The trickiest part of making a lattice-top pie isn’t figuring out how to weave the top crust (the step-by-step photos below show the technique). The real trick is in the dough. It must be strong enough to withstand extra handling but still be tender and full of flavor when it’s baked. I’ve recently developed a butter crust that’s ideal for lattice pies. It contains a few more ingredients than your average pie dough, but each one plays a vital role.
Cake flour helps ensure tenderness. It has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour, which means less gluten development (too much gluten makes a tough crust). You do need some gluten for strength, however, which is why I use a combination of cake flour and bleached all-purpose flour. If you can’t find cake flour, using 100% bleached all-purpose flour will work, too. Bleached flour is more tender; bleaching destroys some of the gluten-forming properties.
Cream cheese enhances flavor and tenderness. It contains more fat and milk solids than butter. The extra fat coats some of the flour proteins, limiting gluten development. The milk solids contribute flavor and a smooth texture.
Heavy cream provides the moisture that brings the dough together in the food processor, and the fat gives the crust a richer flavor and a more tender texture.
Vinegar is acidic, and acids weaken gluten. This makes the crust more tender and minimizes shrinkage during baking.
Baking powder lifts and aerates the dough slightly, making it seem even more tender. I recommend Rumford brand baking powder, as it contains calcium phosphate instead of aluminum sulfate, which leaves a bitter aftertaste.
You can make a lattice pie without special equipment, but if you want the top strips to have decorative edges, you’ll need a fluted pastry wheel, called a pastry jagger. You can purchase one from A Cooks Wares, which carries several brands.
Follow these four steps to assemble a bake a lattice pie
1. Make the dough. Cut the butter into 3/4-inch cubes. Wrap them in plastic and freeze until hard, at least 30 minutes. Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, salt, and baking powder in a metal bowl and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Put the cold flour mixture in a food processor and process for a few seconds to combine.
Cut the cold cream cheese into three or four pieces and add it to the flour mixture. Process for 20 seconds (the mixture should resemble fine meal). Add the frozen butter cubes and pulse until none of the butter pieces is larger than a pea, about five 3-second pulses. (Toss with a fork to see it better.)
Add the cream and vinegar and pulse in short bursts until the dough starts to come together (which will take a minute or two); the dough will still look crumbly but if you press it between your fingers, it should become smooth. Turn it out onto a clean work surface. Gather and press the dough together to form a unified mass.
Cut the dough in half and put each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Loosely cover the dough with the plastic. Using the wrap as an aid (to avoid warming the dough with your bare hands), shape one half of the dough into a flat disk and the other into a flat rectangle. Wrap each tightly in the plastic and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes and up to 24 hours.
2. Roll out the bottom crust. Remove the disk of dough from the fridge (keep the rectangle refrigerated); if it’s very firm, let it sit at room temperature until it’s pliable enough to roll, 10 to 15 minutes.
Set the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap sprinkled lightly with flour. Roll it out to a 13-inch round that’s 1/8 inch thick, occasionally loosening and reapplying the plastic wrap.
Remove one piece of plastic and flip the dough into a standard metal 9-inch pie pan (it should be 1 1/4 inches deep and hold 4 cups of liquid). Fit the dough into the pan and carefully peel off the plastic. Trim the dough so there’s a 3/4-inch overhang. Fold the overhang underneath itself to create an edge that extends about 1/4 inch beyond the rim of the pie pan. Cover the dough-lined pie plate with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
3. Make the filling and top the pie. Make the fruit filling as instructed in the recipes.
Remove the rectangle of dough from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature until it’s pliable enough to roll, 10 to 15 minutes. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to an 11×14-inch or larger rectangle (if it becomes an oval, that’s fine); it should be no more than 1/8 inch thick.
Cut ten 3/4-inch-wide strips lengthwise down the rectangle, using a ruler to measure and mark 3/4-inch intervals and to cut a straight edge. If you want a crimped edge on the strips, use a fluted pastry wheel.
Stir the fruit filling a few times and scrape it into the pie shell. Make the lattice top as shown in the photos below.
4. Bake the pie and let it cool. Lightly cover the assembled pie with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. After 30 minutes of chilling, set an oven rack on the lowest rung and put a foil-lined baking stone or baking sheet on it. Heat the oven to 425°F.
When the pie has chilled for 1 hour, brush the lattice with the milk and sprinkle on the sugar.
Set the pie directly on the baking stone or sheet. Bake until the juices are bubbling all over (the bubbles should be thick and slow near the pan edges), 40 to 55 minutes, depending on the filling (see the filling recipe for a more specific baking time). After the first 15 minutes, cover the rim with foil or a pie shield. If the lattice starts to darken too much in the last 10 minutes of baking, cover it loosely with a piece of foil that has a vent hole poked in the center.
Let the pie cool on a rack until the juices have thickened, 1 to 4 hours, depending on the fruit filling (see the filling recipe for a more specific cooling time).