Topping pie crust: the perfect finish

Anointing the top of your pie may seem like gilding the lily — I mean, how can you improve on your already perfect apple pie? But topping pie crust with a spritz of water and a sprinkle of sugar, or a quick brush of sweet butter followed by the merest drift of flour, can take your pie — both its flavor and its texture — to a new level.

Yes, you can improve on perfection! Topping pie crust is an engaging final touch. Click To Tweet

Topping pie crust via @kingarthurflour

Topping pie crust: the undercoat

Let’s start with a base layer that’ll support the sugar (and spice) to come.

I’ve brushed these pastry rounds with some popular crust toppings: egg white wash (egg white + water), water, whole egg wash, milk, and butter. I’ve also left one round untouched (upper left, the “control”), for comparison.

You can see the results: both of the egg washes, milk, and butter add golden color to crust, with whole egg adding the most. In addition, the two egg crusts have a satiny/shiny finish, where the remaining crusts are basically matte, with perhaps just a hint of shine on the milk and butter crusts.

The butter crust offers a tiny bit more flavor than any of the others, but also has a somewhat speckled appearance, the result of milk solids separating from fat. Of course, if you plan on sprinkling the crust with your favorite sugar, the speckles will disappear.

Now, let’s see what happens when we add toppings.

Topping pie crust via @kingarthurflour

Topping pie crust: the sprinkle

I pile apple pie filling (no bottom crust) into the wells of a hamburger bun pan — which does slick double duty as a mini pie pan.

On top, I place pastry rounds brushed with water (except one that’s brushed with butter). Starting at upper left and going to lower right, here are the toppings:

• granulated sugar, the standard sugar you bake with
cinnamon-sugar, a mixture of granulated sugar and cinnamon
coarse sparkling sugar, a large-crystalled, “glittery” sugar
• confectioners’ sugar, superfine granulated sugar mixed with cornstarch
• melted butter topped with all-purpose flour, to create a thin layer of buttery flakiness
Swedish pearl sugar, a coarse-grained, bright white sugar

Topping pie crust via @kingarthurflour

And here they are, baked and ready to enjoy. Let’s take a closer look.

Topping pie crust via @kingarthurflour

Topping pie crust: the results

Note how regular granulated sugar (left) melts a bit to form shards of sweetness. The cinnamon-sugar (right) adds color and wonderful flavor, but I should have been more careful when sprinkling; the opaque patch signals too thick a coat.

Topping pie crust via @kingarthurflour

Confectioners’ sugar (left) creates a wintry appearance, like hoarfrost on a meadow. The butter/flour coating (right) doesn’t result in any flakiness (old wives’ tale, I guess); but nonetheless is velvety in texture, and pleasantly buttery.

Topping pie crust via @kingarthurflourCoarse sugar (left) melts just a bit, but retains its crunchy texture and gives the crust some sparkle. Swedish pearl sugar (right) doesn’t melt; its bright white color makes the crust stand out in a crowd, and its crunch is a nice complement to the soft apples underneath.

Topping pie crust via @kingarthurflour

One additional test pits crust brushed with water (left) vs. crust brushed with beaten egg (right), both topped with coarse sugar.

The water encourages some of the sugar to melt; while the beaten-egg helps the coarse sugar retain its shape as individual crystals. Choose your favorite look.

So, what’s the verdict? Bare naked, sugar shards, golden egg…

Personally, I swap these various combinations in and out depending on my audience. There are those in my family who don’t care for cinnamon; and some who love crunch; and some who embrace a minimalist approach, with no topping at all or just butter and flour.

Topping pie crust via @kingarthurflour

And at the end of the day, there’s really no need to pick and stick with a favorite; they’re all immensely satisfying.

Want to read more about pie? Check out these posts:
Decorative pie crust tips: pastry lattice, braids, and more
Make-ahead pie crust: an old secret rediscovered
How to make pie crust in your stand mixer: easy does it
The very best pie apples
Freeze and bake fruit pie
Perfect pie: a baker’s dozen+ tips
Pie crust decorating basics: easy ways to make fancier pies
Apple Pie Bakealong: challenge #4

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Patricia, I’m sorry, none of us have baked in an induction oven. Despite quite a bit of Googling I couldn’t find anything very useful about the subject. I did see an ad for an induction oven that showed baked bread, so apparently you can do baked goods. I’d say the only way you’ll know is to give it a try! Good luck – PJH

    2. Chris

      Likely the stove top is induction, not the oven. The oven is probably just regular electric. Induction requires pans/pots made of a metal that can hold a magnet. The Induction stove then runs a magentic current through the metal to make it hot. If the actual oven was Induction it would require you to only cook in metal cookware and the cookware would have to be touching the magnet. I have an Induction stove top with electric oven and bake all the time.

    3. Tisha

      I also bet it’s convection – I just got an induction stove and it has an electric oven with convection. Even though I know exactly which is which, I say the wrong one all the time! No matter, pies can be baked in any of them. 🙂

  1. Katherine

    I’m making a pumpkin pie but, its going to be a deep dish. 9″x2″deep. Is there a longer baking time?? I don’t want it to be raw inside. Help!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Katherine, our Pumpkin Pie recipe calls for a pan that’s at least 1 1/2″ deep, but you can use a pan that’s 2″ deep in you like. If your recipe calls for a 2″ deep pan, the baking time and temperature should be adjusted for the quantity of filling it makes. If you’re hesitant, consider making our recipe. You can even use your 2″ pan! Kye@KAF

  2. Christine Heath

    Thank you for the “Making Crust in Stand Mixer” and “Pie Crust Crumbs”. Dovetail well with each other and the crust came out tender and flaky. Made my holidays easier. Hope you all have a wonderful season.

    Reply
  3. Cheryl Emerson

    I don’t recommend baking a pumpkin pie with convection feature on, it doesn’t cook quite right and sometimees the texture is rubbery

    Reply
  4. Kerry Seymour

    This Topping Pie Crust article is so helpful. Thanks for showing the different effects from the different toppings. I now know that taking the extra effort to brush the crust with beaten egg and sprinkling with coarse or demarara sugar really makes a beautiful difference. I also now want to try using the Swedish pearl sugar because the effect is so pretty.
    Thanks for your good works and inspiration!

    Reply
  5. Kim Kiernan

    I loved this blog post! Thank you! I’ve really enjoyed the crunch from the coarse sugar, but this blog post opened my eyes to Pearl sugar. I’m going to have to try that too! I love the mini pies idea too. I just ordered the Hamburger Bun Pan with my recent Cyber Monday order. Can’t wait to try it out!

    One question – With only a top crust, are you able to scoop up your mini apple pies to put them on a plate? I know normally you’d use a double crust, but I’m trying to maximize the fruit and minimize the fattening parts, so I’d love to figure out a way to serve the mini pies with just a top crust. Of course eating them out of the pan worked too! Thank you for your wonderful posts.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you want to serve mini pies without a bottom crust, you’ll have to know that some of the pretty presentation will be lost when it’s moved to a plate. Some options for reducing the amount of damage include using a sharp knife to cut the top crust in half and then a using a pie server to lift as much of the piece as possible onto the plate. You might also want to serve these among friends so that you can just pass our forks and everyone can dive in! Happy baking! Kye@KAF

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