Tart ‘n’ tangy: Key Lime Cheesecake

September 12, 2006

Key lime cheesecake

Key lime cheesecake

I’ve seen it on many a menu, but have rarely been tempted by it. Usually, it’s crowded out either by my full stomach (which refuses dessert entirely) or offerings of warm berry tarts of some sort (which always call their siren song to me). What mysterious dessert am I talking about?

Key Lime Pie.

But Key Lime Pie is a star in many parts — I think particularly in even warmer climates — and I’ve felt an obligation to try it. But after a packing away a full restaurant meal and then growing dizzy at the prospect of dessert, bearing the mantle of culinary explorer (as opposed to warm apple tart eater) is just too much.

Luckily, my husband has solved this dilemma by making Key Lime Cheesecake here in our own home.

So now I can tell you that this particular variance has a light, custard-like texture that pairs with the crispy spiciness of its ginger snap crust. When you fork it in, it has a fresh — very tart — taste of lime, quickly met with an uncloying sweetness. Kind of like a sour lime candy. Then you finish by munching on the delicious cookie crust.

Sound good? I think so. I’m not Key Lime Pie expert (obviously) but I know good dessert. This is it, folks. Read on for husband’s backgrounder, and as he waxes philosophical about limes of all kinds.


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Cooking with fresh key limes is new to me. I’m not sure whether there is a new, broader availability to them or whether I’m simply paying more attention to what’s around, but early this summer I saw these tiny little jewels of intense tart magic… and I started to cook with them.

In the beginning, I tried treating them as I would regular limes (which are actually Persian limes). I quickly discovered two qualities that key limes are known for that make them culinarily distinct from their more prevalent, and larger, counterpart.

First, they have a high sourness and acidity. It would take very few of them to make a dish overly tart or acidic. So in many recipes where I know the citrus taste of the dish, I’d have to adjust to match the intensity of the key lime.

Second, they have a thin skin and high seed content. This makes them bad for zesting and poor for garnish, etc., on other dishes.

So, I tried out some very traditional uses for them with some successes and some failures. My favorite so far is below. It’s really a variation on the very traditional and extremely easy to make Key Lime Pie. Honestly, I feel guilty revealing how easy this is to make. There are six ingredients in total and a low level of difficulty.

Alright, on to its classification as Key Lime Cheesecake: Well, this technically isn’t a cheesecake. There is no cheese — and most cheesecakes have a cream cheese base. However, the key lime’s intense acidity helps to break down the condensed milk and egg to help it form the structure that makes this cake cheesecake-like, which makes it really a custard.

The recipe is very tart and tangy. It differs very little from many key lime pie recipes, and only in that its construction is different, its filling is more substantial, and the crust I use is ginger-snap-cookie based. I chose ginger snaps because they bring a different bite that stands up against the intense key lime flavor; plus, they bring a good deal of flavor to the cake.

Finally, one last thing, key limes are dense and small and can be tough to squeeze. I find there are two tricks to extracting the most juice possible from them. First, rolling them under a heavy, flat object (like the base of your chef’s knife) and really pressing hard breaks down the insides of the lime. Second, cutting them on the equator of the fruit exposes the segments and really allows you to juice as much as possible from the fruit. This is the only hard task in this recipe and it’s easy enough once you get going.

Key Lime Cheesecake


1 cup fresh squeezed key lime juice

6 egg yolks

Two 14 oz. cans of sweetened condensed milk


30 ginger snap cookies (pulverized should make about 1 1/2 cups)

4 tbsp. unsalted butter (melted)

2 tbsp. light brown sugar

Special Hardware:

10-inch springform pan


Pie Crust:

1. Preheat your oven to 350F.

2. Crush the ginger snaps. There are two real ways to do this first step. I use my food processor because I love my kitchen toys. The other way is to put them in a plastic bag and find some way to smash the billy-be-dern out of them. What you are looking for is small pieces with no real large chunks — a relatively coarse grain.

3. Melt the butter. (Microwave, stove tip, Zippo lighter… whatever gets the job done.)

4. Once the snaps are crumbs, place them in a bowl and add the brown sugar and melted butter. Mix thoroughly so the brown sugar isn’t clumped and the melted butter is nicely distributed, darkening the crumbs.

5. In a 10-inch springform cake pan, you want to mash down to the crumbs using a heavy, flat surface like a ramekin or heavy glass. Flatten the crumb mixture and press it into the corners.

6. Place in the oven for 15 minutes. The remove and let cool for 15-20 min before use.


1. In a large bowl or mixer, combine the condensed milk and key lime juice.

2. Now add each egg yolk one at a time. Make sure each addition is thoroughly integrated before you add the next. You can do this by hand, but it takes more effort. And you really want to really make sure it is all integrated.

3. Once done, pour over the cooled base for the cake.

4. Place in the oven for 40-50 min. You are looking for two things. First, is for the sides to be a bit firm and the center of the cake to jiggle slightly. Second, if you have a thermometer, look for a temperature of 150F in the middle of the cake.

5. Cover and let cool in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. If you skip this step, you’ll regret it. It will run. The structure needs to be set and cooled. So, let it sit in the fridge to firm up.

6. Run your knife along the edge of the cake to ensure it separates from the pan. Then open, serve, and enjoy!


  1. This looks good. So many people have been posting about cheesecakes; I hope that some event happens soon, so that I can make one!

  2. lemon and lime are my all time favourite flavours. wowzer.

    do you deliver?……..to England?!

  3. Wow, really? I have never made a cheesecake without cheese before. I’ll have to make it and see.

  4. Looks great! I’ve been looking for a good key lime cheesecake recipe!

  5. That looks delicious, I will have to try it out. Thanks for the good instructions. I found another key lime cheesecake recipe http://www.cheesecake-recipes.org/fruit/lime.php but haven’t made it but I think I will try this one first.

  6. This is not cheese cake, it is key lime pie. No cream cheese = not cheesecake.

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