In just a year, Reno piemaker goes from novice to artist.
Home baker and local piemaking expert Kathie Nyberg has a confession: If she had to choose a dessert to eat, she’d go for cake over pie any day. But when it comes to executing her artistic ideas, her preferred canvas is most certainly the flaky, fruit-filled pastry.
It all started a year ago when Nyberg stumbled across the artfully decorated pie and tart photos of Seattle-based home baker Lauren Ko, Instagram sensation and author of the cookbook Pieometry: Modern Tart Art and Pie Design for the Eye and the Palate.
“I loved the way they looked and thought, ‘I need to try that,’” Nyberg recalls.
Though her first cherry pie decorated with hand-rolled dough roses turned out “crummy,” Nyberg persisted.
She learned to master Martha Stewart’s sweet pastry dough by feel and “Frankensteined” various other fillings and crust recipes into her perfect pie or tart. And although it’s crucial the pie tastes delicious, for Nyberg, the fun and satisfaction come from getting creative with the decorations.
“It usually takes a lot of time to put it together. Then sharing it with people who say, ‘Wow, that looks great!’ … it’s worth it, no matter how many hours it took,” explains Nyberg, who shares photos of her edible creations on the Facebook group Reno Foodies and with friends and family at gatherings. “It makes people feel special if you make them something special.”
A recent apple pie was adorned in the center with a rose crafted from thin apple slices and surrounded by various dough cutouts of flowers and leaves, painted shades of red, orange, and green using watered-down food coloring.
Nyberg’s trick is using store-bought pastry dough — ideal thanks to its thin, consistent texture — for the decorations on top. An ever-growing collection of cookie cutters, as well as a pastry wheel and a pie crust mold with braids and twists, are essential in her decorating process. Nyberg also likes to play with negative space by taking cutouts from the top of the pie and layering the shapes elsewhere on the masterpiece.
Flowers, herbs, and berries are another favorite topper for Nyberg. She beautifully trimmed a chocolate-glazed chocolate tart with a chocolate crust (A+ on the volume of chocolate) with a crescent-shaped cluster of baby’s breath (which is not edible) and frozen blueberries and blackberries, which have a lovely, frosted look.
“With fruit, I always leave the stems or leaves on, if possible, to add color and texture. I cut them in unusual shapes like strawberries quartered lengthwise with the stem attached or cranberries in half to show the seeds,” Nyberg explains. “I like to use candied pears, strawberries, and hazelnuts. I love the shine.”
Combining geometric shapes with organic materials is another way to create a beautiful pie or tart. Nyberg baked an apple-pear pie covered in small hexagons of dough, each pressed with a flower petal or small sprig of herb.
“I like to use pansies, cornflowers, spray poms, lavender, and calendula, as well as any herb blossoms such as chive, dill, and cilantro,” Nyberg notes.
A heaping tower of Swiss meringue browned with a cooking torch is yet another way to add interest to your pie or tart.
As for Nyberg’s advice for budding pie artists? It’s simple: “Be patient because it will take a long time, and if it doesn’t work, throw it away and start over. It’s just a pie!”
Claire McArthur is a freelance writer and pie enthusiast who admires the patience and detail that go into each of Nyberg’s culinary creations.
Get the Gear
Ready to take your pie and tart decorating to the next level like Kathie Nyberg? Stock up on these essentials:
- Pieometry: Modern Tart Art and Pie Design for the Eye and the Palate by Lauren Ko
- Pastry cutter
- Small cookie cutters
- Silicone pie crust mold
- Food-safe brush set