What Is a Pie Bird? Do I Really Need to Use One?
Pie birds may look like unusual action figures, lined up like soldiers in a dish cabinet or safely tucked in a utensil drawer until they're called into action. But perhaps pie birds really are heroes. At least, they're heroes in the baking world.
The ceramic bird-shaped vents can prevent soggy bottom crusts, save pies from spillover, and keep the center of a crust from sinking like the Titanic. Keep reading to find out how pie birds work and learn when you need to use one.
What Is a Pie Bird?
Pie birds are hollow ceramic baking tools that vent pies while they're baking. These quaint funnels collect moisture from bubbling pie filling and send it up through the beaks as hot steam. This prevents the filling from overflowing. The statuette also supports the surrounding crust, which keeps it from sinking into the filling and turning into a soggy mess.
Most pie birds are made from stoneware or ceramic. They may be glazed with colorful enamel coatings; some are even painted to look like blackbirds, canaries, or cardinals, or elaborately painted with yellow beaks and multi-color feathers. Others might be modeled after different animals entirely, from forest creatures to mythical dragons.
Pie birds — or pie funnels, pie chimneys, pie vents, or pie whistles, as they're sometimes called — were first used in Europe several hundred years ago. They picked up steam in popularity during the mid- to late-19th century. But it wasn't until the 1940s, when pie birds became widely manufactured and coveted as much for a collector's item as a utilitarian device, that the birds were used more broadly. Today, however, they remain a bit obscure and often aren't known outside the serious baking crowd.
How to Use a Pie Bird
Pie birds aren't necessary, but they do help prevent soggy crusts and sticky messes. So if you have one — and you're planning to make a savory meat pie or a sweet pie — here's how you can use your pie bird correctly.
1. Prepare your pie dough.
Make your pie dough according to recipe directions, like those for this Butter Flaky Pie Crust. Pie birds are only necessary for double-crusted pie, like this Fresh Pear Pie, so if your recipe doesn't use a bottom and a top crust, you don't need to use a pie bird.
2. Unroll the crust.
Roll dough to fit your pie plate, and gently press the dough evenly around the pie plate's sides and bottom. You do not need to pre-bake your crust if you're using a pie bird.
3. Fill the pie.
Position your pie bird in the center of the pie plate, on top of the (bottom) pie crust. Do not press the pie bird into the crust. Scoop your pie's filling into the crust, around the pie bird.
4. Place the top crust.
Cut an X into the center of the second pie crust. Or, if you know how large the hole needs to be, you can cut a circle that is large enough for the bird. Lower the pie crust over the bird's head and onto the top of the pie.
If the bird doesn't fit the slit, gently press the dough around the bird until the pie bird's head is poking out of the crust. It's OK if the crust is touching the bird. The steam escapes from the top of the funnel.
5. Bake as instructed.
Follow your recipe's instructions for baking your pie. As the pie bakes, steam will collect inside the pie bird and escape from the beak. Some pie birds even give off a whistle, much like a kettle, when the steam builds up.
When the pie is finished baking, you can remove it from the oven, but leave the pie bird in place. Removing it may make the crust sink. Just slice your pie around the bird, and when it's freed from the surrounding pie pieces, you can remove it and wash it.
Baking Without a Pie Bird
If you don't have a pie bird, don't worry. Most people don't use pie birds, and their pies are still tremendously good. In place of pie birds, you can cut some vents in your crust to allow steam to escape. This won't help your bottom crust, but it will do the important work of preventing a big mess.
Get creative with your pie vents. You can make single slits in the crust, or you can use cookie cutters to make fun shapes like in this Cherry Pie.
Where Do I Buy a Pie Bird?
Retailers like Amazon carry a number of different pie birds. We love the classic Le Creuset Pie Bird; it's available in a variety of colorful enamel finishes. You might even be able to match your new pie bird to your favorite Le Creuset cookware.
Collectible and antique sites like eBay and Etsy also carry a number of pie birds. We love these handmade stoneware pie birds.
You can also scour shelves and cabinets at antique stores, consignment shops, and estate sales. Pie birds may not be the best-known baking accessory, but they have a strong following of people who've baked with them and love how they help their pie's final texture and appearance.
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