This post has been sponsored by Nonni’s. I received product and compensation, but all opinions are my own.

Atlantic Beach Pie

Many years ago, I was running late for work at my job at a tech start-up. As mundane as it was, I still remember because it was actually A Notable Event for me. I’m the kind of person who is hardly ever late; in fact, I’m almost always ten minutes early to everything because I’m one of those Very Type-A people who believe that “on time is late.”

That day, however, I was late enough that I grumpily hopped into my car, with every intention of speeding to work. But something happened. Usually when I get in my car, my first priority is always to fiddle around with the radio or my iPod to find the perfect playlist for the drive. But in my rush to get to work, I’d left it set to its last setting: NPR. And on All Things Considered, a woman was describing a recipe for Atlantic Beach pie. Her description of the pie was enough to make me forget that I was in a mad rush to get to my office: a “dense, crispy, thick crust”, a filling of “tanginess and sweetness”, and a taste so delicious that the pie almost put her in a fugue state where all she could say about the pie was “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.”

I knew I HAD to try it. I filed a mental note to look up her recipe and bake one for myself. And almost eight years later, here I am finally following up on that note, lol.

Why You Should Make Atlantic Beach Pie

Recently, my sponsor Nonni’s asked if I would be interested in hosting a Dip and Donate Party to benefit Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a non-profit that helps fund research to find a cure for childhood cancer. All I needed to do was invite friends and family over for lemony drinks and nibbles, all in exchange for a small donation to Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

I was stoked; I’m always down to entertain for a good cause! I immediately started planning the menu with all my best lemon recipes. I decided to focus on drinks and desserts you could eat by hand like cookies and cakelets, all centered around one big lemony showstopper. Spoiler alert— it’s Atlantic Beach pie, haha:

  1. {Drinks} Sparkling Cucumber Basil Lemonade
  2. {Drinks} Thyme Lemonade
  3. {Cakelets} Lemon, Lavender and Earl Grey Mini Cakes and Petit Fours
  4. {Cakelets} Mini Sour Cream Lemon Cakes with Beet Glaze
  5. {Cookies} Raspberry Lemon Lofthouse Cookies
  6. {Cookies} Tangy Meyer Lemon Sugar Cookies
  7. {Showstopper} Atlantic Beach Pie!!!

I hosted my party this past Saturday, February 15—just in time for International Childhood Cancer Day. But you can participate anytime you want, too! Plus, for every social post with the tags @NonnisFoods, @AlexsLemonade, and #DipandDonate between now and the end of the year, Nonni’s will donate $1 per social share to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. Be sure to tag me on Instagram too if you make any of my lemon recipes above!

Another Dip and Donate party tip: If you don’t have time to bake the Atlantic Pie, Nonni’s Limone Biscotti is delicious on its own and dipped in your favorite drink, like lemonade or coffee.

What is Atlantic Beach Pie?

So what exactly is Atlantic Beach pie, anyway?

I mentioned this earlier, but Atlantic Beach pie is basically a key lime pie, but made with lemon juice (instead of key lime juice) and saltine cracker (instead of graham cracker) crumbs for the crust. Most citrus curds get their sweetness from granulated sugar, but both key lime pie and Atlantic Beach pie are solely sweetened with condensed milk. That sweetened condensed milk is also responsible for giving the filling a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture that’s hard to replicate with more traditional curds.

Atlantic Beach Pie History

The origin of Atlantic Beach pie can be found in North Carolina, where it’s traditional for seafood restaurants along the state’s coast to serve a lemony dessert after an epic seafood feast. Apparently in the 1950s, many folks believed that eating dessert after a seafood meal could actually kill you. But there was one exception to this rule—lemon desserts were somehow okay? Something to do with digestion? I really don’t know, lol. What happens next is also unclear, but I’m assuming an enterprising chef swapped out the lime juice for lemon juice in a key lime pie recipe. From there, Atlantic Beach pie was officially born.

Early iterations of Atlantic Beach pie were also different to the Atlantic Beach pie that’s popular today. Instead of salty and umami saltine crackers, recipes called for sweeter ones. The pie was also topped with a meringue topping, similar to more traditional lemon meringue pie.

Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie

However, Bill Smith, the executive chef at the landmark Chapel Hill seafood restaurant Crook’s Corner, can be credited for the version of Atlantic Beach pie that most folks know and love today. It was he who first used saltine crackers in the Atlantic Beach pie crust and also substituted out the meringue topping for fresh whipped cream instead. And while those changes were initially controversial, his twist makes an Atlantic Beach pie SO good that his recipe went viral multiple times! In 2014, Food52 featured his recipe in their “Genius Recipes” column, and in 2018, the New York Times featured the exact same recipe as well. Oh, and in 2013, too! It was actually his recipe that the woman on the radio was gushing on about many, many years ago—yes, the very same radio program that actually inspired me to research and write this post!!! I’ve officially come full circle.

Atlantic Beach Pie Ingredients

Now that I’ve convinced you to make Atlantic Beach pie, here are the key ingredients in the recipe worth chatting about:

Nonni’s Limone Biscotti

Although traditional Atlantic Beach pie is made with a cracker or saltine crust, I found those crusts to be salty and distracting from the Atlantic Beach pie’s filling. I decided instead to swap out the saltines for a more delicate-flavored cookie like biscotti. But between you and me, I hate making biscotti at home since it’s a bit of a time-consuming process: not only do you need to make the cookie dough and shape it into biscotti, you then need to bake the cookies TWICE to get biscotti’s signature crunch and texture. It’s one of the few baked goods I’d rather buy at the store. My favorite brand is Nonni’s; their biscotti is rich in flavor, crunchy in texture, relatively low calorie (only 110 calories per biscotti!), and made with real, wholesome ingredients like eggs, butter, and sugar. They also come in different varieties like Salted Caramel, Turtle Pecan, and Toffee Almond. For my Atlantic Beach pie recipe, I used Nonni’s Limone Biscotti to complement the Atlantic Beach pie’s lemon filling.


Traditional Atlantic Beach pie recipes can vary in the citrus they use in the recipe—some exclusively use lemon juice, while others use a mix of lemon and lime juice. While I tried the mix, I found that it wasn’t that different from key lime pie (it was pretty tasty though). I wanted my Atlantic Beach pie recipe to be a distinctly “Atlantic Beach pie,” so I decided to stick with all lemon juice in my recipe.

As a result, this recipe uses both fresh lemon zest AND fresh lemon juice to make the filling. Although it’s much easier to buy pre-squeezed lemon juice at the store (which, in a pinch, I definitely won’t judge you for because I know how time consuming it can be to prep fruit), the freshly squeezed stuff will ultimately make your pie taste more fresh and flavorful. While it’s important to strain out the seeds from the juice, don’t worry too much about straining out the pulp from your juice—that’ll give the pie more flavor, too.

Fresh Whipped Cream

As I mentioned before, traditional Atlantic Beach pie recipes were made with a meringue topping. However, I found that the meringue and lemon filling together were too sweet; I much preferred Bill Smith’s variation with whipped cream instead.

Although you can use whipped cream from a can, the pie will last a lot longer in the fridge if you whip the cream at home yourself. Canned whipped cream tends to deflate after an hour or so, dissolving into a weird white puddle in the middle of your pie. Homemade whipped cream, on the other hand, takes only about 5 minutes to make and can actually stay whipped for more than 48 hours if done right. In later iterations of Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach pie, he even recommends whipping in some cream cheese or mascarpone into the cream to help stabilize it.

Best Atlantic Beach Pie Recipe Tips

    • {Timing Tip} Although this pie comes together fairly quickly, you’ll need to plan ahead and make it the day before you’re planning on serving it—the filling needs to chill for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight. Make the whipped cream and garnish the pie right before serving to ensure that the whipped cream is at its fluffiest and the biscotti cookies are at their crunchiest, too.
    • {Pie Making Tip} Use a glass or ceramic bowl to make the lemon filling. A metal bowl will react with the lemon juice, giving the filling a noticeable metallic taste.
    • {Pie Making Tip} When making whipped cream, recipes often instruct you to whip the cream to specific textures like “soft peaks” and “firm peaks.” The best way to determine the cream’s texture is to do a test with a whisk: Dip the tip of the whisk (or the whisk attachment) into the whipped cream, remove it, and completely turn it upside down. If the cream is too soft, it will slide off the whisk, and you’ll need to keep whisking. If the cream has a cloudlike structure, with peaks that lose their shape, you’re at the “soft peaks” stage. Stop here—this is where you want to be for my Atlantic Beach pie recipe!
  • {Styling Tip} If you follow me on Instagram and saw my Instagram Stories on how to make this recipe, you’ll notice that after chilling the pie, I decorated the pie’s edges with more cookie crumbs. This is NOT a requirement and is just to make the pie look extra pretty; the recipe below does not include the step. But if you’re interested in styling your pie in the same way I did, you’ll need to make an extra half-batch of cookie crumbs by halving the recipe for the crust below. Instead of pressing the crumbs down into a pie plate, simply spread them evenly over a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes at 350°F to toast them.

Get the Recipe: Atlantic Beach Pie Recipe

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For the Biscotti Crust

  • 1 ½ cups (5.25 ounces) Nonni's Limone Biscotti crumbs (see baker's notes)
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
  • Pinch of kosher salt

For the Atlantic Beach Pie Filling

  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • Zest of 2 large lemons
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • cup (5.35 ounces) strained freshly squeezed lemon juice (see baker’s notes)

For the Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup (8 ounces) very cold heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar, sifted if lumpy
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Garnish

  • Nonni’s Limone Biscotti
  • Flaky sea salt


Day 1: Make the Crust, Filling, and Bake the Pie!

  • First, make the crust: position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the Nonni’s Limone Biscotti crumbs, melted butter, and salt and toss with your fingers until the mixture looks like wet sand. Pour the mixture into a 9-inch pie pan and use a tart tamper or your hands to press it evenly over the bottom of the pan, all the way to the edges. (You can use the bottom of a coffee mug or heavy glass to pound the crumbs in place, too—you want to apply some pressure here so the crust holds its shape.)
  • Bake for 12 minutes. The crust will look underbaked and feel soft to the touch when you remove it from the oven, but will firm up as it cools. If you find that the crust has slumped down the sides of the pan, use the back of a spoon to gently ease it back into place while it’s still warm. Cool the crust on a wire rack while you make the filling.
  • Next, make the filling: keep the oven heated to 350°F.
  • In a medium glass bowl, whisk together the condensed milk, egg yolks, lemon zest, and salt. Add the lemon juice and whisk until smooth. Pour the filling over the crust and use an offset spatula to smooth the top.
  • Bake for 18 minutes, or until the edges of the pie are set but the center still wobbles slightly. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Day 2: Make the Whipped Cream and Serve!

  • First, make the whipped cream: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the cream, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla. Whisk on medium-high until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes.
  • Next, garnish the pie and serve: Spoon the whipped cream over the filling. Garnish with Nonni’s Limone Biscotti crumbs and pieces, and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Serve immediately.


The Atlantic Beach pie can be stored in the refrigerator, covered loosely with plastic wrap, for up to 2 days.
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