While compiling our exhaustive Guide to Pie, we asked food stylist, photographer and Instagram rockstar Judy Kim, who edits the Piecrust Inspiration feed at digital cooking hub thefeedfeed, for her tips on making the prettiest possible piecrusts. Here, she shares her advanced piecrust decorating tips on latticing, braiding, piecrust cutouts, wreaths and more.
What are a few really big pie-decorating trends right now?
Judy Kim: Decorative pie crust making seems to be in a continuous vortex of flowers, leaves, twists, braids and lattice work. The combinations are endless. Braided crusts, lattice and herringbone patterns are particularly popular. Decorative hand pies are also trending.
What are some of your favorite pie decorations to create?
JK: Combining many of these elements in one pie is my jam. I usually focus on one detail, such as lattice work, braids or even a season, and develop from there.
My Springtime Garden Wreath is a good example; it focuses on the argyle-like lattice formation with two strategically-placed braids and unevenly cut lattice bands. It has a wreath of leaves, a mix of dogwood flowers and wild flower shapes. I like random patterns, so the flowers and leaves are arranged in an uneven rustic pattern.
My fashion background creeps into my current work in unexpected ways, which I love. I like to create a concept for each pie, and sometimes I even sketch the design beforehand. One of my favorite pies was based on an Irish cable knit sweater.
Like you mentioned, braided pie crusts are so big right now. What are some of your tips for making them great?
JK: I love switching up the shapes of the strands to get different looks. I use square strands (as seen in my cable knit sweater design for a chunky look), rolled spaghetti strands (create a thicker rounder look) and fettuccine like strands (these create a wide, flat braid).
Try to avoid smooshing the ends together before you start your braid. It can be helpful if they are loose so y ou can connect shorter pieces of braids together by tucking the ends into each other to give the appearance of an infinity braid.
To fill in a gap between braids try placing extra leaves and flowers in between. Imagine the braids are part of a trellis with flowers and leaves strewn all over. For a good trick to secure braids or any item to your pie, use egg wash as the glue and apply with a small brush.
Any tips for frustrating braiding issues like breakage?
JK: Braiding frustration, let’s be real, it happens to everyone. You can trouble shoot your braiding breakage issues by inspecting the thickness of the strands and the consistency of your pie dough. Uneven thickness is often the culprit of breakage, but that can be fixed easily by rolling the dough and cutting strands more evenly. Another culprit are large chunks of butter. As you handle the braids, the butter softens and the strands will break. Using a food processor will help ensure the butter is uniform in size and distributed evenly.
For a great alternative to braiding, try twisting a single strand or twisting two strands together like a rope. Both will create texture. No one will miss the braids, and you’ll still look like a master baker.
If you’ve never done a decorative crust, what’d be a good one to start with?
JK: Leaf cut outs are great, and that’s where I started. Begin with a simple crimped pie shell and scatter leaves all over the surface of the pie filling. The leaves can be strewn in a haphazard pattern, but try to keep them even; they will taste better. Pie cutters create prettier pastry shapes in comparison to cookie cutters because of the detailed impression they make, such as the veins on a leaf. Pie cutter sets often come with a variety of similar shapes, so try mixing them together to create a multidimensional look.
Any suggestions for taking those cutouts to the next level in a floral wreath?
JK: For a floral wreath crust, I start with a plain pie crust base—no crimp—that’s evenly trimmed of excess dough. The leaf and floral cut out elements should be frozen in advance; use egg wash as glue to paint tips of each piece and affix to the crust, fanning the leaves and flowers in different directions.
To make leaves look more realistic, try shaping them by hand, and give them a little bend. This will give your design a little flair. After cutting the leaves, let them soften a bit and reshape the pastry, then freeze before baking to help maintain their shape while baking.
To make flowers stand out, try using a variety of flower shapes and layer smaller cutouts on top of larger flowers. When this is complete, freeze your pie for 20 minutes or longer before adding filling and baking. This will help keep the shape of the wreath from collapsing and curling. This floral wreath concept can be a great addition to lattice work or as the crust of a pie shell for a custard based pie.
Do certain pies that lend themselves best to elaborate decorating?
JK: Apple and pear pies have plenty of pectin and create a wonderful consistent filling in comparison to berries or stone fruit. Those can be tricky due to their water content, but controllable with the right thickening agent. I often use all-purpose flour and recently discovered how great tapioca flour performs.
If you want to concentrate your time on creating a beautiful design, using a simpler filling that is tried and true will make your life easier. Testing a new fancy crust and a new filling in one pie can be overwhelming. Making the dough in advance is another huge time saver.
Any favorite garnishes?
JK: Not exactly a garnish, but the color of your pie can be an important factor in the final appearance. Different egg washes will give your pastry a variety of beautiful golden hues. Egg whites give the least color, classic egg wash consisting of egg and water will give a deep golden color, and egg yolk with water will be more yellow. But my preference is egg mixed with heavy cream or just cream. They create a light golden crust.
After lightly applying the egg wash, sprinkle the pie with different kinds of sugar. Sanding sugar is fun. It gives an extra layer of crunch and is very sparkly. Or try a tiny bit of flaky sea salt if you like sweet and salty flavors.
10 Pro Tips for Decorating Piecrust from Expert Judy Kim
- Start by getting familiar with a basic pie dough recipe and then making it your own—her recipe, for instance, calls for vodka and European butter. Your pie dough will get better every time you make it.
- When starting with frozen dough, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator, then leave it at room temperature for about five minutes before rolling. If your dough is too cold, it will crack while rolling.
- Warm dough will never make great cutouts. Roll your dough evenly and make sure it’s still cool to the touch before using cutters.
- For a realistic touch, shape your cutouts by hand and giving them a little bend. After cutting, freeze them before baking to help them maintain their shape.
- To avoid burning your piecrust, as soon as you notice your pie gaining too much color, remove it from the oven and cover the edges. Purchase an adjustable piecrust protector that’s flexible and fits the curves of your pies.
- Place your pie dish on a half-sheet pan before baking; it’s a safe way to transfer pies to and from the oven, and will catch drips, which often burn and smoke.
- No matter how tempted you are to stretch your dough, don’t’ do it. If dough is stretched, it will shrink during baking.
- Wash pie cutters immediately after using them—this will give them plenty of time to dry before the next time you need them. Use a toothpick for any trouble spots.
- Leftover cutouts are great for future pies (or even on ice cream or crème brûlée!). Freeze them in a single layer before transferring them to a container for storage. A dusting of flour will also keep them from sticking to one another.
- If you’re using a piecrust stencil, apply extra flour under your pastry after it’s been rolled to ensure it will come loose. Transfer it onto a rolling pin first by lightly rolling it backwards onto the pin, then unrolling the dough onto your pie.
For more, check out our Guide to Pie.