Home Recipes How to Make Pie Dough Shine

How to Make Pie Dough Shine

How to Make Pie Dough Shine
whole egg sugar pie top
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.  😉


  1. After reading this I believe I am going to have to choose between starting some seeds or adding pie to my weekend. Although I really should cure some pork bellies for bacon too. Oh the hard decisions in life! I really enjoy seeing the different options compared like this. I haven’t bought any demerara sugar before but it just went on my list.

    Thank you for sharing.

      • I’m excited for it. I just have to decide whether it’ll be juneberries (I found a quart bag in the freezer a couple days ago) or sour cream raspberry. Or sour cream rhubarb? Did you try milk with demerara sugar? Whatever I make there will be snail cookies made with the leftover crust!

        • I’ve never heard the piecrust leftovers referred to as ‘snail cookies’ — I love it. My mom used to roll out the leftovers into a solid sheet, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake for a special kid treat. But I can see with Tom’s cunning little cutters, the snail cookies are going to be a regular thing. Thanks!

        • My mom is a wonderful pie baker – and she always uses a milk wash on her crust. Love the name “snail cookies” – we called them roly polys. Mom spread the dough with jelly/jam, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and dots of butter before rolling it up and slicing it in 2″ pieces. Since they baked faster than the pie – and you had to eat them warm from the oven with a glass of ice-cold milk, we never had room for the actual pie until the next day. But her pie the next day was yum!

  2. i am a pie baker from the start. i’ve been baking pies for 60 years! and i’m only 40 so go figure. my secret is a sweeter crust and a tarter filling. if you haven’t tried my blueberry goast cheese basil pie, go to my blog and make it. KILLER good!

    • Chris, I bet you have some great pie spots in Birmingham, my friend, not to mention all-around great Southern cooking — something I miss in the Pacific Northwest. And how are those roses doing? 😉

  3. This looks like so much fun! I love the various options! Oh,
    so creative with just a few twist of very simple supplies.

    Happy April First! Today, is our annual Maple Syrup Festival. There will be massive line ups for pancakes toppled with freshly made maple syrup.

    The furry gang sends stiffs and licks!


    V and The Furry Gang

    • Oh V, what a way to start your day. I really feel maple syrup is one of the best natural ingredients around, and truly underappreciated. Now pour, V, pour! And have a pancake for Buddy and me.

    • Good question Anne, well, uh, um… Oh, out with Tom! I’ve been enjoying them with coffee each morning and afternoon tea. Surprisingly, they keep really well, and if I want to gild the lily, I smear a little goat cheese on it with a dollop of homemade apple jelly for good measure.

  4. Omigosh, how much fun was this experiment?! To carry out and then for us to read about. And genius man, you foresaw the many people asking where you got the cunning wee cutters and gave us the scoop. If I can’t get them at my favorite local fancy kitchen store, I might even give the Evil Empire some of my money so as to own a set. Thanks for the extra info.

    As for the pie crust toppers, so nice to see all the various options and their results. I don’t normally make the actual pies around here — my sweetheart took over piemaking duties many years ago, in self-defense (after one notable occasion when I lost my temper at a recalcitrant crust and hurled it across the room against the far wall), but he does allow me to decorate the tops. Normally I make my own cutouts by hand, with a sharp knife, or incise a design with same. Once time when I had made a design of leaves, using a regular cookie cutter, for a fall party, I got out my food colors and mixed them into egg yolks for a rather pretty effect.

    I’ve been reading a wonderful book by Anne Byrn called ‘American Cake’, sort of a history of cake in America, with recipes and stories going back to earliest Colonial days. There are all kinds of interesting tidbits, including one sidebar that notes, rather slightingly, I thought, “as opposed to pie, which was eaten out of hand by field laborers, cake took a higher level of skill to prepare. Historian William Woys Weaver said that in the Pennsylvania Dutch community, people belonged to either pie or cake families, and baking cake elevated your social status.”

    I’m definitely of the pie persuasion, as it seems as you, Tom, though despite the mild snootiness of this comment — which I am thinking is probably historical fact — I am being seduced by these cake recipes and considering baking them all as an ongoing experiment. Luckily, I still live with Pie Man and, with my soon-to-be-acquired cunning cutters, will be playing with dough atop our next family pie.

    Very fun post!

    • Kathy, so much good information you share. Thank you, and I’m especially excited to read ‘American Cake.’ And thanks for the heartfelt comment, kind words and embracing pie and cake. Now I want cake, I need to elevate my status locally. 😉

  5. What wonderful samples and descriptions of the wash and sugar options. All look very good and my mouth is watering thinking about fresh hot pie!!!

  6. Tom – Grew up with everyone referring to my Mom as “The Pie Lady” …. you most definitely qualify as “The Pie Guy! …. or more like “THE Pie Guy”. Wow!

  7. Haven’t made any pies in a long time because of the tremendous amount of calories, and never made less than two at a time because we eat them so fast. As far as I’m concerned, the pie can never be too sour. And, as far as my husband is concerned, it can never be too sweet. So, it’s a dilemma. I just have too rules — not too sweet, and the fruit must be cooked through — no crunchy pies for us.

      • Tom, another solution for the too sweet/too sour dilemma — after the pie piece is on your plate, you can gently lift the crust from the end and either sprinkle some lemon juice or more sugar, and then gently lay it down again. I’ve done the lemon “lift” for myself many times!

        • Wow Carolyn, how clever and resourceful. I’ve never thought of that. I may have to post a pie-tip Q&A where readers share their pie baking secrets. It’s fun to see how others make and bake their pies. Thanks!

  8. I LIKE “Pie is my Spirit Animal”! Related immediately. I’m interested in where you got the multi-strip fluted cutter tool partially visible in your unbaked apple pie side-by-side. I have a fluted cutter but it always seems like TOO much trouble to fish out a ruler so my strips aren’t elegantly even like yours. Also, I noticed your blackberry pie actually looks like pie–mine always runs and puddles. You’ve said one tip is baking the pie long enough. Did you thicken with flour/cornstarch/tapioca?
    As always, great post!

    • Karen, sit down, because this will change our lattice pie baking life. I found this gadget at the island thrift store and it was marked pasta cutter. I thought, well not in my world. It’s called a pasta bicycle and yes it’s made for rickrack pasta cutting, but is better served as a tool to make perfect rickrack lattices for such a pie. These angles are sharp and defined unlike most pie cutters which pretend to execute a zigzag cut. And even better you can remove some wheels to make wider strips and add more to create narrow strips. Here’s what it looks like and a description too:

      As for thickener, I use cornstarch for blackberries, and the only reason it doesn’t puddle is because I bake it until the center of the pie at the cutout is bubbling. Then you really have to let it cool for a 2-3 hours to let it all set. It’s worth the wait. Most recipes call for an hour baking time and that is wishful thinking. Most of my pies take one and half to two hours. If the crust browns too quickly, lower the oven temp to 325 and/or cover the edges with foil.

  9. Great blog and it certainly made me hungry! I’m a pie purist and prefer the milk on top for a nice color. The egg seems to make a coating. Two applications of milk gives it the perfect color. My apple pie has so much cinnamon in it there isn’t room for any more on top…but then there is dutch apple…

  10. Tom, I have followed you regularly for quite awhile; but I think I’ve missed something. I know you are flower farming. Are you also a florist–the bouquets you feature are stunning. Are the flowers from your greenhouse?! WOW!!
    Your pies are amazing. In fact, eating one is on my “bucket list.”
    Happy Spring!

    • Hi Pam, Thank you for such kind words. Yes, I’ve been working up at the island’s flower shop, Herban Bloom, for a almost three years now. I also sell flowers to the shop and at my farm for weddings and such. I hope to have a farm stand this year. Let me put that on the list. 😉 Many of the flowers are grown in my greenhouse, which is heated only by the sun, so not much growing in the winter. I also grow flowers in my front fields. I specialize in dahlias, and zinnias, and giant marigolds, but I branch out each year with a newfound favorite. This year, gardenias are going in a row. Let me know when you want that pie. I think this is the first time I’ve ever been associated with someone’s bucket list. I’m honored. That’s a lot of pressure Pam, but I think I’m up for it. Cheers, and a long life to you!

  11. hmm I can relate to you finding your spirit animal at the end of serving knife of ..”Pie”.. as I found mine: one day watching an episode of Julia with her guest chef, Marcel deSaulniers.. the master, my master, of Chocolate.. sigh…so as you guessed, that day of discovery was that Chocolate was my spirit animal, and led me by my stomach in every cookbook, kitchen accessories and specialty stores.. sigh.. its good to know your limits, your boundaries and all the wrappers in between.. I thoroughly enjoyed your “Alton Brown” experiment with PieCrustation.. Mother was a chef, and used whole milk brushed lovingly across the surface as if she were Neil Armstrong owning the moon.. I also use whole milk, but will definitely dip my “toes’ in this new bath of pie innovations and accessories.. its the girlie thing to do, you know… now I can brag to friends, I have PieBling! thank you! the apple recipe I have used for yrs is the AB one.. but you have seduced me, I will try yours next. I have till Sept to find just the right apples… till then, its shopping for the Pasta Bicycle, the best little hand exercise a PieMaker can hope for, and of course, the wee shape shifters.. those must be on my shelf soon. I feel a Heart coming on.. actually a mid sized one would be perfect for my PieBird to sing from! as to the Cake book that is lovely, although Mother would probably argue that true status was not cake , no no no, it was in Cinnamon Rolls, If you mastered the best, you were sought by the rest, eh?! truly delightful! have an awesome weekend! hugs to your wee buddy!

    • Blue, another delightful, engaging read! Thank you. As for your love of Chocolate, check out Fran Bigelow’s cookbook “Pure Chocolate” if you haven’t already. When I lived in Seattle, I would ride my bike from my house at Green Lake to Lake Washington’s Madison Park to swim. My reward on the hilly climb home, was a stop at Fran’s in Madison Valley. Her lovely shop was one big block of chocolate love, and I would often choose her chocolate-stuffed figs as my prize for making it up the hill and down to the valley. The recipe is in said cookbook. And as for cinnamon rolls, my mother and I have a playful debate about the subject anytime we encounter one. Mom is a purist, and recoils at the sight of added innards to the cinnamon swirls. She often spouts, “fruit has no place in a cinnamon roll.” I’m less discerning; if the thing is made of dough and fraught with sugar, I’ll eat it topped, graced or infused with fruit, jams, nuts, or sprinkles (heathen that I am). Happy Cooking, and Baking!

  12. I so enjoyed the visual of rewarded fig chocolate bliss☆For without these joyous moments, why then do we trudge up a hill, I ask you. Sigh.. it is to sigh..
    we heathens must band together, brothers in arms against that silly civilization of conventionality: eat your peas, mentality. Eh?
    Which is why your blog soothes so many savage souls.. you speak our lingo gringo, your talk don’t walk — it LEAPS AND BOUNDS with food fun energy, soft cuddles with the bestest dog and an occasional let’s fix this video that entrances our senses– WE CAN DO IT, we shout,
    … you’ve created a longhouse of love… berry good

    • Blue, your words purely and simply delight me. Thank you so very kindly. Such heartfelt and fun comments are fuel for future posts. Thanks for reminding me of why I write this blog. Well wishes and bulldog buttrubs to you (that’s from Buddy).

      • How often the blue skies ask us, Why… and we look at the ground, we stare at the chores, we grumble at our obligations… and still, that sweet clear voice whispers from the sighs among the clouds, ….why…
        once in awhile wee feeble dunderheads.. look about, gaze upon starry skies, we shade our eyes as we peer into the wide … blue … yonder, we sigh in our souls as the painted skies delight our senses.. and at once we truly are alive, awakened if you will, energized.. and in love..

        the ground us therefore, merely beneath us; the chores are just a stepping stone along the creeks to fulfillment and the obligations .. are the muscle upon we build ourselves, strong … true.. blue~

        You are most welcome dear brother among the clouds.. but I fear it wasn’t ~my words, but your blue skies calling your heart and you.. listened. . There is no rhyme , reason that our ears hear once in awhile.. it is as leaves from a seedling emerge.. we grow always.. towards the blue skies. Much love, happiness and ..sighs

  13. Please delete if posted twuce, darned computer . Poo…
    but it gives me pause to add
    thank you Buddy.. you’re a doll-!

    • Wow, now that’s a fine dare, one that requires making pie, lots of pie. These look great and I have a soft spot for The NYTimes recipes, they always seems to be something special that I make again and again. I’ll keep you posted, when I make a few of these, or all 21, who knows. Cheers, Tom

  14. Oh my goodness, what a difference these toppings? make. Just in time too, I’m in charge of desserts this year for our family Christmas dinner and thanks to you, I’m gonna knock their socks off! Thank you so much for sharing this. Yikes, I want pie right now!


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