A pastry pie lattice can be intimidating to take on, but there are some pie-making hacks that can help anyone create a masterpiece. Create a show-stopping pie lattice with the help of some of these simple methods.
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1. Choose your Pastry Recipe Carefully
Many people, my self included, are seduced by the idea of an all-butter pastry crust. Rich and delicious, all-butter pastry can certainly make a beautiful pie; but it has its downfalls, especially for beginners. Butter has a lower melting point than shortening or lard, and therefore if you overwork it and don’t work quickly you’ll lose that flakey texture when baked.
Pastry with shortening keeps its shape better when baked, so if you’re adding decorative details, they won’t melt into oblivion in the oven. It rolls better and is generally easier to work with but it lacks the flavor of butter pastry. I would recommend a mix of butter and shortening in your pie crust for the perfect compromise. Once you have mastered the art of the perfect lattice you will be more prepared to take on an all-butter pastry.
I keep meaning to write up a simple pastry recipe here on the blog but I haven’t quite managed it yet. In the meantime here is a simple 50/50 recipe which is perfect to get started! If you’re still worried about making pastry, check out tip #2…
2. Don’t be Afraid to Practice with Store Bought Pastry
Store-bought pastry does not have the flavor of a rich homemade crust. There are some pretty weird ingredients in a Pillsbury pre-rolled pie crust, but it’s ready to go and so easy to work with. Confession… the pie in the above photograph is made with Pillsbury pie crust. It cuts amazingly, doesn’t dry out or snap easily as homemade stuff does. It keeps a great shape when it cooks and frankly if you don’t want to make a total mess of the kitchen it’s a great option.
3. For Success with a Complicated Design, Double Up
You may have been browsing Instagram for the perfect pie crust design, wondering how these chefs are creating such clean, crispy looking lattices. Often pie visual perfection is created by building the lattice on top of a second flat layer of pastry. This helps masks gaps between the strips of pastry, prevents leaks of filling from beneath, and adds stability to create a smoother, flatter finish.
Most first attempt lattices are unevenly spaced with a lumpiness to the shape of the top of the pie. If this is you, try building your lattice on top on a base layer of pastry… this was game-changing for me! This does, of course, increase the amount of pastry you will use, and this is why I am a big fan of pot pies. Otherwise, the pastry to filling ratio gets a little out of hand.
4. Create Your Lattice Off the Pie
Trying to coordinate a pretty pie lattice on top of an oozing, gooey mess is extremely difficult. There’s nothing wrong with a rustic pie, but if you’re striving for the wow factor, make life easier on yourself and build the lattice off the pie. Build your lattice on parchment paper and when its ready to go just carefully slide it onto the pie. There is some skill in the transplant but its not as difficult as it sounds… see tip 5 below.
5. Chill Your Lattice Before You Bake
Rather than trying to transplant a warm floppy lattice onto your pie, chill it in the refrigerator first. Not only will firming up the pastry help you move it, it will also help the edges of the lattice strips and decorative shapes stay sharp.
6. Small Pies are Easier than Big Pies
My single serve pot pie dishes are my favorite. A large lattice is considerably more difficult to pull off for a number of reasons:
- Long strips of pastry break more easily
- A bigger pie takes longer. As the pastry dries it becomes more likely to crack and snap.
- Transplanting a large lattice into a pie is more difficult as it sags with the weight.
- A complicated lattice design can become quite the head spin when it’s scaled up to a large pie.
I would recommend starting small and simple. And if you’re expecting company, what a way to impress… individual pies of perfection!
7. Wide Strips Are Easily to Work With
The herringbone lattice shown in progress below was a real headache, but I wanted to challenge myself. I used an all-butter pastry recipe (see tip #1 above) and decided to cut the strips beautifully slim. It might seem like a simple tip, but wide strips are much easier to create a lattice with than slim ones. When starting out I would recommend starting with wide strips of pastry, this way there is less actual weaving to do and the strips won’t break as easily.
8. Practice Your Design with Paper
However many times I stared at a picture of a herringbone lattice, I still couldn’t quite figure out how to weave it. So I cut up some strips of paper and had a play around. Over three, under three, right? But working out which strips have to be lifted for some reason doesn’t always process. Have a practice run of your design before you waste time with your pastry. It dries out fast so you want to be ready!
9. Have Extra Pastry in the Fridge
Pie lattice making is not the most efficient use of pastry. I always end up using more than I expected to. There is nothing worse than not being able to finish off your dream pie design because you ran out of pastry. Always make more than you need and keep it in the fridge. Sometimes the lump I’m working with gets too warm and I stick it in the fridge and trade it with the spare chilled ball.
The temperature of the pastry makes a big difference: Too cold and it doesn’t roll. Too warm and its too stretchy to work with easily.
10. Cover Up Mistakes… No-one Will Know
I’ve never made a pie without a boo boo. It’s delicate work and I’m still developing my pastry skills. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your decoration. Add a braided border, some pretty leaves, punch holes… whatever works!
Instagram is bursting with incredible pie designs to offer inspiration for your latest creation. Before I get to the absolute pros, I’d love it if you could follow @OccasionallyBake on Instagram because I’m a newb and love to gain support!
My pie pro favorites will have your jaw on the floor when you see some of their designs:
Julie is the queen of British pie making! I love her pretty fruit tarts as much as her beautiful lattice work. She truly is an inspiration and she recently published a book called The Pastry School.
Karin Pfeiff Boscheck
German precision goes into Karen’s pies and I love her mix of modern and traditional design. She also uses a lot of color in her pies and every time I’m blown away. Karin has a book called Elegant Pie: Transform Your Favorite Pies into Works of Art.
For more colorful, playful (dare I say wacky) designs, you absolutely must check out the unique creations of Lauren Ko. These pies don’t take themselves too seriously and are bursting with personality. Lauren recently published her book called Piometry: Modern Tart Art and Pie Design for the Eye and the Palate.
There are so many more pie makers I love to follow, I’ll come back here and give some of them a shout out soon. In the meantime… happy pie making!