I’m] going to compile all of our evidence and make it clear that Key lime pie really is from the Keys.”

Well, of course it is! I pulled out the Definitive Reference: My meringue-stained copy of Famous Florida Recipes: 300 Years of Cooking, by Lowis Carlton (formerly food editor of The Miami Herald). I’ve been using it since I got here in 1982, and right there, in Chapter 3, pg. 29, Carlton states, “the Conchs produced a true masterpiece, Key Lime Pie.”

So, it is written.

I was about to shut down Sloan’s search with my Definitive Reference when I noticed the date on the title page.

Copyright, 1972.”

I felt sweat on my brow, like beads on an undercooked meringue.

Maybe they’re right?

It seems nobody has yet found “printed record that bakers in Florida used canned milk to make a no-cook lime pie prior to Borden’s 1931 introduction of a recipe for Magic Lemon Pie,” the Herald reported.

So I’ll allow here, in this Food & Dining Issue, that the history of our sunny dessert is now cloudy. That Key lime pie may not be our gift to civilization, exclusively. That others have a right to interpret our early lack of refrigeration and overabundance of canned condensed milk, farm eggs and Key lime juice any way they please.

Even 4,263 miles away, at Bistro Deluxe in Edinburgh.

“I’ll have the Key lime ‘pie,’” I said.

“Very good, sir!” the waiter said. (I love Scotland).

It arrived in a bowl. Like a conch chowder. A bowl’s all wrong for pie of any kind, I thought. Pour me another piece of pie? No.

I tried not to let it influence my judgment. I tried to focus on what was in the bowl.

But I’d never seen Key lime pie like this before. I began to understand the quote marks around pie.

There were shards of meringue down there – like alpine peaks of white sugar – surrounding a yellow valley of chilled lime curd on a biscuit of rye flour, unsalted French butter, sugar and cocoa butter. A scoop of coconut sorbet, laced with coconut-flavored rum, rested on top.

It was all wrong – and all right. Almost too pretty to eat.


I didn’t want the Key lime pie.

But as I took a bite and tasted it, 4,263 miles away, I was home.



O N L I N E  B O N U S

Chef Paul Tamburrini’s Recipe for Key lime “pie’’

Chef Paul Tamburrini was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and has never been to the Florida Keys – but you’d never know it from the bright, sunny flavors of his Key lime pie. You can sample his version of our dessert – served in a bowl – in person at his Bistro Deluxe at the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel in Edinburgh (to book a table, or to find out more, visit; or, attempt the recipe, presented below in its complex entirety, on your own. Fair warning, though – this is a challenging project (in the original, authentic metric measurements, no less!), perhaps best left to experts. We’ve sampled the finished product (actually, we were so impressed, we went back for seconds!) – and, both times, we were happy Chef Tamburrini was in full command of the construction, not us. His deconstructed version of Key lime “pie” is far from the traditional version many of us know here in South Florida; but he says he does source actual Key limes from a restaurant supplier in the U.K. We, of course, are on the same page with him about the Key ingredient – we just don’t have to go quite as far to get it.


For the lime meringue

120g Free range egg whites (4 eggs, approximately)

120g Caster sugar

120g icing sugar, sifted

Zest of one unwaxed lime

Plus a little extra to serve


150G Caster sugar

1.5g Agar Agar

150g free-range eggs

150ml freshly squeezed lime juice.

200g cold, unsalted French butter cubed, plus extra for greasing.


200g Rye flour

100g Unsalted French butter

100g caster sugar

300g cocoa butter, melted


Line 2 baking trays with baking parchment paper. Place the egg whites in a spotlessly clean, grease-free bowl and whisk until its light and frothy, then add the caster sugar a little at a time, until its incorporated, continuing to whisk until stiff peaks. Fold in the icing sugar and spread the meringue mixture over the lined trays until its 5mm thick, then scatter the lime zest over the top. Dehydrate in a low oven about 113-140 degrees (Fahrenheit) until crisp, about 45 minutes. Then turn off the oven and leave the meringue over-night to dry.


Mix the caster sugar and agar agar together in a mixing bowl. Place the eggs and lime juice in a medium pan, add the caster sugar and agar agar and slowly bring to a boil over a low heat, whisking continuously to ensure the mixture doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan, until the flakes have dissolved. As soon as it reaches the boiling point, remove the pan from the heat and add the cold diced French butter a piece at a time, emulsifying the mixture with a stick blender. Pass the curd through a fine sieve into a heat-proof container, cover the surface of the curd with a piece of cling film, leave to cool.


Grease the molds and line a baking tray with baking paper. When the curd is cool, transfer it into a piping bag fitted with a medium nozzle and pipe 80g per greased mold. Place the filled mousse in the freezer then, once the curd is frozen solid (3 hours approx.) pop out the molds and re freeze, and get ready to start dipping them.


Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees (Fahrenheit) and line a baking sheet with baking paper. Mix the flour, butter and sugar together in a bowl to form a crumbly dough, then scatter the dough onto a lined baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes until its golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly and then transfer into the food processer or blender and pulse until you have a fine mixture. Add the melted cocoa butter and continue blending to form a smooth liquid biscuit mix. Pour the biscuit mixture into a sauce pan and keep it warm. Ideally around 104 degrees (Fahrenheit), and whisk it regularly to ensure the mixture is emulsified. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the curds from the freezer and dip them, one by one, into the liquid biscuit mix, making sure they are completely covered. Allow any excess mixture to run off, dip them in the mixture again. Return the coated lime curds to the freezer for 10 minutes to harden.


Transfer the lime curds to the fridge for at least one hour before serving. The biscuit shell will remain hard while the curd will become soft and oozy. Dress with shards of meringue and grated lime zest.


500ml Coconut sorbet

75ml liquid glucose

40g icing sugar

2 Tbsp. coconut flavored rum

Warm the coconut milk and 75ml water in a saucepan over a low heat. Add the liquid glucose over a low heat. Add the liquid glucose and icing sugar and whisk until fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the rum, pour into a bowl and allow to cool.

Once cooled, pour into an ice cream machine and churn until almost firm. Best eaten within a week


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