Fancy pie crust: 4 show-stopping ways to make a knit sweater-inspired pie

The Fall 2018 issue of Sift is packed with recipes that will warm your home during the colder months. Among the many treasures tucked into its pages is Rustic Milk Pie Dough, a recipe revelation from food stylist and recipe developer Judy Kim. She created this incredible design, which nods to another favorite of the season: cozy knit sweaters! Thanks to Judy for sharing her recipe, techniques, and food styling for this truly beautiful pie.

If you’ve ever wanted to make a show-stopping dessert that people will remember forever, now is the time. You can use simple ingredients — flour, butter, milk, and a few other pantry staples — to make a fancy pie crust that’s a true masterpiece. We’re going to make a knit sweater-inspired pie!

Imagine that knit sweater your mom (or maybe even your grandma) used to wear on chilly days. It has lots of cables, braids, and maybe a few other intricately woven details. While vintage sweaters might not exactly be your style, we’re going to use this knit theme to make the most stunning pie ever.

Make a fancy pie that will have everyone running for their cameras and reaching for their forks. Click To Tweet

In order to make detailed designs on your pie, you need to start with the right pie crust recipe. The dough should be able to withstand being rolled, twisted, and folded without falling apart.

But remember, we’re still going to eat this pie; that means it should be tender and flaky, too. You’re aiming for the best of both worlds.

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

The best recipe for fancy pie: Rustic Milk Pie Dough

Luckily, we’ve discovered Judy Kim’s Rustic Milk Pie Dough recipe. It contains just the right amount of tenderizing ingredients (milk, butter, lard or shortening) to give it the perfect texture.

The secret to its strength? The amount of liquid that’s added. This is a wetter pie dough than a classic version. It allows the dough to come together smoothly, making it easy to work with and make designs.

Bonus: It calls for just a smidge of apple cider vinegar. My fellow blogger, Susan, teaches you why it’s important to use vinegar in your pie crust here.

Convinced it’s the right place to start? OK! Gather your ingredients:

3/4 cup (170g) whole milk
2 teaspoons (19g) apple cider vinegar
2 3/4 cups (298g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon kosher or 1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon (9g) sugar
3/4 cup (10 tablespoons, 170g) unsalted cold European-style butter, cut in 1/2″ cubes
2 tablespoons (28g) lard or shortening

The higher fat content in European-style butter contributes a different flavor and texture than normal (Grade AA) butter. The crust is richer in taste but only moderately flaky. This kind of butter has less moisture than Grade AA, which is another reason we add a bit more liquid to this crust.

You can use regular butter if that’s all you have on hand. Just hold back about 1 tablespoon (14g) of the milk; add it only if the dough seems dry.

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

Make your (fancy) pie dough

We’re ready to mix the dough. Combine the milk and vinegar in a liquid measuring cup. (Don’t worry if the milk looks curdled at this point; that’s a normal reaction caused by the acid in the vinegar.) Place this mixture in the fridge so it can get nice and cold while you measure out the other ingredients.

Next, weigh your flour. Or if you don’t have a scale, you can use the fluff, sprinkle, and sweep method.

Add the salt and sugar. Whisk to combine. (My grandma used to hide a tablespoon of cocoa powder at the bottom of the bowl to make sure I really whisked well. Pretend there’s something hiding and whisk well!)

The butter comes next. Cut the butter into 1/2″ cubes. I use a bench knife and dough scraper for this job. They’re a perfect pairing if the butter starts to stick to one of the tools.

Toss the butter cubes in the flour mixture. They should be coated on all sides. Using your clean hands, press the butter cubes between forefingers and thumbs. Press down to flatten the chunks into leaf-like pieces, or shards.

Work quickly, as the butter will start to soften and become sticky the longer you work with it.;

Once all the butter cubes are roughly dime-sized, work in the lard (or shortening) the same way.

Make a well and mix

Use your fingers or a spoon to create a well in the middle of the flour mixture. Add the chilled milk and vinegar mixture 1 tablespoon at a time. Stir in some of the flour with each tablespoon, working up to the full amount. You’ll want to use all of the liquid. That’s right — we said this was a wet pie dough!

Use your hands to bring the pie dough together into a rough ball. Knead it a few times on a lightly floured surface, until it looks smooth.

Chill and wait

Give the dough a light dusting of flour and divide it into two parts: one third and two thirds respectively. We’ll use a third for the bottom of the pie and keep two thirds for the top. We’re making lots of fancy pie crust designs here!

Wrap the pie dough in plastic and chill for at least an hour before rolling out. The wait can be tough if you’re short on patience but trust us — it’s a worthwhile step that makes working with the dough so much easier.

The crust can chill for up to two days in the fridge. If you’d like to store it longer than that, freeze it. Wrap it well in plastic to prevent freezer burn; use within two months of freezing.

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

Build your bottom

Once your dough has chilled, it’s time to start building your pie from the bottom up. Take the smaller piece of the chilled dough and roll it about 1/8″ thick.

Transfer the pie crust to a pan — preferably a metal pie pan, as we’ve learned that helps pie crust brown on the bottom.

Crimp the edges of the crust using your favorite technique. I’d recommend using a simple, classic crimp since we’re going to get elegant with the designs on top. Make sure the edges stand about 1/2″ tall so there’s room to layer in the top crust.

Place the crust in its pan into the fridge to chill for another half hour at minimum.

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

Plan your pie

While you’re waiting, plan your decorative pie design. What kind of sweater-inspired design do you want to make?

The choices are endless, but we’re going to show you four of our favorite ways to create a fancy pie effect. You can use just one technique, pair two or three, or go big and use all four!

Start by making a plan so you can divide your dough accordingly. Remember we’re shooting for a super-fancy pie here, so we encourage you to be ambitious. You can do this!

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

1. Braids

Cut off a portion of dough based on how many braids you’d like to make. (About half the reserved dough is a good place to start.) Lightly dust your work surface with flour. Roll the dough into a rectangle that’s at least 12″ long. The dough should be between 1/4″ and 1/8″ thick. (Pastry pins are super helpful here.)

Once you have your rectangle, use a ruler and a pastry wheel to cut 1/2″ strips the long way. You can run the pastry wheel right along the length of the ruler to help keep your cuts straight.

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

Once you have your even strips, transfer them to a baking sheet. (I like rolling and cutting my strips on parchment paper so they can easily be moved.) Chill the strips in the fridge for about a half hour so they firm up.

Now you’re ready to braid! Gently weave the three strips around each other following the pattern shown in this video.

If you’re new to braiding, consider practicing with string a few times before you use your pie dough.

When you reach the end of the strips, don’t seal them. You’ll be pinching off the ends once you place them on top of your pie. Place the completed braids on a baking sheet to chill while you finish the rest of your fancy pie decorations.

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

Tip from Judy: By starting a few inches down, you have more leverage to begin the braid. If you make the braids near the edge of your counter and leave a little bit of each strand hanging off, it’s easier to pick up without damaging the dough.

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

2. Cable knit

If braiding seems a little too complex for your first fancy pie, consider making a cable knit pattern instead.

Start by following the same process for rolling out your dough and cutting 1/2″ strips. Then make an “X” with two strips about 3″ from the top. Take the left piece and bring it over the right, keeping the strand flat.

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

Alternate strips, bringing the right strip to the left. Keep the pie dough taut to keep the twists from unfurling. Repeat until you’ve twisted the full length of the strips.

Refrigerate the finished cable knit until firm. Repeat with two more strands until you have enough cable-knit strands to top your fancy pie.

Tip from Judy Kim: To create uniform cables, after completing one piece, make the next cable knit alongside the first so you can compare how taut they’re pulled. This small nuance will be noticeable when all the elements are placed next to each other.

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

3. Herringbone squares

Roll about half the dough on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle that’s about 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick. (The exact size of the rectangle doesn’t matter at this point; the thickness is more important.) Move the rectangle onto a piece of parchment paper; this will make it easier to move the squares later and preserve their sharp shape.

It’s time to pull out your ruler! Precision is the key to making this impressive-looking pattern. Mark 1″ notches along one edge of the dough. Then use a pastry wheel or a pizza cutter to cut the dough, making 1″ strips.

Now cut 1″ notches along the width, then cut the dough into even 1″ squares. Use a thin spatula (an offset spatula works well here) to remove the squares from the work surface. You can even dip the spatula in a bit of flour to help prevent sticking.

Move the squares to a baking sheet to chill for 30 minutes.

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

Time to layer ’em up! You can create a herringbone effect by overlapping the squares in a diamond pattern, as shown above. Brush a bit of egg wash on the top of each dough square; this will keep the squares attached.

Place the tip of each square so that it touches the center of the previous square. Layer the squares until you have a strip of dough that’s the same length as your pie dish.

Carefully move the completed herringbone strip to a baking sheet to chill for 30 minutes. Place the strips on top of your pie so that the squares are nice and snug, close together. You’ll start to see the herringbone pattern come to life right before your eyes. It’ll look best if you’ve cut your squares precisely.

Tip from Judy: It’s easier to create an even pattern if you place the rows next to each other. If one square doesn’t fit, try using another piece that may be cut more accurately.

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

4. Leaves

Time for my favorite (and perhaps the easiest) way to turn your run-of-the-mill pie into a fancy pie. We’re going to make pie crust cutouts that look like leaves. It’s a beautiful and seasonal way to add a bit of extra flair to your pie. Let’s see how it’s done.

Start with as much pie crust as you’d like. You can make just a few leaves for garnish, or you can cover your entire pie.

Roll your pie dough about 1/8″ thick.

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

Ideally, you’ll pull out your spring-loaded pie cutters. If you don’t have these tools, you can get creative by making designs with cookie cutters and a paring knife instead.

Dip your cutters in flour and get ready to make some cutouts.

Use as many different kinds of cutters as you like; we think three or four kinds of leaves looks classy.

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

After cutting your leaves (or other shapes) give them some life by pinching them gently between your fingers to round the edges. Mold the leaves in random patterns so that the top of the pie will have some texture.

Tip from Judy: Place the leaves in an uneven, haphazard manner, similar to the way they may fall in nature. Mix up their direction and type, and reshape creases and curves to make them look more realistic.

Put the pieces together

Now you’ve got all your parts and pieces, it’s time to put them together and see the magic that happens.

Remove your braids, cable knits, herringbone squares, and/or leaves from the fridge and layer them on top of your filled pie. (Looking for delicious ways to fill your pie? Check out some of our favorite fruit and nut pie recipes.)

You can layer the designs nice and close together so that they’re touching, making a solid top crust. Alternately, you can leave some space between each design to allow the pie to vent, like a lattice-work crust.

Think outside the (pie) box: You can even place designs like braids or leaves around the rim of the pan, making a fancy top edge.

Once your design is in place, brush the top with a bit of egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon of water) before baking. (This helps your pie turn deep golden brown in the oven.)

You’ve come this far — consider going the extra mile and sprinkle your designs with Sparkling White Sugar or turbinado sugar for a glitzy garnish.

Fancy pie crust via @kingarthurflour

Bake your pie

All that’s left to do is bake your beautiful pie! Follow the baking instructions included in your pie recipe, as they’ll vary based on what kind of filling you made.

Keep an eye on your top crust towards the end of baking. The last thing you want is for all of those decorative pieces to become over-baked or worse, burned. You can always cover the top of your pie with a piece of foil if you notice the crust is getting dark. You’re aiming for golden brown perfection.

Fall SIFT Magazine via @kingarthurflour

Fancy pie season is here!

Thanks to Judy Kim and her Rustic Milk Pie Dough, you have what you need to make a fantastic pie that people will remember forever.

Pick up the fall issue of Sift for more page-turning baking inspiration. Find it at your local bookstore, newsstand, and on our website.

Tell us what fancy and impressive recipes you’re baking this season in the comments, below.

Photographs by Mark Weinberg; recipe and technique by Judy Kim.

Kye Ameden

Kye Ameden grew up in Fairlee, Vermont and has always had a love of food, farms, and family. After graduating from St. Lawrence University, she became an employee-owner at King Arthur Flour and is a proud member of the Digital Marketing Team.


  1. NC Baker

    I enjoyed decorating my “broiler pan” apple pie with braids and cables for Thanksgiving — would love to send you a photo!

    As pretty as the pie looked before it was cut, individual servings looked rather sloppy. Once sliced, the braids and cables were no longer connected and fell off. I likely will return to using a plain top for my apple pies.

    Oh and if you choose to brush the top with milk — watch carefully as it browned rather quickly.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Slices never do look quite as pretty as the whole pie, although it’s lucky that nobody who is about to eat a piece of warm apple pie ever seems to mind! Don’t be afraid to put a little force behind those delicate decorations, as it will help them to stick better. And of course, making sure that the knife you’re cutting the pie with is both sharpened and honed will leave your crust less disturbed. In the end, though, eating a pie is an inherently destructive process. At least it’s a tasty one! Kat@KAF

  2. Deborah B

    I’m about to try putting some decorative leaves on the edges of my Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie. I use a very liquidy filling (Gracious Pantry’s Clean Eating Pumpkin Pie Recipe, with a sourdough pie crust recipe for the pie crust)

    Do I bake the pie to get the filling to set then add the decorative leaves? or should I just put them around the edges?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You could go either way, Deborah! If you add them at the beginning, there’s a chance you’ll need to cover the pie with foil to prevent them from burning, so adding them in the second half is a great idea. Annabelle@KAF

  3. Janet Rohrer

    Interesting article. I do simple pie decorating, meaning I mostly use cutouts on my pies instead of a top crust. I really like the decorative cutouts, such as your leaves. Unfortunately, they can be found only in mini size. Well … I was asked to make 21 fruit pies for a wedding in June! Any quick, easy suggestions for decorating those pies? Too bad a pie decorating course wasn’t offered.

    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Welcome to the world of wedding desserts, Janet! We have a number of ideas that might work for what you’ll be making; it just depends on how intricate you’re looking to get. You might consider getting some cookie cutters with the bride and groom’s initials (or perhaps just the letter of their new last name) for a personal touch. Basic lattice-work (it doesn’t even have to be truly woven, just strips of pie crust laid over each other for small pies will do) is always elegant; you can jazz it up by tucking in a few edible flowers in some places. Dusting the pies with Snow White Non-Melting Sugar is easy and fast. Braids and cable knits would, of course, look fabulous but do take more time. Wrapping the pies with color ribbon is also an easy but cute presentation to consider. We hope this helps, and consider giving the Baker’s Hotline a call for more ideas: 855-371-BAKE (2253). Kye@KAF

  4. Lynn

    I enjoyed the article when I read it and this is a good addition, too! I’ve already tried the braiding, and it turned out well, but I haven’t tried the squares. I have two questions – how do you keep the leaves from burning/getting browner than the rest of the crust? and where on earth did you get those wonderful leaf cutters in the pictures? I’ve been looking for good ones everywhere and the linked set only has one leaf.

    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Thanks for asking, Lynn. Leaves, squares, or other pie crust cut-outs shouldn’t brown any faster than the rest of the pie if it’s rolled to the same thickness. Also, be sure to have a light hand with the egg wash when brushing those delicate add-ons so prevent them from browning too quickly. We recommend checking on your pie for doneness early and often; if you notice the crust is darkening too quickly, cover it with foil or a pie crust shield to prevent it from burning.As for your question about where to find the pop-out cutters, we have some fall-themed cutters on our website here (which includes a maple leaf), or you might be able to find a full set of leaf cutters from other online retailers. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Sure thing, Ashley. Feel free to use 2 tablespoons of butter (28g) in place of the shortening or lard called for. You might find that your pie crust designs don’t hold their shape quite as readily during baking (butter has a lower melting point than shortening), so it becomes extra important to chill your pie dough before baking. This will allow the gluten to relax and increases the likelihood that the shapes will remain distinct. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  5. Martie

    This was a fascinating post. Great instructions and photographs. I have a couple of questions: First, could I sub buttermilk for the regular milk? Second, when you’re discussing cutting in the fats, your method is to cut in the butter first, followed by the shortening. I have always done the opposite. Is there a scientific reason for cutting in the butter before the shortening? Thanks. Again, great blog.

    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      We’re glad to hear you’re feeling inspired to bake a fancy pie, Martie! You’re welcome to use buttermilk in place of the regular milk in the recipe; use full-fat buttermilk for best results. You might consider holding back on the vinegar slightly since buttermilk is acidic. (Use 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar instead of 2 teaspoons.)As for your question about the order of adding the fats, you’re welcome to use whichever approach you prefer keeping in mind the size of your butter chunks. If you cut the butter in first, chop the butter into slightly larger pieces since you’ll be working it a second time when the shortening is added. If you work in the shortening first, you can cut the butter a bit smaller. Regardless of the order, you’re coating the flour with fat to prevent the gluten strands from sticking to each other quite as strongly. This results in a tender pie crust, which is what we’re looking for here. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

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