How to Make Pie Dough Shine{42}

blackberry pie top lattice crust

Backyard blackberries in a pie, topped with a crust brushed with milk and dusted with cinnamon sugar.

Pie is my spirit animal. Okay, that’s a bit much, how about pie is a smile on my plate. (Hmmm, me thinks I’m trying too hard.)  I guess my point is, I like pie; after all, it makes your eyes light up and tummy say ‘howdy.’  I thought it would be good fun to experiment with the flaky lid that crowns the pie and take a look at the effects of three top dressings applied before baking pie dough: egg, milk, and sugar. How about we don our lab coats and/0r aprons and check out what transforms pie dough from a plain old topper to a shiny showstopper.

Apple pie lattice top

Apple pie brushed with a light coat of milk (actually half and half), and then sprinkled with granulated sugar, and baked.

Testing Pie Topper Options

Basically I just whipped up a couple rounds of pie dough, rolled them out, cut out individual disks, and tried various topping options to see which one I would prefer for my top-crust tah-dah!

Each disk was placed on parchment paper where I wrote down the application (otherwise, I would have forgotten it five minutes later).


testing pie crusts cutout hearts

In one case, I used demerara sugar for a topping. It’s coarse, crunchy and contains a wee bit of molasses. Read on to see how it turned out.

Pie Dough on Parade

sugary pie dough crust

  • Above Left: Nothing added. Results: Plain and flaky, but no shine or extra browning.
  • Above right: Sugar added. Results: Same as above, but dry sugar doesn’t crystallize much, and looks more like the surface of a sugared donut (which may not be such a bad thing).

pie dough brushed milk and sugar

  • Above Left: Brushed with milk. Results: Nice semi-gloss surface, dough remains flaky.
  • Above Right: Brushed with milk, then dusted with granulated sugar. Results: The sugar crystallizes and creates a bit of a shell thanks to the milk dissolving it before baking. Nice, I like this result.

egg white wash pie dough

  • Above Left: Brushed with egg white. Results: More browning and a glossier finish. It also tends to seal the pastry.
  • Above Right: Brushed with egg white, then dusted with granulated sugar. Results: Nice crunchy browned top.

flakey pie crust demerara sugar

  • Above Left: Brushed with egg white (same as above).
  • Above Right: Brushed with egg white, then dusted with demerara sugar. Results: The sugar melts and creates a crunchy surface that cracks when you bite it.

egg yolk wash pie

  • Above Left: Egg yolk wash only. Results: Another nice shiny brown surface, and again, it seems to seal the crust.
  • Above Right: Egg yolk wash and granulated sugar. Results: Crunchy, sparkly, flaky, not very brown though.

whole egg wash pie dough crust

  • Above Left: Whole egg wash. Results: Beautifully golden brown, sealed crust, surface not quite as flaky.
  • Above Right: Whole egg wash with granulated sugar. Results: Super crunchy, shiny top, almost like a meringue or candy brittle.

lattice top pie dough

  • Above, Left Side: Lattice top brushed with combined whole egg and milk wash (mix 2 Tablespoons milk to 1 beaten egg). Results: Really glossy, and picture perfect. Texture is nice, though I could have baked it a little longer.
  • Above, Right Side: Same as above with addition of cinnamon sugar. Results: Crispy, sugary top crust, nice looking and tasting, especially for apple pie.

Whole egg and milk wash: one beaten egg and two tablespoons milk mixed.

Shaker Lemon Pie brushed with milk and sprinkled with sugar.


Later, out of the oven: golden brown, sugary goodness.

Each wash brought about subtle changes in the dough, some a little shinier than others, some more golden, but I’d have to say my favorite option was simply painting on a light coat of milk and sprinkling sugar on top of the pie dough. The egg washes do a lovely job also, by sealing the dough with a uniform sheen to create a very finished look. I just don’t like “wasting” an egg for this step.

If you wish to try this out for yourself, I suggest simply buying a rollup of store-bought pie dough and saving yourself a step. Brush, sprinkle and bake!

Related: Dough Cutouts

I use these handy little fondant cutouts (for cakes) to create designs and steam holes for my pie crusts—my adult version of a playdough play factory.  😉