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METHODOLOGY // RESULTS // FACTORS // ANALYSIS // RECOMMENDATIONS
- 35 total tasters
- 5 recipes were made the day before; 4 the day of. All recipes were refrigerated for at least 3.5 hours.
- All pies were baked in a glass pie pan unless specified (Cook’s Illustrated recommends a metal pie plate)
- All tasters ranked each pie on a scale from 0-10 for the crust, filling, and as a whole
- All pies were served with a dollop of standardized whipped cream (just cream, a little powdered sugar and vanilla)
- All ingredients were measured by weight according to the King Arthur website
- Gold Medal bleached all-purpose flour
- King Arthur bread flour
- Land O Lakes butter
- Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
- Daisy sour cream
- Philadelphia cream cheese
- Kroger heavy cream and whole milk
- Nellie and Joe’s key lime juice concentrate
- Honey Maid graham crackers
- Kirkland vanilla extract
- Bob’s Red Mill baking powder and soda
- Diamond kosher salt
- Imperial granulated sugar and powdered sugar
PARTNER NOTE: I’m delighted to be partnering with Imperial Sugar on this bake off as I’ve consistently used their consistent, high-quality pure cane sugar products throughout my bake offs. Imperial Sugar is non-GMO verified, allergen free and gluten-free!
For more sweet inspiration, you can visit Imperial Sugar to find more than 4,000 expert-tested recipes, free downloadable vintage cookbooks, sugar scrubs and bath products at the Sugar Spa, and lots of helpful guides on their blog. You can also check out their Pinterest, You Tube, Instagram for even more recipe inspiration!
There was perhaps less variation in this set of recipes as I standardized all the crusts to be graham cracker crusts (a Biscoff crust seemed like it would be unfairly delicious). While the crusts were fairly similar, the custards differed in the following ways:
- Dairy: Variations included sour cream and cream cheese. (I cut one recipe that used Greek yogurt as I consider full-fat Greek yogurt to perform very similarly to sour cream). Overall, we found that pies that set the custard with only dairy and no eggs (Divas Can Cook, Tastes Better from Scratch) tended to have a milder lime flavor and a much thicker, creamier texture. The one pie that combined dairy + eggs (Souffle Bombay) had a nice middle of the road texture!
- Fresh key lime juice vs. bottled: There were a lot of strong opinions on whether bottled juice can live up to/exceed the merits of fresh key lime juice. Nellie and Joe’s is by far the most popular/available brand of key lime juice in the U.S., which is what we used in two recipes that noted they usually use bottled juice (Souffle Bombay and Tastes Better from Scratch). The verdict? I was honestly hard-pressed to taste a big difference. I did detect a slightly artificial aftertaste in some bites (and some tasters could instantly taste the difference), but my hunch is that the grand majority of people won’t taste a difference. I’ll probably still use fresh juice going forward, but I wouldn’t be against using bottled if I was short on time! As someone pointed out on Instagram, bottled lime juice can have a more consistent level of acidity.
- Eggs: Most recipes used all egg yolks, but I included a few recipes to test the inclusion of whole eggs, whipped egg whites, and non-whipped egg whites. I’d say the use of whipped egg whites is for a very specific palate (the airy texture of Pepe’s Cafe wasn’t for everyone). And I’m not sure if it was the use of non-whipped whites, but the crust on Evette Rahman’s pie was wetter than most. Ultimately, I’d lean towards yolk-based pies going forward.
- Condensed milk: For the most part, we used Eagle Brand condensed milk, but Bravetart called for making homemade condensed milk. The homemade milk had a slightly runnier consistency with a clean, not overly-sugary flavor, but the Bravetart custard ended up quite loose as well. As you’ll see below, there are several factors that contributed to the textural issues–but my overall takeaway is that canned condensed milk is just fine!
Video Tasting Review of All 9 Key Lime Pie Recipes
Don’t feel like reading? Watch me attempt to describe all 9 key lime pies in this video and I’ll name my favorites at the end!
Results: Top 3 Key Lime Pie Recipes
Though I normally post a chart showing all the scores of how each item was ranked for taste and texture, I’m changing things up! Below are the top three key lime pies as rated by my specific group of tasters.
Although I make my best effort to make each recipe perfectly and review it fairly, there’s always an element of baker’s error in every bake off. So I encourage you to skim the descriptions of each pie below and find the one that sounds right for you!
Top 3 Pies:
- Cook’s Illustrated
- Divas Can Cook
Analysis: A Discussion of 9 Key Lime Pie Recipes
Sally’s Baking Addiction: a tall and creamy key lime pie with a macadamia-studded crust
Sally’s recipe fell in the “standard” recipe–one of four recipes that included lime juice, condensed milk and egg yolks. If we use the popular Cook’s Illustrated as the benchmark recipe, Sally’s is interesting in that it also uses 4 egg yolks but double the amount of lime juice (1 cup) and condensed milk (2 cans).
This ratio resulted in a custard that was much taller and creamier the CI pie. While I liked the creaminess, I wanted more tang in the filling, which felt muted in comparison to others. Unfortunately, another unique element to this pie–ground macadamia nuts in the crust–generally wasn’t a crowd pleaser. I used roasted nuts per Sally’s recommendation and found them to overpower the flavor of the crust–and the whole pie, really. Some tasters mistakenly interpreted the flavor as coconut and while many found the nuts overpowering, I think those who like an element of tropical flavor may love this crust!
- Custard was great. I like how you could taste more lime throughout whereas some others were just a bite of lime toward the end
- Custard texture was great, but flavor was a little artificial
- Slightly more on the flan side (which I love); reminded me a bit of lemon meringue custard (also love). Coconut too? Interesting. Don’t hate it
- Crust was a little too adventurous for me. Almost tasted like almonds with a texture like coconut flakes? Not a huge fan–too crumbly in the mouth with a cloying sweet flavor that overpowered a relatively mild custard.
- This one had an odd flavor to the crust I can’t quite place, almost nutty. The custard was stickier and while I liked the tartness it felt a little more like a lime flavoring than lime juice. The whole bite though is still very much about the crust than the custard
- I fundamentally did not like this crust, which kind of ruined the whole experience for me. It seems like it was made out of nuts which seems fancy, but it was oily and just not great.
Similar to: Jeremy Scheck, Adam Ragusea, Nora Ephron (NYT)
Bravetart: a loose, brightly-flavored custard in a deeply caramelized graham crust
Oh Stella! I truly do follow her instructions as closely as I can, but honestly I can’t tell where I botched this recipe of hers–I’m positive the custard shouldn’t be as loose as ours was. Stella’s recipe is unique in that it calls for making your own homemade graham crackers as well as homemade condensed milk. This was the only pie that called for regular lime (rather than key lime) juice. After baking the graham crust (which I definitely overbaked), you cook the condensed milk, yolks, juice and zest on the stovetop before pouring the thickened custard into the crust to set in the fridge for 4 hours.
Stella notes that the homemade elements gives her pie a “freshness you won’t find in other recipes, and a more balanced sweetness.” I certainly agree with the fresh element–the custard was so brightly tangy and sweet without being acidic, indeed well-balanced compared to some others. Despite me taking the graham crust several shades too dark, the crust was caramelized, earthy and gave delicious Biscoff-y vibes. Taste-wise, this was in my top 2 pies–I wanted to keep spooning the custard directly into my mouth. It was just texturally too soupy (I promised I weighed out the egg yolks! Not sure where I went wrong!). Would I recommend this pie? Probably only for advanced bakers looking for a slightly sadistic but delicious challenge.
- Sweet. Tarty. Love the buttery crust. Not a perfect aesthetic but makes up for it all with flavor!
- Very limey and creamy and soft. The crust is burnt but I’m SO INTO IT. I DUNNO WHY…just gave it a deeper flavor.
- It doesn’t have the firmness I seek in a key lie pie slice. The crust was also a bit burned tasting though was clearly not burned.
- While the texture was soupy, the flavor of the custard was delicious. The crust tasted over baked.
- This one was the one discernably different crust and it definitely delivers. Can’t tell if its burnt or it uses different sweetener but not a huge fan. The custard also has a weird eggyness to it that I don’t love. The whole bite is insanely sweet.
- Ok the custard was really lovely (if a tad heavy) and lime forward, with a creamy but not milky feel to it. The crust lost me–it was uber buttery, so all I could taste was brown butter. Crust felt wet with it and just weighed down an already heavy pie. Brown butter would be amazing with it, but it needs way less of it in my opinion.
- Too goopy and the crust was a little too dark for me. Flavor is just okay. Not what I expect when I eat key lime.
Pepe’s Cafe: a foamy-textured key lime pie with a zingy flavor
Pepe’s Cafe’s recipe is nearly identical to Cook’s Illustrated except for two key differences: it adds two whipped egg whites that get folded into the custard, and a teaspoon of cinnamon that gets added to the crust. Note: the recipe says you can use fresh or bottled key lime juice; we used fresh.
I was skeptical that the airiness of the egg whites would hold up after being folded into the custard and baked–but I was wrong! There’s no better way to describe this pie texture than “foamy.” It reminds me of the slightly styrofoam-y meringue that comes on top of lemon meringue pies but softer, with a pronounced lime flavor. It’s a miracle of limey airiness! I generally preferred the graham crusts without cinnamon, but to each their own. If you find the traditional key lime pie texture too creamy and you want something lighter, this might be a great pie to try!
- Loved the fluffiness of the filling
- WHAT IS THIS ONE. The foamy texture was amazing. This brought feathery custard without compromising flavor. Not too sweet and a really tasty crust.
- The crust is so flavorful and well spiced. The custard was a strange texture (cheesecakey?), but carried by the crust.
- This one looked and tasted like a cheesecake in both crust flavor and custard texture. The custard was much creamier in taste than I thought it would be based on looks. Flavor wise, the custard was nice and bright but the crust was a little too sweet and crumbly.
- Crust had a lovely flavor and held together upon cutting while gently dissolving in your mouth. The custard was very airy and whipped which was a surprise…I actually prefer a denser, thicker filling. More airiness gave a lighter lime flavor. I want a punch!
- The custard is fluffy and tart. It’s not a bad custard, I just prefer the silkier texture. This one feels like egg whites are a waste of space. Cust is redeeming, but not enough to carry the pie.
- Some fancy tomfoolery is happening with this custard that makes it very light and airy but like… too light and airy. Not tart enough and too sweet for me.
Evette Rahman: a beautifully tart, slightly grainy key lime pie with a slightly wetter crust
Evette’s recipe was recommended to me on Instagram; she’s won several awards from the American Pie Council, so I was excited to try her classic key lime pie recipe. Like Pepe’s Cafe, her recipe calls for additional egg whites–but they’re not whipped! The recipe also calls for two whole eggs rather than egg yolks. Ratio-wise, her juice to condensed milk recipe is the same as Divas Can Cook and Tastes Better from Scratch (3/4 cup juice to 2 cans milk). Typically egg yolks are added to enrich a custard, so I was extremely curious to see what whole eggs + egg whites would do to the custard.
To me, this filling was on par with other not-too-tangy pies with a mild tanginess that was tempered by milky creaminess. Texturally, the custard was a little grainier (which I think stood out in harsher contrast given the silky texture of some other pies). The moisture of the filling somehow seemed to have seeped into the crust, making for a slightly wetter crust that some found soggy but others didn’t mind. Overall, I liked this pie but it didn’t blow my mind. If you’re going to the trouble of separating eggs, I’d rather use the yolks than the whites (my suspicion is the whites are what contributed to the grainier custard).
- The crust was so amazingly buttery – loved it! Wanted more lime in the custard.
- Despite the super wet crust, I really liked the flavor. Custard was nice, not as bright as others but still delicious.
- Most solid custard of all pies, v mild flavor, mild overall but liked the texture
- Custard texture was grainy. Crust texture was ok, but dare I say too buttery.
- Good flavor overall but tasted kind of like a lime cheesecake.
- Custard is a weird texture. It’s kind of dense, not super creamy.
- The filling was creamy but not the strongest lime flavor, a little artificial. Crust was soggy
Tastes Better from Scratch: a thick and creamy custard with a mild lime flavor
One of two eggless recipes, this recipe is very similar to Divas Can Cook except that it uses 4 oz cream cheese instead of 1 cup of sour cream. It also uses a standard amount of graham crumbs in the crust (1.5 cups vs the 2 cups in Divas). We used bottled lime juice in this recipe since Lauren indicates that’s what she usually does. I was curious to see how a recipe set with dairy instead of egg yolks would fare against more conventional recipes!
This pie had a heavier, well-set texture that reminded me of a light cheesecake rather than key lime pie. While quite silky, the custard was much creamier and thicker than the pies made with eggs. I found the lime flavor of the custard fairly mild, tempered again by the amount of dairy (which also helps cut the acidity). I think this pie would be a winner for those who tend to love creamy, milky textures with not too much tartness.
- Very creamy and smooth custard. Very well balanced.
- I like this custard, rich and citrusy. It has firmed up a bit more, which could be a divisive thing I guess.
- Lime flavor had something semi-artificial to it – maybe too sweet? Crust was perfect.
- Flavor of custard is mellow; texture is thick and super heavy; I couldn’t eat a whole slice. But good crust integrity
- Crust was nice and buttery with a little more bite (doesn’t crumble like sand immediately). The custard lacks the tartness and feels like a jello pudding cup.
- Immediately tasted lime juice concentrate, not a fan. Crust was on the sweeter side but a nice thickness and texture.
- Custard by itself is condensed milk heavy, kind of a gelatinous texture. With the crust it’s more tolerable in the mouth.
Somewhat similar to: The Recipe Critic
Souffle Bombay: a balance of creamy and tart custard with a fairly crumbly graham crust
Colleen won a cook off with this pie–a hybrid of sorts between Divas Can Cook and Cook’s Illustrated. She uses just two egg yolks and adds 1/2 cup of sour cream. She also uses slightly less condensed milk than the recipes that call for 2 cans (24 oz is 4 oz shy of two cans) and says that she usually doesn’t measure exactly, she just doesn’t scrape the cans out. Though she notes you can use up to 2 cups of graham crumbs, I used 1.5 cups (more in line with most other recipes).
This was the pie that confirmed my hunch about dairy vs. egg yolk-stabilized custards: the texture was also a hybrid between the dairy-stabilized pies (Divas and TBFS) and yolk-stabilized pies (CI, SBA, Bravetart, Epicurious). While fairly still fairly milky and creamy, this texture was distinctly lighter than the pies with more sour cream/cream cheese with a slightly more clear tart lime flavor. Unfortunately (or fortunately for some), this crust called for the least amount of butter of all the pies, leading to a notably crumbly crust. I liked this pie, but again it didn’t especially stand out to me. If you like a slightly creamier key lime pie with a very crumbly crust (and you have sour cream on hand), I’d give this a try.
- This is the reason I begged for KLP, perfect crumble and so limey
- Crumbly crust doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table but the custard is rich and thick and sweet and tart with lots of flavor. The overall bite was a nice balance of flavors, just wishing the crust didn’t feel so sandy
- Filling was the perfect balance of lime-iness and creaminess.
- Delicious. Elevated tartness was not too sour. Crust had good texture, but I prefer a bit more discernible flavor in my key lime pie
- This one I’ll finish the slice, but I’m not asking for the recipe. Custard is tart in a good way. Nice and dense, just missing the silkiness of others.
- There was a milky aftertaste I wasn’t crazy about but I liked the initial flavor.
- The crust was very powdery, hard to get bite because it just crumbled away. Custard was a little yogurty which Im not keen on either. Pass on this pie.
- Doesn’t stand out in any particular way
Epicurious: a very tart, slightly acidic, extraordinarily silky key lime pie
This recipe is very similar to Cook’s Illustrated, but I included it to test for Epicurious’ “secret” to the perfect key lime pie: adding 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. A couple other differences from CI: the crust includes cinnamon and the custard doesn’t use lime zest. Would the lemon juice make a notable difference??
Well, I had to go back and forth between this pie and CI somewhere between 6 and 8 times to try to detect a difference. I think some of my tasters are better at detecting nuances than me–I *think* I detected slightly more acidity in this custard compared to CI, but they honestly taste quite similar. I gave Epicurious a textural edge because I liked how silky the custard was without zest, but I think I might ever-so-slightly prefer the less acidic flavor of CI. I also found the crust too cinnamon-heavy and wished there was heavier custard to crust ratio. But overall, probably my second favorite pie!
- I love it – so tart, so sweet, great level of crumble to the crust.
- Amazing crust with perfectly limey tartness and creamy custard, perfection
- Super creamy custard. Crust had a little spice in it which we liked!! Pretty rich but by far the best.
- Cinnamon in the crust? oh heck yes! Custard had an excellent punchy lime flavor, I just wish it was a thicker custard/crust ratio overall.
- Tasty, tangy custard and nice cinnamon crust. Wish it stayed more intact.
- Tangy custard. Crust has a nice crunch but a distracting flavor, cinnamon? Crust dissolves too easily, not enough structure. Too sandy.
- Crust has great flavor. Custard is good. Great flavor but on the thinner side. Favorite so far.
- Too sour and crust is too thin, grainy and slightly soggy. Too much cinnamon for me.
Similar to: Cook’s Illustrated
Divas Can Cook: an exceptionally rich and creamy, mildly tangy key lime pie in a crumbly graham crust
Divas Can Cook was the second eggless recipes we tried. In place of the egg yolks, Monique’s recipe calls for a cup of sour cream. (It’s very similar to the requested Once Upon a Chef recipe which calls for Greek yogurt. I’d consider full-fat Greek yogurt and sour cream fairly interchangeable in this baking instance.) With 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs, this was also the most generous graham cracker crust.
This pie set up beautifully with a firm, silky, slightly gelatinous texture. Like Tastes Better from Scratch, this pie was extremely creamy and on the heavier end of the texture spectrum. Texturally, it’s more cheesecake-esque than flan-like. Similar to TBFS, the custard was rich with a slightly muted lime flavor in comparison to others. One taster remarked that it tasted like a “margarita…it’s sweet and tart, but not acidic or bitter.”
I actually remade this pie because the first time, I mis-measured the graham crumbs. The second time I made it, the crust was still quite dry and crumbly–Monique notes that you may need to add more butter to the crust. While I didn’t (trying to stay true to the directions), I would definitely recommend adding additional butter if you try this recipe…unless you like a very crumbly crust (which some tasters did!). Cheesecake lovers will LOVE this pie! Make sure you use a deep dish pie pan for this generous pie!
- This is my favorite and luckily, the last one I ate. Crust was sweet and buttery and the custard was creamy, sweet, tart and had great mouth feel.
- Creamy delicious custard and perfect crust. An exemplary key lime
- It sort of tasted like a key lime cheesecake and I’m a huge fan of cheesecake so this was amazing!
- Custard gave me cheesecakey vibes, crust was super thick which I loved, especially since there was more custard. Crust was soft but held together well with a nice graham flavor.
- Omg looove the crust! Gritty sweet & delicious. Could almost use a little more lime in the custard to counteract a very sugary crust. A little too grainy but still very very yummy.
- Custard was weirdly thick, but the BEST crust.
- Crust was a little sandy and loose, and custard wasn’t limey enough. More zing please!
- Crust was heavy on the sugar but not on much other flavor. The custard was sweet and not as lime-y as I would like.
Somewhat similar to: Mom on Timeout, Eagle Brand
Cook’s Illustrated: a classic key lime pie with a tart, clean filling and silky custard speckled with lime zest
I always refer to the recipe with the most popular/frequently cited ratio of ingredients as the benchmark recipe. In this bake off, I’m fairly sure that most other recipes are tweaking from CI’s basic recipe (1/2 cup lime juice, 1 can condensed milk, 4 yolks and lime zest). Food52’s version does add a pinch of salt, which I included.
It’s slightly disappointing when the benchmark recipe wins, but then it’s also validating that so many others are basing their recipes off this classic formula! To me, this pie had the clearest, tartest lime flavor that partnered perfectly with the silky texture and nutty crust that held together well. Sadly I neglected to take cross-section shots of these pies, but this pie had a very good balance of custard to crust (probably 65/35). Like Epicurious, I liked this pie so much, I wish there was more of both the custard and crust, but part of the charm of this pie is also how delicate it is.
This was the only pie that was made in a metal pie pan, which looked smaller volume-wise compared to my deep dish 9″ glass pans. If I made it again, I would contemplate removing the zest–not sure if it adds that much flavor, and I really enjoyed the unadulterated silkiness of the Epicurious pie without zest. But overall for me, this was key lime pie perfection!
- Classic, creamy, balanced custard with good tartness and great zest flavor
- Custard was whoa–zesty and very very tart but in a very good way with plenty of lime favor! Very nice contrast with the whipped cream
- Crust had good crunch, buttery flavor, held together well
- So sour, but the crust was so sweet so it balanced it well
- Very limey custard, almost to the point of being bitter but not fully bitter–not overly acidic or sour, well-balanced
- Ratio of crust to custard was perfect
- Crust is a little dry/dusty, a little bland and slightly grainier than I prefer
- Too tart/sour, texture of the pie reminded me too much of butter
Similar to: Epicurious, Joshua Weissman, Brown Eyed Baker, Two Peas and Their Pod, Andrew Zimmerman, Half Baked Harvest, Erin McDowell, Petra Paradez, Gimme Some Oven, What’s Gaby Cooking, King Arthur, Smitten Kitchen, Binging with Babish, Joe’s Stone Crab, Nellie & Joe’s
Best Key Lime Pie Recommendations
My top pick: Cook’s Illustrated
Best classic key lime pie: Cook’s Illustrated, Epicurious
Best uber-creamy key lime pie: Divas Can Cook, Tastes Better from Scratch
Lightest-textured key lime pie: Pepe’s Cafe
Best tropical vibes pie: Sally’s Baking Addiction
A pie to impress your foodie friends: Bravetart
Tips on Making the Best Key Lime Pie
- How many graham crackers is 1.5 cups of crumbs? Some sites say 12 full graham crackers sheets; I found 11 sheets to be closer to 1.5 cups. For me, 1.5 cups of crumbs = around 160 grams.
- Crumb to butter ratio: For a crust that holds together well, a ratio of 1.5 crumbs to 5 tablespoons of butter seemed to be the sweet spot (4 tablespoons led to a very crumbly crust).
- To pack down a graham crust: I found using a measuring cup to pack down the graham crumbs was helpful–really make sure to press it down for a non-crumbly crust! Hold it up to see if any light comes through the crust so you can patch any thin spots.
- Best way to juice key limes: we used this lime juicer, but an electric juicer would be the dream if you’re making key lime pies at scale. Someone also recommended using a garlic press (but make sure it’s very clean as the garlic flavor can easily interfere!)
- For the creamiest pie: Try stabilizing your pie with a creamy dairy like sour cream, Greek yogurt or cream cheese!
- For a limier, lighter pie: Go for a yolk-stabilized recipe, which will allow the lime flavor to come through more clearly and will set up as a lighter custard.
Looking for a great key lime pie recipe, this is a great resource! For your fresh key limes, do you recall if you used imported or US key limes? Serious Eats thinks they’re quite different, and I’m trying to decide how pedantic I want to be in my bake.
The most famous and delicious pie sold in all of the conch republics is Kermit’s key lime pie. They even have their own mix that a visitor can take home to enjoy a similar experience.
We had a mini bakeoff and make the Cook’s illustrated and Diva’s Can Cook. Wow, were they wildly different! Thank you for leading us to these awesome recipes! I think we like the Cook’s illustrated one more. My hubby kept saying the Diva’s Can Cook one looked like ranch dressing and I couldn’t view it the same after that (lol yikes).
We just tried making the Cook’s illustrated recipe again but subbed LEMON juice and zest instead and honestly I think it was better than the key lime! so good!
OMG hahaha I’ll never be able to look at Divas again the same way either! Love that you guys did a mini bake off and also I’m going to have to try CI with lemon juice now!!
The Bravetart pie wasn’t soupy when I made it. It was pretty amazing and the homemade condensed milk is so good, but it’s just a ton of work.
My favorite recipe for the effort is Nicole Rucker’s lime pie recipe. The unsweetened sour cream topping is perfect with it.
Does having whipped cream with Key lime pie improve the taste in anyway? What if the whipped cream was less sugary or what if whipped cream is not used?
I honestly think the whipped cream makes very little difference! If the key lime pie is super tart, I could see the cream helping soften the flavor a bit but you can definitely eat the pie without it!
My favorite key lime pie is SBA’s filling but with her graham cracker crust made with dark brown sugar, it is so good. I can’t wait to try some of these to see which one I like best! I miss the graphs and stats you usually do in these posts, are they gone forever?
Haha I’ve received enough comments that I think I will bring back the graphs/stats. Thank you for the input Victoria!!
More power to you and whatever form works better for you; but I really miss the graphs/charts!