Instagram's Most Stunning Pie Crusts Come from a Self-Taught Baker
We can't stop scrolling through these incredible pie designs.
Just one look at Helen Nugent's elaborate pies, and it's clear she knows how to bake some gorgeous edible works of art. Although the Toronto, Canada resident grew up baking various goodies, she didn't try her hand at these intricate treats until just five years ago. “I was going to a friend’s house for dinner and saw a beautiful pie with concentric circles of leaves on Pinterest that I thought I could pull off and bring for dessert,” she says. “From that moment on, I was hooked.”
So Nugent kept practicing. She designed pies and tarts with geometric patterns and floral motifs, then expertly styled them for her husband, Jim Brand, to photograph. And when her artistic pie images starting gaining attention through her Instagram account @batterednbaked—which has more than 34K followers—she left her job as a corporate writer and instructional designer to pursue her pie-making hobby full-time.
Today, the self-taught pie maker is more than an Instagram star. She's collaborated with the Food Network on fun social videos and tutorials, runs a baking blog called “Pie-Eyed Girl” that’s chock-full of useful tips, and teaches "Pie Camps" from her kitchen. Nugent's current labor of love is motivating even more people to bake pies and express themselves via edible art. She's writing a pie book with step-by-step instructions for how to create some of the designs from her Instagram account, and it will be published by Page Street Publishing in the fall of 2020.
Nugent credits her pie-making prowess to her mother, whose renown apple pie recipe is beloved by everyone who tries it, but it was her dad who encouraged her to explore the creative side of baking. “I would make him elaborate pies because he loved pie and would get such a kick out of seeing them on Instagram and reading the comments,” she says. “He died unexpectedly about two years ago and, for a while, I retreated even further into the kitchen as a way of sorting things out."
Baking became therapeutic for Nugent; making more of the pies her father loved helped her cope with his death and feel connected to him, and she finessed her craft through trial and error. "Believe me, behind my Instagram account, is a graveyard of bad ideas, burnt pastry decorations, sunken messes, and fruit explosions,” she says. “Over time, I’ve learned what doesn’t work: finely cut designs that get swamped in filling when they bake, very thin lattice and decorations that are three- or four-dimensional (they’re going to melt in the oven) and what does: freezing highly decorated pies before baking them, proper egg washing, and paying attention to the details.”
The level of detail in Nugent's pies is what sets them apart from other Instagram creations. She tops them with mesmerizing patterns, contrasting textures, and abundant hits of color. As evidenced by her photos, many of her pie design ideas come from nature—a walk through the woods or time spent in the garden will inspire the wildflowers blooming from her pies and whimsical leaves that fall upon the crusts.
“Making pies is such an organic experience," she says. "Three simple ingredients—flour, water, and butter—come together to form the foundation for so many different design ideas." You'll be able to see a selection of them in her new cookbook, which will be available next fall. In the meantime, you can continue to whet your appetite and find plenty of pie-spiration on her Instagram account. Happy baking!