Food52's Test Kitchen Manager Erin McDowell is here with tips and tricks to help you master the most essential desserts and the simplest breads.
Today: Not only can you—yes, you!—conquer the traditional lattice-top crust, but you can also go above and beyond with 7 fun variations.
One memory always comes to mind when I make a lattice crust pie. I’m in my grandma’s kitchen, and it’s summer. We’re cranking the air conditioning to battle the nearly deadly combination of Kansas mid-July heat and an oven temperature of 425° F. We’re huddled around her tiny kitchen island (which is crooked and rolls a little every time we shift pressure) and we’re making pies.
This was not an unusual scene for my grandma and me. Indeed, once I arrived early in the morning to spend the day with her, and after sitting politely across the table from one another exchanging pleasantries for what felt like no time at all, we both got restless. She looked at me and said, “I feel like we need pie. Or bread. Or both!”—and a tradition began. My grandma and I baked pies together. Sometimes, it was to accompany her killer pan-fried chicken and twice-baked potatoes. Sometimes it was gift to someone (who would hopefully share). And sometimes, it was to eat in between rounds of poker, standing at the kitchen counter, eating right out of the pie plate.
But the one thing my grandma wouldn’t make (at least not with any regularity or without an extremely special occasion in mind) was a lattice crust. That hot July day as we took turns rolling out dough, she told me that it was altogether “too fussy.” Her pies were lovely, but far from pristine, and I guess she feared that a lattice would interrupt their naturally rustic good looks and take a turn for the worse.
But I am here now to shout from the rooftops that lattice is attainable—whether you’re aiming for perfectly imperfect or borderline pristine. Sometimes, it’s about finding the variety that’s right for both your style and the type of pie you're making.
Practicing the good ol’ traditional lattice is a great way to learn. It's made from medium-sized strips, often cut with a scalloped pastry wheel to make a ruffled edge (though straight edges work too). The strips are woven together with space left between them to make little square shapes where the filling can bubble through.
This lattice is adorable but is a bit of a test of your patience, as it will take almost twice as long to weave as a traditional lattice. Other than that, it’s no harder! Remember to keep your lattice strips nice and cold—warm strips will be harder to manipulate and can cause you some grief. Basically, the concept is identical to the traditional lattice steps, except you’re working with much smaller pieces:
This is my favorite lattice and is especially awesome for beginners. I affectionately call fat lattice “fattice,” and I adore it because it always looks good and the crust always gets nice and crisp (thinner lattices can naturally have some “wet” spots due to juices bubbling up, but fattice has more surface area for browning). It’s great for folks just starting out because there are fewer lattice strips and they are less fragile, which makes handling them easier. I love a super fat lattice (about 2 inch-wide strips), but you can do this same style with a lesser width easily. This style also works well with the tightly woven lattice look (below).
One of my favorite pie bakers does this style so effortlessly, and it’s always gorgeous. The first time I tried it I thought, “This is what everyone who is scared of lattice should do”. Cut the strips randomly—all different widths (it doesn’t even matter if they’re crooked) and arrange them in a random order on the pie using the same method as traditional lattice. I like to use a variety of widths ranging between 1/8-inch to 1 1/2 inches, and I find it looks best when the pieces are relatively tightly woven (not a lot of space between each). The finished pie looks super put-together and rustic at the same time. And since it’s random, there’s really no way to mess it up!
This is another type of lattice to try if you’re a little bit nervous about the process. It’s a tad easier because you don’t have to worry about the edges at all. When you’re done weaving, fold up the edges of the galette over the lattice and voilà: All done! Plus, it gets you crust-lovers even more crust on an already-crusty galette.
This is a new favorite of mine, and it requires a little bit of effort but the result is so darn cute. Bonus: These freeze very well (especially if you fill them with jam or preserves). If you go through all the effort on one day, you can keep these in the freezer and you’ll always be ready to shock someone with your amazing lattice abilities. Remember that your lattice strips need to be much shorter for this method, so you can cut them normally, then cut the whole batch in half with your pastry wheel.
This is an especially great technique to do with scraps or leftovers from pies past, because if your dough is too flaky, the braids will not be as even after baking. I wrote about the braiding technique for edges of a pie, but for lattice, it’s great to make the strips a bit wider. Instead of weaving together multiple braided pieces (which can look a little bit messy), I like to just lay the braided strips across in one direction. Depending on how wide you make them, you’ll likely only need 3 to 5 braids!
This lattice technique is increasingly popular and for a very good reason: It looks very put-together. If you want rustic, go one of the many routes above. If you want a nice, pretty, almost perfect pie, weave the lattice tight. This technique works with any width of lattice, but is easiest with traditional (1 inch) or fattice (2 inches); it works with skinnier strips, but is a little bit tougher to accomplish without a steady hand. Essentially, you weave the lattice so that there is almost no space between the strips. Steam can still escape from between the strips, so there’s no need to cut vents, but the finished look is very swanky.
Ready to try your hand at lattice? Here are some of our favorite lattice-top pies:
Photos by James Ransom, with photos by Elizabeth Stark and Yossy Arefi in the final grid