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4 Tricks to Be a Pie Overachiever

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In pastry school, we had piping homework. We’d practice piping buttercream letters and roses on pieces of cardboard in our dorm rooms, then bring them in the next day to be graded by our teacher. So last year, when some of my favorite bloggers revived buttercream flowers into new, modern applications, I was in love.

But as a far bigger lover of pie than cake, I couldn’t help but wonder why pies couldn’t get in on the fun? Thus began a particularly delicious journey. Think: typical pie toppings, like whipped cream and meringue, piped to create three beautiful floral effects.

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Peonies, anemones, and dahlias pose for a group shot.
Peonies, anemones, and dahlias pose for a group shot. Photo by Julia Gartland

Ready to dive in? Here’s how to do it:

Know Your Material

While I love buttercream, no pie needs mounds of frosting on top. So I turned to more typical pie toppings for my piped flower tests: meringue and whipped cream. Both work beautifully if you get the texture right, and they create some seriously gorgeous flowers (bonus: they’re also seriously delish). I tested a few pies with regular, lightly sweetened whipped cream, but eventually turned to Stella Parks’ fruity whipped cream. She adds powdered, freeze-dried fruit to whipped cream, which not only turns the cream a pretty color (perfect for flowers!), it also makes it more stable, which in turn makes piping easier.

Whether you’re using meringue or whipped cream, the key is to really nail the texture. For meringue, it needs to be stiff enough that it holds its shape (like an Italian meringue), but not so firm that it can't flow easily out of a piping tip. After a few tries, I found that whipping your meringue to medium peaks seems to work best. For whipped cream, it’s best to whip it to just beyond soft peaks. The whipped cream will continue to stiffen as you work with it (squeezing the pastry bag, for instance, will agitate it and make it stiffer).

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Get the Right Equipment

To pipe flowers, you do need some special equipment. Namely, piping tips. There are tons of different flowers you can make (and lots of sites and YouTube tutorials devoted to teaching you how). I chose anemones (easy), dahlias (medium), and peonies (a bit harder). Each flower uses a different kind of tip, and most tutorials (written or video) will suggest the shape and size. For anemones, I used a classic “rose” tip (Ateco #127), for the dahlias I used a U-shaped tip (Ateco #403), and for the peonies I used a curved tip (Wilton #402).

You’ll also need pastry bags—I like the plastic disposable kind, but in a pinch, you can use gallon zip-top bags. And to make it easier to move the pies while I worked, I used my cake decorating turntable. (That said, you can just turn the pie plate itself while you work, so the turntable is definitely not required!)

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Let Your Pie Cool (All the Way!)

It’s important to you let your pie cool—totally—before attempting any of these techniques. Delicate whipped cream petals on a warm pie equals disaster, so be sure to plan ahead and leave enough time for everything to come to room temperature (or even chill it, if it’s got a cold-set filling) before you start your flowers.

Practice First

I found a practice round (or two…) of each flower on a piece of parchment paper really helpful. Once you see the flower take shape, it becomes even clearer—and you’re more likely to achieve beauteous success on your final pie.

How to Pipe Meringue Anemones

Anemones are the easiest flowers to pipe, and get even easier after a try or two.
Anemones are the easiest flowers to pipe, and get even easier after a try or two. Photo by Julia Gartland

Fit your pastry bag with a classic rose tip (also called a petal or flower tip), and fill it with your prepared meringue. Once you’ve baked and cooled your pie, place it on a work surface (again, I like to use a cake turntable).

Hold the bag so the tip is almost parallel to the surface of the pie. Pipe each petal almost in the shape of a heart. Be sure the wider side of the tip is facing toward the center of where you’d like the flower to be, and the thinner side is facing outward (this makes the more delicate outer edge of the petal). Apply gentle pressure to the bag while you move your wrist to create a heart shape—this is the first petal.

Start the next petal where the first one ends—it’s okay if they overlap a little!

Repeat the process until you have five petals total. I used poppy seeds to create the typical black center of the anemone (whose flavor worked well with the lemon mascarpone pie underneath).

How to Pipe Meringue Dahlias

Dahlias are super impressive, and easier to pull off than they look.
Dahlias are super impressive, and easier to pull off than they look. Photo by Julia Gartland

Fit your pastry bag with a U-shaped tip and fill it with your prepared meringue. Once you’ve baked and cooled your pie, place it on your work surface.

Start by piping a few concentric circles of meringue around the outer edge of the pie. To do this, the rounded portion of the tip should be facing up. Hold the pastry bag at a 45-degree angle and spin the pie as you gently apply pressure to create the circles. Don’t worry if they’re a little wonky—they’ll be totally covered up later!

Once you’ve piped your circles, you can start on the petals. For this, you’ll hold the pastry bag almost vertically, or perpendicular to the surface of the pie, with the rounded portion of the tip facing down. Apply gentle pressure to the bag while you bring the tip upward slightly—these petals should stand almost straight up. Start the first petal in the center of the circles you piped. Start the next petal right next to the first, and continue all the way around the circle until you’ve completed a full circle of petals.

Now continue the process by working inward. Continue to pipe petals in the same fashion, working in a circle, until the center of the pie is fully covered.

Next, pipe the outer petals. For this, you’ll want to bring the angle of bag a little lower and more parallel to the surface of the pie. Instead of pulling the bag straight up when you pipe, pull it towards the outer edge of the pie a bit. This gives the effect that real flowers often have—tighter toward the center, and more open around the outer edge. Continue until the whole pie is covered in petals. If you'd like, you can torch the tips of the petals to add a little dimension and toasty flavor to your meringue.

How to Pipe Whipped Cream Peonies

Peonies are the trickiest, but good gosh do they turn out pretty!
Peonies are the trickiest, but good gosh do they turn out pretty! Photo by Julia Gartland

Fit your pastry bag with a curved petal tip and fill it with your prepared whipped cream. Once you’ve baked and cooled your pie, place it on a work surface (especially a cake turntable).

Start by piping a circle where you’d like the first peony to go. The peony will end up slightly larger than this circle—so consider that when piping it (I piped my circle about 2 1/2 inches wide and ended up with 3-inch peonies). To pipe the circles, the rounded portion of the tip should be facing up. Hold the pastry bag at a 45-degree angle and spin the pie as you gently apply pressure to create the circle. Don’t worry if it’s a little wonky—it will be totally covered up later!

To pipe the petals, you’ll continue to hold the pastry bag in the same way, with the rounded portion of the tip facing upward. Pipe the first petal right on top of the circle you piped. Pipe a short petal by applying gentle pressure to the bag and making a very small U shape with your wrist. Place the next petal so that it overlaps the first. Continue this process until you’ve fully covered the circle. Do the same process again, this time piping the petals on the outer edge of the circle—these petals should overlap the first round slightly.

Finally, pipe the outer petals. For this, you’ll want to change your pastry bag angle a bit so that the curved edge of the tip is facing away from the flower. Follow the same U-shaped motion, this time making petals that stand straight up on the outer edge of the circle. This is one of those floral patterns where you just have to add as many petals as you need to get it to look right! Once you finish piping one peony, you can pipe another circle next to it and bloom another.

Like what you see? Be sure to check back in a couple weeks for Part Two of this floral pie saga, where I show you how to create flowers using my favorite medium of all: PIE DOUGH.

Lemon Mascarpone Pie With Meringue Anemones

Lemon Mascarpone Pie With Meringue Anemones

Erin McDowell Erin McDowell
Makes one 9-inch pie

Pie

  • 1 recipe for single-crust pie dough (my favorite is here: https://food52.com/recipes/24928-all-buttah-pie-dough)
  • 1 1/4 cups (302 g) fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 large (57 g) egg
  • 3 large (81 g) egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup (99 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (114 g) mascarpone cheese
  • 1 pinch fine sea salt

Meringue

  • 3 large (90 g) egg whites
  • 1 cup (198 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 g) water
  • Poppyseeds, as needed for finishing
Go to Recipe
Honey Pistachio Pie With Saffron Meringue Dahlia

Honey Pistachio Pie With Saffron Meringue Dahlia

Erin McDowell Erin McDowell
Makes one 10-inch pie

Pie

  • 1 pound (454 g) puff pastry
  • egg wash, as needed
  • 2 cups (240 g) unsalted pistachios
  • 2 tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup (71 g) dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (58 g) honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 g) fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) vanilla extract
  • 2 large (114 g) eggs

Saffron Meringue

  • 5 large (285 g) egg whites
  • 1 3/4 cups (346 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup (81 g) water
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extrct
Go to Recipe
Vanilla Cream Pie With Pretzel Crust and Raspberry Whipped Cream Peonies

Vanilla Cream Pie With Pretzel Crust and Raspberry Whipped Cream Peonies

Erin McDowell Erin McDowell
Makes a 14 x 5 1/2 rectangular pie

Pie

  • 2 cups (213 g) pretzels, ground into crumbs in the food processor
  • 4 tablespoons (57 g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 1/2 cups (605 g) whole milk
  • 1/2 cup (121 g) heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped
  • 1 cup (198 g) granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/3 cup (37 g) cornstarch
  • 5 large (135 g) egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons (10 g) vanilla extract

Whipped Cream

  • 1/2 cup (15 g) freeze-dried raspberries (available in the health food section of most grocery stores)
  • 2 cups (453 g) heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup (66 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Go to Recipe
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!