What is a Pie Bird?

by sunshine on February 29, 2008

Ok, so I will admit I had never heard of a Pie Bird until Alton Brown mentioned them on his show Good Eats. I had never heard of such a thing, but thanks to Alton and his awesome show I learned something new! I did a little research on Pie Birds and this is what I found out. . .

A pie bird, (pie vent, pie whistle, pie funnel, or pie chimney) is a hollow ceramic device, traditionally from Europe and shaped like a bird. Pie birds are “steam vents” that have been placed in the center of fruit and meat pies (while cooking) since Victorian Times. Pie funnels were used in baking pies and prevent the pie from boiling over in the oven by allowing the steam created when the fruit filling or other contents are cooking to escape from inside the pie. They also supported the pastry crust in the center of the pie, so that it did not sag in the middle, and are hence also known as “crustholders.”

The nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence refers to “Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie; when the pie was opened, the birds began to sing” but it is uncertain whether pie vents were designed to look as birds because of this song, or whether pie vents in fact existed earlier and the song was a reference to them. (Cool, huh! Now the song makes sense to me!)

How to use a Pie Bird
Line the pie dish with pastry, place the “bird” in the center, put in the filling around the “pie bird” then put a pastry top on but allowing the pie bird to stick out of a hole in the pastry. Pinch crust around the bird’s shoulder, allowing the head to stick through the pastry. The bird will release steam through its mouth “vent” during baking and help to prevent fruit juices from bubbling over into the oven.

If you don’t have a Pie Bird, try this…..
Make decorative holes in the top crust and insert several pieces of macaroni. These mini “chimneys” allow steam to escape and keep the pie juices from boiling over (Another cool idea, huh!)

This is the recipe that Alton Brown used a Pie Bird with. I look forward to trying this recipe. I also learned a couple of other things that I had not ever thought about before…..Like, before putting apples into an apple pie letting them sit for about 2 hours before placing them into the pie crust. This helps them to ‘settle’ and will keep your pie/crust from shrinking down when the pie is cooking. (If you have never seen Good Eats, you should. It’s an awesome show…you not only get good recipes but you learn cool stuff like this!)

Super Apple Pie
Recipe courtesy: Alton Brown, 2008

For the crust:
6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 ounces vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
5 to 7 tablespoons applejack
12 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 2 3/4 cups, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

For the filling:

3 to 3 1/2 pounds apples, mixture of Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Braeburn and Golden Delicious, about 6 large apples1/2 cup sugar, divided
3 tablespoons tapioca flour
2 tablespoons apple jelly
1 tablespoon apple cider
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground grains of paradise

For the crust:
Place the butter, shortening and applejack into the refrigerator for 1 hour.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar by pulsing 3 to 4 times. Add the butter and pulse 5 to 6 times until the texture looks mealy. Add the shortening and pulse another 3 to 4 times until incorporated.Remove the lid of the food processor and sprinkle in 5 tablespoons of the applejack. Replace the lid and pulse 5 times. Add more applejack as needed, and pulse again until the mixture holds together when squeezed. Weigh the dough and divide in half. Shape each half into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.

For the filling:Peel and core the apples. Slice into 1/2-inch thick wedges. Toss all of the apples with 1/4 cup of the sugar, place in a colander set over a large bowl and allow to drain for 1 1/2 hours.Transfer the drained liquid to a small saucepan, place over medium heat and reduce to 2 tablespoons. Set aside to cool. Toss the apples with the remaining sugar, tapioca flour, jelly, cider, lime juice, salt and grains of paradise.

For assembling and baking the pie:Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Remove one disk of dough from the refrigerator. Place the dough onto a lightly floured piece of waxed paper. Lightly sprinkle the top of the dough with flour and roll out into a 12-inch circle. Place into a 9 1/2 to 10-inch tart pan that is 2-inches deep. Gently press the dough into the sides of the pan, crimping and trimming the edges as necessary. Set a pie bird in the center of the bottom of the pan.

Place the apples into the unbaked pie shell in concentric circles starting around the edges, working towards the center and forming a slight mound in the center of the pie. Pour over any liquid that remains in the bowl. Roll out the second pie dough as the first. Place this dough over the apples, pressing the pie bird through the top crust. Press together the edges of the dough around the rim of the pie. Brush the top crust with the reduced juice everywhere except around the edge of pie. Trim any excess dough. Place the pie on a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake on the floor of the oven for 30 minutes. Transfer to the lower rack of the oven and continue to bake another 20 minutes or until the apples are cooked through but not mushy. Remove to a rack and cool a m
inimum of 4 hours or until almost room tem
perature.

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