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Key Lime Dessert with Zest and Cream

This zesty, colorful, creamy, and refreshingly cool key lime dessert is a family favorite that always gets some rave reviews.  And it tastes just as good as it looks!

Key lime dessert with crumbs whipping cream and lime zest in clear cup.

The classic key lime pie is one of my favorite restaurant desserts to indulge in at the end of a delicious meal. So l decided to make it myself and over time I’ve perfected this amazing recipe which I’m now sharing with you. With a few simple ingredients, the tasty dessert is easy to make at home for special occasions like birthdays, family gatherings, or holiday dinners. You can also add it to your dinner at home and for summer picnics

The citrus fruit juice and zest combined with condensed milk make a rich tart, creamy and flavor-filled dessert that’s not too sweet. I always use the Graham cracker crust because it makes the crisp and buttery crust quick to prepare and provides a great base to hold the lime filling. Store-bought crusts are more convenient than homemade crusts, require no extra effort, and taste good too. The interesting thing about this easy key lime dessert is there is no egg but it still sets perfectly. 

With just 10 minutes to prepare, you’ll have a mouthwatering easy dessert in no time.  And the added bonus is since the dessert is served chilled, it’s a great recipe that you can make ahead of time too then just add the whipped cream garnish and serve!

Which limes do you use for the key lime dessert?

Key limes can be hard to find when they’re not in season. They are very popular in the Florida Keys where some of them are grown and it even seems like all the restaurants there serve key lime desserts. If you’re not in Florida and can’t find these special limes, you can use Persian limes which are ordinary grocery store limes. The flavor may not be the same though but it’s still better than using bottled key lime juice for this recipe. 

So what’s the difference between a key lime and a regular Persian lime? Key limes are tiny and about half the size of their Persian counterparts. Persian limes are more tart and don’t have the same aroma and sweetness you’ll find in key limes. 

Key Ingredients for the Key lime dessert:

Melted butter, whipping cream, powdered sugar, whipping cream, four limes, graham crackers, sweetened condensed milk, and cream cheese in individual dishes for key lime dessert.
  • Graham cracker crumbs: I used the store-bought ones. 
  • Unsalted butter, melted: Add richness to the dessert and binds the crust together.
  • Cream cheese softened: Bringing the cream cheese to room temperature softens it and makes the creamy smooth texture of the filling.
  • Sweetened condensed milk: This creates the base of the filling and it sweetens and thickens the filling as well. 
  • Fresh key lime juice: Don’t use the ready-made lime juice from the grocery store. Squeeze it yourself at home. I use this citrus juicer.
  • Key Lime zest: Part of the filling and also works to decorate the topping. 
  • Whipped cream for garnish: Homemade whipped cream is so much better for this recipe as it helps balance out the tartness of the filling.

Find the full printable recipe with specific measurements below.

Step-by-step Instructions to Make Key Lime Dessert: 

Step 1: Make the crumb mixture

  • In a small mixing bowl, mix together the Graham cracker crumbs and melted butter until well combined. Mix with a fork first then your hands until all the crumbs are coated in the butter.
A bowl of crushed graham crackers mixed with melted butter.

Step 2: Place the crumb mixture into glasses 

  • Divide half of the mixture and place it in an even layer among 4 glasses or dessert cups. You can use your fingers or the bottom of a small measuring cup to press the buttery mixture firmly on the bottom of the cup or glass. 
Graham cracker crumbs in two glass cups.

Step 3: Prepare the limes

  • Start by zesting the lime and then juice the limes using a citrus reamer.

 Step 4: Make the key lime filling

  • Using a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the condensed milk, key lime juice, and lime zest, and beat until you have a thick and creamy filling. 

Step 5: Place the filling on the crust

  • Spoon half of the key lime filling into the glasses on top of the graham cracker crust. Then repeat with the rest of the Graham cracker crumbs, and then with the rest of the filling, to make even layers.
Two clear glasses filled with softened cream cheese.

Step 6: Make the homemade whipped cream 

  • Using a hand mixer or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or beaters) beat the whipped cream and powdered sugar until medium stiff peaks form. 
whipped softened cream cheese in white bowl.

Step 7: Chill, Garnish the serve!

  • Chill the glasses in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. When ready to serve, garnish with whipped cream and decorate with a little bit of lime zest.
two clear cups filled with key lime dessert and graham crumble layers on white board and lime slices around and silver teaspoon.

​Expert Tips 

  • Make sure you zest the limes first ​before you extract the juice because it’s almost impossible to do after. 
  • Choose plump limes that give a little when you squeeze them as they will be easier to juice.
  • You can substitute the graham cracker crumbs with ground gluten-free graham crackers to make the crust gluten-free.
  • While you can use bottled lime juice, it doesn’t have the same fresh flavor that you find with fresh key limes. 
  • If you can’t find key limes, you can use regular limes or lemons in this recipe too.
  • It’s best to use a rasp grater for zesting limes- this long, skinny tool works well for grating hard cheeses and zesting citrus.

How to store leftover key lime dessert 

  • You can store leftover key lime dessert in the refrigerator for 3-4 days then enjoy it again. 
  • Make sure you cover the top with plastic wrap first before storing it. 
  • The dessert needs to be served chilled so it’s best to keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to serve it. Only then can you top it with the whipped cream and enjoy it.

Recipe FAQs

What’s the difference between a lime and key lime?

The biggest difference between lime and key lime is the size. Limes from the grocery store are much bigger than key limes. The flavor of key limes is more bold, and sweeter and has some floral notes that regular Persian limes don’t have. 

Can I use regular limes in place of key limes?

If you can’t find key limes replace them with regular limes, or even lemons but not bottled lime juice. It just doesn’t have that fresh flavor and it will affect the flavor of your key lime dessert.

Can l make this dessert in advance?

The crust can be made 1-2 days ahead of time but it’s best to add the filling on the day you want to serve it to avoid the crust becoming soggy. Wait until you serve the dessert to top it with the whipped cream. 

silver teaspoon filled with graham crumbs whipping cream and key lime cream cheese dessert with clear cup on white board.

More delicious desserts to try:

The Sweet Meringue Dessert has a crispy yet airy texture with a sweet taste making it a perfect dessert. 

If you like citrusy desserts, this Lemon Yogurt Layer Cake with Easy Lemon Buttercream is moist, sweet, creamy, and loaded with fresh lemon zest.

The Meringue Jam Filled Tartlets are sweet, crunchy, and creamy and a great addition to the dessert table. 

Other Tasty Cream Cheese Recipes

If you tried this Key Lime Dessert or any other recipe on my website, please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how you enjoyed it in the📝 comments below. I love hearing from you!

key lime dessert in clear cup on white board with slices of green lime and a spoon full of graham cracker cream and lime zest.

Key Lime Dessert with Zest and Cream

This zesty, colorful, creamy, and refreshingly cool key lime dessert is a family favorite that always gets some rave reviews.  And it tastes just as good as it looks!
5 from 1 vote
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Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Allergy: Nut Free
Prep Time: 10 minutes
chill time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Servings4 servings
Calories: 531kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Graham crackers crumbs
  • 4 Tbsp butter unsalted
  • 4 oz cream cheese softened
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condesded milk
  • 1/4 cup lime juice squeezed from fresh lime
  • 1 Tbsp lime zest

Whipping Cream

  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 Tbsp powdered sugar

Instructions

  • In a small mixing bowl, mix together the Graham cracker crumbs and melted butter until well combined. Mix with a fork first then your hands until all the crumbs are coated in the butter.
    Crumbled graham crackers in a white bowl.
  • Divide half of the mixture and place it in an even layer among 4 glasses or dessert cups. You can use your fingers or the bottom of a small measuring cup to press the buttery mixture firmly on the bottom of the cup or glass. 
    graham cracker crumbs in two clear cups.
  • Start by zesting the lime and then juice the limes using a citrus reamer.
  • Using a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the condensed milk, key lime juice, and lime zest, and beat until you have a thick and creamy filling. 
  • Spoon half of the key lime filling into the glasses on top of the graham cracker crust. Then repeat with the rest of the Graham cracker crumbs, and then with the rest of the filling, to make even layers.
    two clear glasses filled with softened cream cheese.

Whipping Cream

  • Using a hand mixer or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or beaters) beat the whipped cream and powdered sugar until medium stiff peaks form. 
    whipped softened cream cheese in white bowl.

Chill

  • Chill the glasses in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. When ready to serve, garnish with whipped cream and decorate with a little bit of lime zest.
    whipping cream with zest on individual clear glass key lime dessert.

Notes

  • For Gluten-Free option use substitute regular graham crackers for gluten free ones.

Nutrition

Serving: 4g | Calories: 531kcal | Carbohydrates: 44g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 37g | Saturated Fat: 22g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Trans Fat: 0.5g | Cholesterol: 105mg | Sodium: 384mg | Potassium: 270mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 30g | Vitamin A: 1278IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 180mg | Iron: 1mg
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