10 Lattice-Making Tips We Learned from Erin McDowell

December 15, 2015

Driscoll's loves pie just as much as we do, so they helped us put together a fun lattice-making workshop with Erin McDowell, Food52's pie queen, so you can make your best pie yet this holiday season.

These pies right here? Our own Erin McDowell made them. She's the veritable pie queen as far as we're concerned—but if you, like I, have perhaps thought that such a pie was unattainable by your own hands, Erin would encourage you to think again. And she did, in a lattice-making workshop she taught, in partnership with Driscoll's, at our Holiday Market on Sunday morning.

All this could be yours. Photo by James Ransom

"We're working without refrigeration today," she told the group gathered around her, "and if we can do that and make a beautiful crust, you surely can at home."

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With a raspberry pie awaiting its top crust next to her, she pulled out the first of three pie crusts and set to work with her rolling pin, offering us lattice-mastering tips all the way through. Here is what we learned:

Photo by Rachel Orlow

1. Roll your lattice dough a little bit thicker than the dough you use for the bottom crust.

While the bottom crust needs to be a bit thinner so as to get crisp and brown while the pie bakes ("Nothing—nothing—is worse than a soggy bottom. You all know what I'm talking about," Erin told us.), the top crust will be exposed to plenty of heat and won't have any trouble browning. A slightly thicker dough means it won't brown too quickly—and, as a bonus, it's a bit easier for you to work with, too. She aims for about 1/4-inch thickness.

2. And roll it right.

The best way to make sure your pie crust isn't thick in the middle and thin around the edges is to roll out from and return to the middle of the crust: Keep pushing out, like rays from the sun, rotating the pie crust as you go—Erin said she often sees people moving around the pie crust; "Make the pie work for you!" she told us—until the crust is a circle of even thickness.

Erin lays dough, cut into lattice strips with a pasta cutter, over her raspberry pie. Photo by Rachel Orlow

3. Ready your three essential lattice-making tools.

Erin likes to have three on hand:

  • Scissors for trimming the lattice and bottom crust quickly and evenly; just snip around the pie plate
  • A pasta cutter for cutting the lattice; bonus points if you have a double-sided pasta cutter with a scalloped edge
  • A paintbrush for brushing away any extra flour. The more flour you leave on the pie dough, the tougher the crust will be.
Photo by James Ransom
Photo by Rachel Orlow

4. You—yes, you!—can lattice a pie. Even if you're nervous. Even if you've never done it before.

A super-classic, perfectly spaced lattice is only one way to lattice a pie. Erin walked us through three additional kinds of fancy crust footwork that are slightly more forgivable than the platonic lattice.

  • Fattice: This is Erin's favorite method, and it's a fun option for pies that don't traditionally have lattices, like apple since it doesn't give any peeks into the pie between lattice strips. (It's also ideal for crust-lovers, since it forms a complete top crust.)

How to: Cut very wide strips of dough—about 2 inches wide each—and weave them tightly together; no gaps!

  • Plaid: It's a little wacky, but you won't have to think too hard about all your lattice being the same—and it really looks a bit like a tartan plaid.

How to: Cut your lattice strips into totally different widths, and then weave them together with however much space between them as you like.

  • Braids: A big recent pie trend, it's just like braiding hair.

How to: Decide whether you want fat braids (good for laying side-by-side across the pie) or skinny ones (better for laying along the circumference of a custard pie; speaking of which, if you decide this is what you want, make your pie in a dish with a wider edge—it will help prevent your pretty braid from sliding down towards the pie's filling during baking), and cut strips accordingly. Make your braids, either flattening them gently as you go or, said Erin, "embracing the twist." Starting the braid from the middle can help make sure your braid is of even tightness.

Erin making "fattice," using her first strip as her guide for the rest of them.

5. Follow your guides.

Use the first strip of lattice you cut to measure the next strips you cut: Lay it over the dough like a template each time you cut a strip of lattice. If you want to make a very classic latticed pie with even gaps between each of the lattice strips, make the spaces between each strip of dough the same width as those strips.

6. Fold the overhanging lattice back over itself.

You've successfully cut and woven a lattice over the top of the pie. Now what? Trim any overhanging dough from the top or bottom crust to about 1 inch all around the edge of the pie. Then simply fold that dough up over itself, towards the center of the pie, press down gently, and crimp—either with a fork or with your hands. This acts as a protective barrier for your lattice: Since the lattice is actually connected to the crimped edge, it won't move or slink down during the baking.

No fancy crimping here. Photo by James Ransom

7. Your lattice is fancy; your crimping doesn't have to be.

You just put all that effort into making your lattice look like a dream! So don't think too hard about the crimping. Erin usually does just a simple fork crimp—that is, pressing a fork into the crust around the pie's circumference—so that the focus is on what's happening towards the pie's center.

8. Chill at every step.

Pie dough must stay cold if you want the end result to be flaky (the hot oven hitting the cold chunks of butter in the dough make steam pockets, which make those nice flaky layers). So between steps, or any time you think the dough might be getting too warm, just put it all in the freezer until it's firm again, about 10 minutes. Pie also benefits from one last chill session right before baking: A pie that's firm and cold when it goes into the oven will hold its shape better than a pie that's been out on the counter being handled. This is especially important when latticing, since it requires touching the crust so much.

9. Save your scraps!

Making a pie with a latticed top crust won't require a full double-crust recipe; Erin finds she usually needs 1 1/2 crusts. Do as Erin does: Make a bunch of crusts ahead of time, freeze them in single-crust discs, and remove only as much as you need from the freezer (just pop the remaining 1/2 crust back in). Or use the leftover 1/2 crust—and any trimmings from your lattice-making—to make pie crust cookies, a favorite of Erin's: Scrunch up pieces of dough (the wackier the shape, the better) and bake at whatever temperature you're baking your pie until they're golden. Remove them from the oven and, while they're still warm, toss them in cinnamon sugar. ("Why don't I make pie crust just so I can make these? I don't know," said Erin.)

10. Your pie will still look awesome even if it doesn't look perfect.

Maybe the pie dough was too warm when it was baked; maybe the lattice ended up a little wonky-looking; maybe your careful braid slid down the crust towards the pumpkin. Your pie will still be delicious. The pie Erin was working on during her class sat on the table next to her—no refrigeration, remember?—for a good half hour; but, as Erin reminded us, even though the pie looked a little less than perfect, "if I popped this thing in the oven right now, we'd all still be so excited to eat it." (True.)

Make Erin's holiday pie, inspired by her mom's eggnog custard with raspberry sauce:

What techniques have you found most helpful when latticing a pie? Share your wisdom in the comments!

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Top Comment:
“The most important part of making the top crust - how to do the lattice - was completely skipped over. I still don't know how to do it & I read the whole article..”
— Hazel H.

Driscoll's loves pie just as much as we do, so they helped us put together a fun lattice-making workshop with Erin McDowell, Food52's pie queen, so you can make your best pie yet—berry or otherwise—this holiday season.

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Hazel H. March 16, 2016
The most important part of making the top crust - how to do the lattice - was completely skipped over. I still don't know how to do it & I read the whole article..
Caroline L. March 16, 2016
hi hazel, this article is devoted entirely to the topic! i hope it helps:
Ana S. March 14, 2016
I love your ideas for these beautiful pies! plus your tips are wonderful. I'm going to use them. thank you so much.
jpriddy March 14, 2016
Beautiful pies, beautiful variations on top crusts—I had never seen a brain before. Forgive me for pointing out that a "lattice" will require extra dough, not less, since the top crust is effectively double-thick. Also, I do wonder about rolling crust 1/4" thick. It looks more like 1/8" in the photos, which would still be thicker than I generally roll dough.
jpriddy March 14, 2016
"braid"! and "fattice"