What's a Pie Bird And Do I Need One?
You may mistake the bird-shaped tchotchke on your grandmother’s windowsill as a souvenir from a long-ago trip. Or you may assume the cute keepsake is something she picked up at an estate sale at her sister’s neighbor’s mother-in-law’s house. However, that little bird has a job: it vents steam from pie.
Pie birds—or pie whistles, pie vents, pie funnels, or even pie chimneys—are hollow ceramic statuettes that bakers can use to vent steam from their pies in order to prevent a filling from bubbling over. The bird can also keep a crust supported, preventing a collapse in the center.
Most pie birds are made of stoneware or ceramic. That keeps them from getting stained or absorbing moisture during the cooking process. Some Pie Birds have colorful enamel coatings, are designed to look like a particular type of bird (black birds are quite common), or may even look like another animal altogether—pie elephant, anyone?
Pie folklore suggests pie birds found fame in Victorian Era England and Ireland. Typically, they were used in meat pies, like chicken pot pie, but they can be used in fruit pies, too. Pies that don’t bake, like cream pies or chiffon pies, won’t need a pie bird.
How to Use a Pie Bird
You can buy a standard Pie Bird (lecreuset.com, $13) in many specialty cooking stores. If you want to start a collection of rare or unique finds, check out eBay and Etsy.
After you’ve unrolled your bottom crust, place your pie bird in the center of the pie. Next, scoop your filling around the bird. Cut a hole in the center of your second pie crust—pie birds are typically only used with double-crusted pies—and place the pie crust over the pie filling and bird’s head.
If the hole you cut isn’t large enough for the bird, gently poke the bird’s head through the crust. It’s OK if the crust touches the bird during baking. The steam escapes from a vent in the bird’s beak.
Once the pie is baking, the bird will collect high-temp steam and release it. Some birds may even whistle when the pie is cooked and ready to be taken out of the oven. Use your baking instincts and senses to know when the pie is done. Don’t trust the bird.
Also, don’t be tempted to pull the bird out of the pie after baking. The filling and crust around it will collapse. Leave it in place and just cut slices. When the bird is fully exposed, you can slide it out of the pie.
Pie Crust Vents Are the Poor Baker’s Pie Bird
If you are pie bird-less, never fear. Pie birds are not necessary for making the best pie possible. Indeed, most pie pros don’t use them at all. They do, after all, take up a lot of space in the center of the pie, which cuts down on the filling you can have.
Additionally, with a double-crusted pie, you can help steam escape—and avoid a bubbled or even burst upper pie crust—by cutting four or five two-inch slits in the top crust before putting it into the oven. The release vents will work just as well as a pie bird.
If you like the idea of venting your pie but don’t have a bird, you can call on these handy kitchen tools for a makeshift venter:
- cinnamon stick
- a funnel made of parchment paper
- inverted pastry tip
- glass or cardboard straw