How To Make Pie And Tart Art That Will Impress Anyone’s Grandmother

blueberry and lemon curd tart

Cambria Sinclair; blueberry and lemon curd tart with rose, chamomile, lemon, and blueberry decorations; 11/20/2020, @cambria_sinclair

Written by Cambria Sinclair | Edited By: Carol Coutinho

December 16th, 2020

We’ve all seen the beautifully styled tarts and pies while scrolling on Instagram with bold colors, whimsical designs, intricate lattice work, and strikingly modern patterns. To say they’re drool worthy doesn’t even begin to cover it. I have always wanted to create awe inspiring tart and pie art, and after doing ample research at my library and talking with my friend Helen Nugent @batterdnbaked, an exceptionally skilled baking Instagram influencer and author, I collected the perfect tips and tricks to teach all of you! If you are a home baker, avid pastry connoisseur, or even a complete novice, you can create stunning works of art that look almost too good to eat. There are hundreds of ways to decorate pies and tarts, so I will be sticking to some easy creative basics that you can use to start out with, and then explore as you become increasing confident in your skills. Don’t forget to follow our Instagram @cookandculture, to see more advanced pie and tart art ideas and how-to’s! And for those of you who want to challenge yourself, Helen has an amazing book available with instructions to create beautifully detailed pie art. 

 

Pie Art

 

Pie art and decoration can be accomplished through the use of lattice, subtraction, addition, and whole fruit methods. Explore by creating different shapes and cutouts, and combining these methods.

 

Lattice

The use of lattice work on top of pies is very traditional in the history of pie making, and is one of the most popular methods for decorating pies. It is typically made by using leftover pie dough (or by making extra dough), rolling it out, cutting it into strips, and latticing or weaving the dough across the top. I will go over how to create a basic lattice, and then show you further advanced lattice examples with some of Helen’s ingenious tips and techniques.

1. Create your pie dough, this pie dough recipe by Helen is a home run. Or use pie dough from the grocery store, this is my favorite option when I just don’t feel like making dough or I’m in a time crunch! Pro tip- a lot of store bought pie doughs are dairy free.

2. Roll your dough out so it is about 1/8th thick, you can roll it out into a circle or rectangle (rectangle might be easier for cutting strips).

3. Take a pizza cutter or knife and cut strips across the dough (10-12) that are approximately 1 inch apart, and make sure they are at least 1 inch longer than your pie dish. Half of the strips will be used to go horizontally (5-6), and half vertically (5-6).

4. To create a template, on a piece of parchment/wax paper trace the top circumference of the pie dish. Flip the parchment paper over so the pencil marking is on the bottom. Place on a on a plate or sheet pan for easy transfer later.

pie dough
lattice cutting strips
pie stencil

5. Lay out your first 5-6 strips about 1/2 – 1 inch apart on one side.

6. Start weaving in your remaining strips, starting in the middle, using an over-under approach. Alternate this pattern for the rest of the strips.

7. This is an exampe of half of the pattern complete. Continue this pattern over the rest of the open strips. 

base lattice
pie lattice
pie lattice

8. Once the lattice is complete, using your drawn guide, trim off the extra dough to just outside of the edge. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes, or until firm. Take out of the freezer, and lift the lattice off the paper with a flat spatula and place on top of the prepared pie. Press slightly around the edges and trim off and extra dough. Place in a preheated oven and cook, making sure to check frequently for over-browning of the dough. 

Here are some lattice variations from Helen Nugent. Helen recommends freezing the pies all the way through to help avoid over-browning of the dough, and diligently placing aluminum foil over delicate areas.  
batterednbaked lattice pie
batterednbaked layered lattice pie

Helen Nugent, @batterednbaked, 11/30/2020

batterednbaked braid lattice pie

Subtraction and Addition dough methods

Another way of decorating pies with dough is with the method of subtraction and/or addition. Beginner pie decorators can use cookie cutters to obtain a clean and professional look. More advanced bakers can use hand cutting and embellishing to add more complex texture and shape to their pies.  

Subtraction decorating is done by using hand cutting or cookie cutters to cut shapes or patterns into the pie dough to reveal some of the filling beneath. Save the cut-out dough for later use. 

subtraction pie crust
apple pie crust method

The addition decorating method is done by cutting out shapes or designs by hand or with a cookie cutter (or another template) and putting those on top of the pie. This can create beautiful blank spaces to show off the filling, or create overlapping motifs on the pie. This is best done with pies that have even close-knit fillings, like blueberry or cherry. 

 

 

The subtraction and addition methods can be used in tandem to create visually striking pie art. They can also be used with lattice work to create intricate decorations.

subtraction and addition pie crust

Whole Fruit

Whole fruit can also be used to decorate patterns. By simply placing whole berries, or fruit slices on top of the pie, beautiful patterns can be made. The fruit can highlight what the filling is made from, or add an accompanying flavor to the mix. For more ambitious patterns, try latticing your fruit/filling and create geometric motifs on top. This method combines well with latticing and the subtraction method to show off the juicy pie filling.

Helen has some beautiful examples of Whole fruit pies. Make sure to check out her Instagram to see these pies baked! My personal favorite is her use of rhubarb to lattice the top of the pie, so breathtaking.

Helen Nugent rhubarb pie
Helen Nugent blueberry pie

Helen Nugent, @batterednbaked, 11/30/2020

Helen Nugent peach pie

 

Tart Art

 

The tart lends itself to many different types of decorations, making it one of the more versatile desserts. Tarts can be garnished with fruit, flowers, nuts and seeds, a dusting of spices, meringue, and even the color of the tart filling. I challenge you to mix and match these toppings to create your very-own masterpiece rich in texture and color.

Fruit

Fruit can be used in many ways to decorate tarts, this is a great technique to show off the flavor in the filling or add complimentary flavors. Fresh fruit and berries can be placed abstractly or in a pattern on top, they can be inlaid into the filling (pressing the fruit down so it is level or just slightly above the filling), candied, or combined with other decorations like nuts and flowers. If you are using sliced fruit make sure that it is freshly slice, thin in thickness, and tossed with lemon or lime juice to prevent browning before application. It is important to know if your filling will be cooked or cold set, as it will give you a sense of which decoration method is best to use. For example; if I am making a cold set custard tart I might wait until the custard is fully set before placing my decoration on top, this helps maintain a smooth and glossy finish. If my tart filling is cooked in the crust, then I could place apple slices in radial patterns on top and they will get cooked along with the filling.

citrus pie

Cambria Sinclair, Pomegranate curd tart with orange and grapefruit slices, @cambria_sinclair, 11/30/2020

Flowers, Nuts, and Spices

Flower, nuts, and spices can be used as decorations on top of tarts to create ethereal displays. This is my favorite method of tart decoration, I love the way fresh edible flowers look on a smooth and glossy filling, and it’s often a surprise to others when they learn that they can eat them! Who doesn’t want a little bit of shock and awe when they present loved ones with a pie. I have a short list you can reference for edible flowers, and always be cognizant of where you are getting them, pesticides and other chemicals are a no-go.

edible flower list

Cambria Sinclair, research from TheHoueThatLarsBuilt, @cambria_sinclair, 11/29/2020

blueberry lemon curd tart

Cambria Sinclair, Lemon curd and blueberry tart with lemon slices and rose petals, @cambria_sinclair, 11/23/2020

Nuts and spices can be sprinkled over the top to add texture, crunch, and color. Be careful when using spices to not overdo it, add it to select small areas to highlight other decorations. Here is a list of spices that are good options to use for decoration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Nutmeg
  • Lemon zest
  • Lime zest
  • Turmeric
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Tea leaves

Meringue

A meringue consists of a combination of egg whites and sugar, sometimes combined with cream of tartar or lemon juice. Meringues can be piped into beautiful swirled dollops or other shapes, and can be colored with natural food coloring (or store bought food coloring) to create beautiful shades and tints that will make your tart really stand out. Here is my favorite recipe for meringue, along with a vegan alternative!

meringue
EatingWell Test Kitchen, Meringues Recipie, http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/251910/meringues/, 11/24/2020
vegan meringue

Leah Maroney, The Spruce Eats, Vegan Meringues, https://www.thespruceeats.com/vegan-meringues-4800756, 11/24/20 .

Filling

The filling of a tart can be used as it’s own decoration. Tart fillings that are colored in nature by ingredients like berries, citrus, or spices, can be used as a primary decoration or paired with swirled designs. An example of this would be a peanut butter and jelly tart, where there is a peanut butter filling, and strawberry jam is swirled into the tart to create a marbled effect. A great way to instantly make your tarts look impressive is to have a naturally bold tart filling. I recommend berries because they give off an intense color in tart fillings, even when baked.

peanut butter pie with cherry jam

Cambria Sinclair, Peanut butter and cherry jam ice cream tart, @cambria_sinclair, 11/21/2020

I hope that amongst all of these variations you have found a method that you are itching to try out on your next pie or tart! For novice bakers I suggest you start with lattice work and the subtraction method when decorating pies, and decorate your tarts with fruit slices nestled amongst nuts. Simple tarts can look just as impressive and beautiful as complex ones, so don’t feel like you need to master these methods right away. Have fun experimenting and combining the techniques and methods when you’re making pies and tarts. Make sure to show off your new skills to your friends and family, and let us know which method is your favorite! If you want a post of these pie and tart recipes share this post on social media to let us know. Happy baking!

blueberry and lemon curd tart
citrus pie
peanut butter pie with cherry jam

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