Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, avid home baker Kate Aliberti was part of a ‘pie family.’ When other families had cookies or cake, hers made pie. “We even had birthday pies,” Aliberti says. “It’s just the way our family has been as far back as I can remember. All the women in the family are pie makers. It’s an in-born skill.”
Aliberti, who recently found her calling in the world of food and textile styling, remembers how her family would come together every year at Virginia’s Sandbridge Beach for Labor Day. Her great aunt Peggy Blassingham, now 96 years old, would treat them all to her legendary peach pie with vanilla ice cream. “It was a huge pie in one of those Corningware casserole dishes, easily the size of three regular pies,” she recalls.
Nowadays, weaving dizzyingly intricate lattice-crust pies is Aliberti’s love language. “If anyone within a fifty-mile radius has any kind of life event that calls for a gift of food,” she says, “I will be there with a pie in my hand on their doorstep the next day.”
For her own crusts, Aliberti eschews the all-butter crust of her youth in favor of a recipe from cookbook author and Food Network personality Ina Garten, which combines butter and shortening for optimum flavor and pliability. In a pinch, she’ll grab a premade Pillsbury crust, which she says also works beautifully. Creating her meticulous designs, she says, is about thinking of pie dough like fabric—something to be transformed. “Pie crust has a mind of its own,” Aliberti says, “so you have to listen to the dough.”
Make the dough at least a day in advance, and keep it wrapped and chilled so it doesn’t lose moisture and remains easy to manipulate when rolled and woven. When you’re ready to roll and weave, use a chilled baking sheet to help keep the dough cool as you work. “It’s easier to weave when it’s almost frozen,” Aliberti says. Her ultimate tip: “I assemble my lattice on a piece of parchment on a cookie sheet, freeze it, and then put it on the pie to bake so the pattern stays well-defined.”
When it comes to the fillings, Aliberti rarely uses a recipe. “I change it up depending on who the pie is for,” she says, but notes that her classic apple pie, with sorghum and cinnamon is a hit with nearly any audience. Get the recipe below, and to see more of her elaborately woven pie crusts, check out her Instagram account.