5 Pin-Worthy Pie-Decorating Tips

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kaitlin Flannery)

Making pies pretty is a fun and doable project that’s perfect for the holidays. It’s easy to find many charming and inviting pies on Pinterest, but if you take a good look, you’ll notice almost all are shot before the pie is baked.

Here are five tips to ensure that your baked pies are as lovely to look at as they are to eat.

How to Bake a Prettier Pie

Pie decoration is often done with extra pie dough that is cut, shaped, braided, twisted, and cross-hatched and placed attractively on top of the pie crust. All too often, these don’t work out as the baker envisions them. The reason is pretty simple: When a pie bakes, the dough expands, puffs up a touch, and then falls a bit.

That’s no problem for the crust itself, but for your perfectly cut decorations, there’s a good chance that they will wind up looking like the blob that ate New York from a 1950s sci-fi movie. Argh! There go those perfect decorations you’ve spent all that time making.

Follow these tips to make sure they’re knockouts.

(Image credit: Kaitlin Flannery)

1. Use sharp-edged, metal tools to cut the dough decorations.

Many fancy decorating tools are made of plastic and aren’t nearly as effective for creating something that will stay just as cut when baked. Professionals use a variety of tools, many of which are widely available and can help you at home. Sharp tools make sharp dough edges that hold better during baking, but be careful using them if you aren’t used to handling them.

  • Sturdy cookie cutters made of metal
  • Small palette knives
  • Sharp paring knives with narrow tips
(Image credit: Kaitlin Flannery)

2. Exaggerate every cut.

Pie dough spreads when baked; it puffs and sighs back down. Thicker doughs swell and then slouch and scrunch even more. Nut-based doughs spread. Every dough — whether butter, shortening, lard, with an egg and without, with sugar and without — has its challenges.

For all of them, go back over every single cut with the tip of a sharp knife and clean up all every single small bit and minute edge. Cut deeper and prune fearlessly. Space every contour and shape wider apart than you think looks right. The dough will fill it in as it bakes up.

(Image credit: Kaitlin Flannery)

3. Bake the decorations separately.

Place the decorations on a separate baking sheet and bake until golden-brown. Use those sharp knives and tools to re-cut or re-trim the dough while it is piping hot to recreate and redefine the exact shape you’re going for. You can even re-cut with metal cookie cutters. Once they are cooled, you can carefully place them on the pie. Affix them with a tiny dab of royal icing or honey. The spot on the pie crust with the decoration will get soggy rather quickly, but it will look good and taste good.

(Image credit: Kaitlin Flannery)

4. Use different finishing sugars to create textures.

Color and shadowing creates illusions of texture and depth that can help braids, twists, and even elaborate cross-hatching stand out from the rest of the crust. A darker turbinado sugar carefully sprinkled around or underneath a decorative feature can make it pop.

(Image credit: Karen Biton-Cohen)

5. Use washes to highlight and contour your pie.

An egg wash is a mixture of egg and water that is brushed over the dough just before baking to create a smooth, shiny surface. Milk and cream washes are used in the same way. Each wash creates a slightly different sheen. The differences, although not extremely overt to the eye, really add dimension, and are fun to experiment with to help create varied depth of appearance.

Do you have any tips or tricks for getting your pie to be pretty — not just tasty?