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For Valentine's Day this year I attempted to make my wife a Key Lime Pie. I followed Emeril's recipe, with one small modification: I replaced the granulated sugar in the crust with a 1:1 ratio of light brown sugar. The key lime juice was freshly squeezed, not packaged.

In case the link ever goes away, the ingredients are:

Base: graham cracker crumbs, light brown sugar (original called for white), 1/2 stick butter melted
Filling: condensed milk, key lime juice, whole eggs
Topping: sour cream, powdered sugar, lime zest

The pie was delicious and held together great. I'm a good cook, but a very inexperienced baker, so overall I was very happy with how my first attempt turned out.

However, after about 3 hours in the fridge this viscous liquid started seeping into the pie pan (see picture below). My assumption is that this is lime juice and/or sugar somehow escaping, but I don't really understand how or why that would be happening. My other thought is that it might have to do with the molasses from the brown sugar in the crust, although that seems less likely to me (I've made plenty of pies with similar crusts that didn't have this problem).

As described in the recipe, I baked the crust by itself, put the filling in, baked it for 15 minutes together, and then put it in the fridge for 2 hours before cutting.

So, my questions:

  • What is seeping out of my pie after about 3 hours of refrigeration?
  • How can I prevent this in the future?

picture of key lime pie

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@Aaron, @Michael, @Joe, @anonymous: with the 4 suggestions (xanthan, pectin, starch, eggs) I feel like I should try all 4 side by side. Does anyone see any issue with turning a recipe like this into key lime "cupcakes" so I can easily make multiple batches without having to make whole pies? I don't see any reason this recipe wouldn't work with smaller portions, but as I said, I'm still getting my feet wet with baking. Thanks all! –  stephennmcdonald Feb 16 '11 at 15:00
    
(FYI, you can only notify one person at a time, so none of the other people on that list will see your comment.) There's really not much difference between a pie and a tart, except for the crust and possibly the baking time. Go for it. –  Aaronut Feb 16 '11 at 17:01
    
Sweet, sounds like I have a plan for the weekend (or possibly next week if the weekend gets crazy). Will report back with results. And thanks for the notification pointer - did not know that! –  stephennmcdonald Feb 16 '11 at 17:06

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

What you have there is simply water seeping out of the gel and bringing some dissolved stuff with it. This is known technically as syneresis. What will help is to add something stabilize the gel. Xanthan gum is probably the easiest thing to use. You can find it at health food stores or Whole Foods because gluten-free bakers use it a lot. Start with 1/8 teaspoon pureed into your filling. Sprinkle it over the filling liquid before mixing, and put it through a sieve before baking to catch any clumps.

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1  
I actually got xanthan gum as a holiday gift this year, and have been looking for a way to learn how to use it - my wife will be excited that I have to try the same exact recipe again, with the xanthan gum added, so I can do a fair comparison :) Thanks for the suggestion! –  stephennmcdonald Feb 15 '11 at 17:05
    
I like your families idea of holiday gifts! –  Michael at Herbivoracious Feb 15 '11 at 17:24
1  
Some pectin crystals could probably help too; pectin does well in the sweet/acidic environment but there's not much of it in citrus juice (as opposed to the peel/zest). –  Aaronut Feb 15 '11 at 17:49

Besides Xanthan, that Micheal mentioned ... some custard pie fillings will call for use of some sort of a starch (eg, corn starch), which will help prevent the 'weeping' problem, and might be something you already have in your pantry.

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Xanthan gum is good stuff in its place, but might be tricky to add to pie filling at home. I know that when I add it to hot sauce in the making (5gm/gallon) I have to be stirring like mad in order to avoid lumps of the stuff, and hot sauce is a LOT thinner than key lime filling. Another egg might be a better choice for the pie. I add 2 yolksw, and a whole egg to my lime pies. Also, you're not overdoing it on the limejuice, are you? Getting the pH too low could spell trouble for the stability of the gel.

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Thanks for the good idea, I'm going to try the xanthan gum first since I've been itching to try it, but the extra egg makes a lot of sense and if I have a problem with the xanthan I will try this. I only used the 1 cup of lime juice in the recipe, but having never made this before and being an inexperienced baker, I don't know if that's too much or not proportionally - do you think it is? –  stephennmcdonald Feb 16 '11 at 14:56

My recipe calls for 1/2 cup of lime juice:

-- 1/2 cup Lime Juice 14 oz. sweetened condensed milk 2 eggs separated 1 egg whole 4 Tblsp sugar 1 grated lime peel

Mix Milk, Lime, Eggs Blend, pour into shell

Use eggwhite for Merangue (4 Tblsp sugar)

350° 50-55 min --- Resulting pie does not make runny stuff

I can't tell the size of your pie fom the photo, but a cup of lime juice would definitely cause more curdling than 1/2 cup.

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