Pie Decorating Inspiration & Helpful Tips

News  |  July 29, 2021

Elaborate decorating used to be reserved for cakes, but with the advent of Pinterest and Instagram, pie decorating has become an art form in its own right.

Whether it’s the elaborate pop culture-inspired pies of Jessica Leigh Clark-Bojin of The Pieous or the symmetrical stylings of Karin Pfeiff-Boschek, author of Elegant Pie, there’s plenty of inspiration to be found online. Here are examples of some of my own creations, which were inspired by companion animals, wildlife, or decorative tiles like this one that I found on Pinterest from my favorite art movement, art nouveau, but you can use just about anything as inspiration. You can find all of my pie and cakes on my Sparrow and Spark account on Instagram.

The salted caramel apple pie recipe by Wallflower Kitchen provided the deliciousness behind my first “fancy pie.” Incorporating braids and different-sized strips in the lattice adds a bit of interest. I also played with dough-roses and leaves.

Salted caramel apple pie

Birds outside my dad’s kitchen window provided inspiration for this berry pie. The little bird looks small against the draped feathers (or is that leaves?) emerging from the left side.

The Stark wolf from Game of Thrones was the perfect motif for my GoT fan of a husband’s mango-peach birthday pie. His last name is Wolfson, after all. I found an image of the Stark clan’s emblem online, printed it out, and traced it onto pie dough, then used a sharp knife to cut around the dough.

This was a thank you pie for my upstairs neighbor Polly, who is the best fish sitter (and honorary fish godmother) ever. My two pool comet goldfish, Penny and Color, provided the inspiration here, as did some art nouveau underwater art showing sea grasses and leaves being moved around by underwater currents.

Our neighbor Polly came through with flying colors again as a petsitter–this time, though, by looking afters our new kittens Marigold and Zinnia, so another thank-you pie was in order. This time it was a cherry pie made to look like a basket with snuggling kittens in it. I used this image as inspiration but changed the sizes and colors to better match my cats. I achieved the orange in the calico with cinnamon, the white with corn starch, and the black with black cocoa powder. I also sifted black cocoa powder over Zinnia’s shape to look like a deep black cat. I had a small fish cookie cutter that I used to cover breaks in the braided edges and looked like fishy cat treats.

Birds seem to be a recurring theme as well. An art nouveau tile provided the inspiration for the salted caramel apple pie that I resurrected from Wallflower Kitchen for our Thanksgiving dessert last year. I must confess, I probably took as much time on the pie as I did on the entire rest of the meal, but it was worth it.

The truth is, for a mom stuck at home during a pandemic, baking has been a perfect meditative activity and creative outlet, but in my opinion the ghost of whoever coined the phrase “easy as pie” should be smacked in the face. Pie is hard, and so much of pie decorating depends on getting the crust just right. Here are some tips:

  • Watch this pie primer by pie queen Erin McDowell. It’s long and not specifically vegan, but it explains the science of pie baking and could save you hours of drama in the kitchen.
  • Don’t trust the pie crust recipe as gospel. Use your senses to determine whether you used enough ice water, for example. I find that most vegan pie dough recipes don’t call for enough water, so I have to add more and mix it in, and over mixing is no bueno (see below). Flours and butters can vary in terms of how dry they make the dough, so you may need to stray from the recipe.
  • Don’t over mix the dough. Combine the dough ingredients until they just come together. If you over mix it, it will become too dense and tough.
  • Adding up to a tablespoon of vodka or vinegar will help make your crust flakier too (thanks again to Erin in the video!)
  • To create clean lines when you cut your rolled-out dough, you want it to be a bit stiffer. If your dough stretches out as you cut it, try chilling it in the freezer for 20 minutes before you cut again.
  • Just a few tools can make a big difference:
    • a small, sharp paring knife
    • for lattice, a long ruler and a pizza cutter or other wheel cutter
    • leaf, flower petal or other cookie cutters
    • a ball tool commonly used in making sugar flowers for cake decorating (see in below photo) to make curved petals or the seaweed in the fish pie above.

  • Try using two parts JustEgg and one part soy milk for a vegan egg wash. That’s what Tori Chapman of Vegan Eats and Treats used in this custom birthday peach pie for my dad back home. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a lovely golden finish that you’d see on a non-vegan pie.
  • Be mindful that pie crust shrinks in the oven, but chilling your pie for 20-30 minutes in the freezer before putting it in the oven helps prevent too much shrinkage.
  • Place the pie in the lower third of the oven so that the top crust (and your decorations) don’t burn. Thanks to Karin Pfeiff-Boschek and her Elegant Pie book for this tip.
  • Starting at about the 30-minute mark of the pie being in the oven, check your crust, and if it looks like any parts are getting too dark, tear up some foil pieces to cover those parts. The heat/air currents inside the oven can make putting very small pieces of foil on the pie tricky, so if that happens, you might have to use bigger pieces or use a heavier, sturdier foil if they keep blowing off.
  • Take lots of pictures, and if you post them on IG, please tag me @vegucated or @sparrowandspark so I can see your beautiful creations!


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