A Piece of Mexican Lime Pie

Not for nothing is there a saying that goes “as American as apple pie.” Pie in the US is American comfort food of the first order.

Pie in Mexico is pay.

Pay: a sweet taste of el sueño Americano, a bite of the ideal life en los Estados Unidos. Just like a milkshake, just like a Hollywood blockbuster, just like being able to wear a pair of laid-back Levi’s jeans.

In the 80s, when I was a tween like my son Sami is today, my school friends and I would go for a thick and tall slice of pay, right after watching an American blockbuster film. Which wasn’t often. Back then, you had to wait anywhere from a few months to a year for any of these movies to make their way down to Mexico, if they ever did.

lime pie without topping
Cooled pay de limón next to freshly whipped meringue, en su punto, ready to be spooned on top.

Anyone who traveled to los Estados Unidos and had seen Indiana Jones, James Bond, Star Wars, E.T., or Superman when first released, was the envy of the entire grade. Once, and if, the movie made it to Mexico, we would stand in long lines to try to get tickets. Moviefone was decades from happening. Online tickets were light years away.

There was a movie theater located on top of the very tall and very modern Torre Comermex building on the corner of Periférico y Avenida Reforma. If you had gotten in line soon enough, or if you were lucky, you’d be allowed in and, by way of a sleek elevator up to the theater, to watch the movie that had been talked up f-o-r-e-v-e-r. And then some.

It was BIG.

lime pie topped with meringue
Fresh meringue capriciously spread on top.

On the bottom of the Comermex building, at street level, right next to the entrance to the parking lot, there was a popular coffee-shop style restaurant called Shirley’s. My guess, as well as my mother’s, was that it was named after Shirley Temple, but I never fact checked it. It had big glass windows, puffy and shiny plastic seats, waitresses dressed like those American waitresses from the blockbuster films and, bueno, waiters wearing bow ties.

Whether or not we were successful getting into a movie, we ended up in Shirley’s for  a slice of pay.

If we could do both, it was BIGGER than big.

If  you had more than five pesos, you could have a milkshake, too.

That was the BIGGEST. Ever.

Pay de limón with quickly baked meringue, right out of the oven.
Pay de limón with quickly baked meringue, right out of the oven.

We’d walk into Shirley’s wearing our jeans, our nicest sweater, our weekend shoes (I’d even wear a ribbon around my ponytail), and wait for our turn for a table. Once seated, I’d meticulously review the dessert part of the menu, as if I didn’t know it by heart. It was just really nice to read, again and again, all the pay choices there were. Ok, there were three choices, but three is more than one…

All the pay’s were chilled. There was pay de chocolate, an outrageous pay de plátano with whipped cream and an extremely flaky crust, and pay de limón. After you ordered your slice, you could see the waitress retrieve it from the fridge. Slices were gi-gan-tic.

lime pie with baked meringue
I love how baked meringue looks, so I took another photo…

Pay de limón was the most impressive, as the tart filling had a meringue top layer that seemed to pile up to the sky. As if the American cooks, all the way from up north, had ladled that meringue from the clouds. What was most impressive was how it held its height, as you ate your way through it.

There was a pop culture fever, and it is still true today that Mexicans seek out new and up-and-coming entertainment, fashion, and food fads from the US.

First slice out of lime pie
First slice out.

The Shirley’s closed. The movie theater at the top of the Comermex also shut its doors. The building was bought and redone, and it’s now a bank. No more pay’s there, that’s for sure.

This recipe tastes like that pay de limón from a Mexican era that has long gone.

It has a nod to the summery classic Key Lime Pie, but instead of key limes, what packs the punch are super plump and juicy Mexican limes. This dessert really gets all they’ve got, as it uses a generous amount of juice as well as the zest. All that tartness from the limes is rounded out by the sweet and creamy sweetened condensed milk. The filling is much more creamy and less gelatinous than what I remember, but I like it even more.

And, of course, there is a big puffy meringue on top but never as high. I don’t need it to be so tall, anymore.

lime pie
I did… ate the first slice.

To be honest, I feel as much excitement making this pay de limón for my boys, with the show stopping baked meringue on top and that irresistible tart and creamy filling, as when I used to eat a similar version in Shirley´s decades ago. Back when you had to stand in line to get a ticket to see a movie that you couldn’t even dream of downloading on an iPad.

Mexican Lime Pie

Pay de Limón

Recipe Yield

10 servings

Cooking time

2 hours 10 minutes

Rate this recipe

4.41 from 5 votes


For the crust:

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more to butter the pie dish
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Pinch kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour plus more to dust the pie dish and roll out dough
  • 1/2 cup whole milk

For the filling:

  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • Zest of 2 green Mexican limes
  • 2/3 cup fresh-squeezed green Mexican lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream

For the meringue:

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar

To Prepare

  • Butter and dust a 9-inch pie dish with flour.

To make the crust:

  • In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sugar, salt, and egg yolks, and continue beating until well combined. Reduce speed to low, add a 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour at a time. Lastly add the milk and beat just until the dough is fully combined and comes together. Roll into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for a half hour, or until it is firm enough to roll.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Generously dust your counter and a rolling pin with flour. Roll out the dough into a 1/4-inch thick circle large enough to fit the pie dish. Place the dough on top of pie dish and gently fit it into the inside of the dish, as well as covering the edge. You may cut around the edge with a paring knife, if you have extra hanging over. Poke the bottom of the pie crust 10 times with a fork, as well as 10 times around the edge. Cover with a layer of aluminum foil or parchment paper, and fill with either pie weights or a cup of dried beans. Place pie dish on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the beans and the aluminum or parchment paper, and place back in the oven for 8 to 10 more minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool.

To make the filling:

  • In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs on medium speed, until foamy, for a couple of minutes. Pour in the sweetened condensed milk, and continue beating for a minute or two. Pour the heavy cream, along with the lime zest and lime juice and continue beating for a couple minutes more, until fully combined and thickened.
  • Pour lime mixture into the pie crust, fill up to the brim (right before it starts to spill!). Place on top of baking sheet and into the oven. Bake for 50 minutes, or until completely set. Remove from the oven.

To make the meringue:

  • In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites over medium speed until soft peaks start to form, or you start seeing soft shapes in the egg whites as the whisk moves along. Pour in the confectioners’ sugar, 1/4 cup at a time. Continue beating until you achieve meringue consistency, the mixture is shiny, thick and you see deeply marked shapes as the whisk moves along. You can also tell if it’s ready, if you stop the mixer and raise the whisk, the mixture should hold stiff peaks. With a rubber spatula, spoon the meringue on top of the pie, spread along very gently, making waves or peaks as you cover the entire pie. Place on the baking sheet and into the oven for another 10 minutes or until the meringue has set and its top is lightly browned.
  • Remove form the oven. Let cool. Place in the refrigerator. Serve chilled.


30comments inA Piece of Mexican Lime Pie

  1. Susana

    Jan 28

    Hola Pati,
    Felicidades por todos tus logros! Verte cocinar me inspira meterme mas a la cocina 🙂 Hice el pay de limon que es uno de los favoritos de mi esposo americano y quedo riquisimo! El se comio casi todo el pay en dos sentadas! :). Que gusto tener este sitio para aprender otras recetas. Yo soy del norte de Mexico y aunque mi mama es una excelente cocinera, hay platillos de otras partes de Mexico que no hacemos. Asi que estoy encantada de poder hacer los platillos de otras regiones del pais. Veia tus shows en USA y ahora tambien los veo en Singapur 🙂 y aunque algunos ingredientes son dificiles de conseguir aqui, hay muchas cosas que si encuentro, asi que seguimos disfrutando de nuestra deliciosa comida mexicana, la favorita de toda la familia! Por favor continua con tu excelente trabajo!
    Saludos desde Singapur!

    1. Pati

      Jan 30

      Muchos saludos hasta Singapur, Susana, gracias por ver mi programa!

  2. Johnny

    Mar 07

    Loved the story, I’m trying to think of a special food from my childhood that resembles yours. I love limes and hope to make this very soon.

    1. Pati

      Mar 09

      Thank you, Johnny! I hope you do try it!!

  3. Marilyn Albright

    Jan 08

    I have a question about pie crust. I live in Oaxaca half of my life, and when here I love to use the manteca de cerdo because it has so much flavor and makes the most tender crust. Actually that is my problem because when I roll out the dough and then try to transfer it to the pan it falls apart. (Fortunately it is easy to patch together, and no one is the wiser!)
    The recipe I use is:
    1/3 c. lard
    1/2 t. salt
    1 cup flour
    Just enough water to make it come together, which is usually less than 1 Tablespoon because the lard is so soft.
    I mix it together with my hands then refrigerate it.
    (I double this recipe if I am using a bigger pan)
    I would greatly appreciate any tips you have on making crust with this lard. I notice your recipe has egg yolks, so I think I’ll try adding one.
    Thanks so much for your cookbook, TV show (much more enjoyable than Rick Bayless), and this blog!

    1. Pati

      Jan 12

      Hola Marilyn, How lucky you are to spend so much time in Oaxaca! Pie dough can be tricky…if it’s consistently falling apart, I would try a little more water next time.

  4. Becky

    Oct 29

    Pati, I have come back to thank you and tell you that I have made this pay de limon several times and it is now a favorite with my boys. I cannot get Mexican limes in France. Oddly enough the only ones I find in the supermarket are imported from Brazil but as Connie commented, they are almost identical to Mexican ones. Everything else is easy to find. One time, after I already made the crust, I realized I didn’t have any more leche condensada (called lait concentré sucré here) so I used a can of coconut milk instead. It was really good!

    Now I am going to check out the recipe for pan de muerto so I can attempt it tomorrow. Let’s hope it is sucessful :-).

  5. marilyn severson

    Oct 15

    Love watching your show. I want to try your recipes. How do you keep your weight down. You are very thin. Your recipes seem to be loaded with calories. Ive been trying to lose weight and stick to 1050 calories a day.

    1. Pati

      Oct 15

      Hola Marilyn, Thank you so much! I hope you will try some of the recipes. I just try to keep everything in moderation.

  6. Connie

    Sep 25

    Hola Pati,
    I’m Canadian but lived in Mexico City for 4 years and I deeply love the country, its people and its incredibly rich culture.
    I am now living in Brazil, where the limes are much the same as Mexico’s. And I”m dying to make your pie. It sounds perfect but do you consider it too tart to make without the merengue? I’d prefer to simply dust it with confectioner’s/icing sugar.

    And one more question. I found your site while searching for a way to get chipotle chiles out of a few jalapeños I found. It’s almost impossible to find jalapeños here, so I was disappointed to see that I seem to need some kind of a ‘smoker’ to transform them into that fantastic flavour of chipotle. It’s very difficult to find (or afford) food that is not part of Brazil’s regular palate. So I’ve never found chipotle of any kind here. So if you know of a way to slow burn, oven cook or otherwise transform jalapeños into chipotle I would be grateful!
    As a newcomer but an avid cook, I am looking forward to exploring your site! Gracias/Obrigada, Connie

    1. Pati

      Sep 28

      Ho Connie!
      Yes you can make the pie without the meringue, it is DELICIOUS too!
      As far as the chiles, you can try to dehydrate them in the oven…. OR you can order dried chipotle chiles online!

  7. Gicel

    Sep 10

    Pati! Stumbled upon your blog, and it warmed my heart immediately. I too am from Mexico City, and although I’ve lived in the US all of my life I long for my beloved Mexico. Thank you for your wonderful stories, and authentic recipes!

    1. Pati

      Sep 12

      Hola Gicel, So happy you stumbled upon my site!! Thank you for leaving a note & I hope the recipes remind you of home.

  8. Becky

    Aug 02

    In the eighties, when I was a teenager, my family and I moved to Mexico City from the States. How I missed being able to go to the movies any time I wanted to see the latest films, like I did in California! When we discovered that same movie theater, going to the movies followed by a meal and dessert at Shirley’s became an EVENT. Catching a movie became a whole other experience. I left Mexico in 1998 but reading this blog entry has taken me back to Shirley’s and made me feel a bit nostalgic.

    Este fin de semana voy a preparar tu receta para este pay de limón, y compartir mis recuerdos de Shirley’s con mis hijos. Gracias!

    1. Pati

      Aug 02

      Gracias a ti por hacerlo!

  9. Geralyn

    Jul 26

    Hello Pati! I must share my Yucatan French toast adventure with you. I did it from memory (always a dicey choice). So I made the meringue and folded the milk/sweetened condensed milk into it. Dipped the bread in egg, popped it into the milky meringue (and no, it did not look like yours as I remembered it) and popped it into the skillet of hot coconut oil. It wasn’t bad! Needed NO syrup, and the leftover Milks/meringue I steamed to have with my espresso – also nice. So apparently I have a leg on both continents which means I should soon fall arse over teakettle. Have just scooped the recipe from your site. Thank you for wonderful recipes and enjoyable television. Geralyn

    1. Pati

      Jul 26

      Geralyn, your comment made me laugh so hard. Sounds YUM!

  10. Susana Sahagun

    Jul 25

    Hey Pati, gracias por esta deliciosa receta que no puedo espear para hacerla. Por otro lado tambien tengo una pregunta. De casualidad recuerdas un lugar que se llamaba “Plaza Bosques” que estaba por Bosques de Las Lomas, bueno pues ahi habia un restaurant-cafeteria que se llamaba “Las Bananas” en donde vendian el mas delicioso pay de bananas, y era tan simple como el que describes del Shirley’s pero super delicioso! con ese crust que parecia mil hojas o algo parecido, las banas y el merengue o mas bien chantilli, creo. Tendras tu una receta para ese tipo de pay?

    1. Pati

      Jul 26

      Si me acuerdo de Plaza Bosques! Pero no de Las Bananas. Si tengo un pay parecido, lo pongo aquí pronto Susana!

  11. Serviced Apartments Resident

    Jul 24

    That looks insanely gorgeous and creamy! Thanks for the wonderful recipe, I’ll be make sure to make ‘pay’ in the future!

    1. Pati

      Jul 24

      Thank you!

  12. Lorraine D'Antonio

    Jul 21

    Siempre me ha gustado muchísimo su programa de televisión – tanto las comidas que Ud. prepara y las explicaciones que las acompañan como los aspectos culturales sobre México que Ud. nos presenta. Además, su manera tranquila la hace distacarse de modo completamente positivo de casi todos los otros programas de ‘cocina’ (cooking shows), sin perder, sin comprometer en absoluto su entusiasmo. – ¡Ay no! El sábado pasado vi uno de sus programas televisado en WNED Buffalo, él en que Ud. se reunió con su padre en su restaurante. Su manera me parecía muy cambiada. ¿Me estoy imaginando? No creo. La Pati de siempre se parecía a casi todas las otras presentadoras. Ellas hablan de manera demasiado expresiva, hiperactiva. – Ud. no necesita ser como ellas para comunicar su pasión y captar nuestro interés. Por favor, danos la Pati clásica – tranquila y no obstante vivaz .

    1. Pati

      Jul 25

      Que amable por su mensaje, Lorraine! Será que estaba entusiasmada de ver a mi papá 🙂

  13. David Hauer

    Jul 21

    Love your style and classy Mexican cuisine. Inspiration and nature are you strengths

    1. Pati

      Jul 21

      Gracias, David!!

  14. Dalila G.

    Jul 19

    Forgot to mentioned….pinned! ^_^

  15. Dalila G.

    Jul 19

    Isn’t it just wonderful to have such fond memories of our youth?!
    Especially if those memories include food. 🙂
    Pie is always a win-win for my family and friends.
    For some reason it always beats out my other desserts and pie is the most requested dessert for me.
    I have made many lime pies, but I will definitely be making yours soon. 🙂
    I enjoy watching your show, keep up the great work, you make cooking look like fun, which it is for me.
    It’s always nice to see your boys too.
    Have a nice day Pati and thank you for sharing!

    1. Pati

      Jul 19

      My pleasure, Dalila!

  16. Patricia R

    Jul 15

    Killed it! Que viaje al pasado… Shirley’s e ir al cine Comermex…

    1. Pati

      Jul 15


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