Baking | The Life of Pi …. err…Pie Bird & A Strawberry Pie

“If you don’t let technology help you, if you resist good ideas, you condemn yourself to dinosaurhood.”
Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Strawberry Pie ... & a pie bird A Strawberry Pie and a Pie Bird. Strange how good things happen at the same time. Around the week that the Life of Pi won an Oscar, the folk from Zansaar sent me something very interesting … a beautiful aubergine stoneware baking dish with an intriguing creature inside. They call it a Pie Bird!

Strawberry Pie ... & a pie bird Have you heard of one?  To be honest, I had no clue that such a charming creature actually existed. Google enlightened! From whimsical banter from when we used to chime “Four & twenty black birds baked in a pie” as toddlers, to Alton Brown who wholeheartedly endorses the pie bird, it seems to be quite a handy bakers tool. Many ardent pie bakers swear by it.

pie birdWhat might a pie bird be? It’s a little hollow contraption made of ceramic, that helps keep a pie base from getting soggy. It also prevents it from boiling over, sometimes even saving a pie from dramatically exploding!

A pie bird, pie vent, pie whistle, pie funnel, or pie chimney is a hollow ceramic device, originating in Europe, shaped like a funnel, chimney, or upstretched bird with open beak. Funnel-style steam vents have been placed in the center of fruit and meat pies during cooking since Victorian times; bird shapes came later.

Strawberry Pie ... & a pie bird Pie funnels were used to prevent pie filling from boiling up and leaking through the crust by allowing steam 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 occasionally known as “crustholders”. Older ovens had more problems with uniform heating, and the pie bird prevented boil-over in pie cooking.

Strawberry Pie ... & a pie bird Fancy my delight when I received it as also the beautiful aubergine pie dish from the Mason Cash collection. It’s a handy dish to bake a classic apple pie, or maybe a chicken / vegetable pie. The high quality stoneware dish has a wide lip that  makes it ideal for pie crusts while the stoneware construction ensures that it heats evenly.

Strawberry Pie ... & a pie bird I enjoyed ‘playing with it’. It gave me much food for thought, Life of Pi and pie bird quotes flying through my head. You see, at the same time, the younger teen was doing a film review on the Life of P. There was plenty of Pi / Pie happening!

Strawberry Pie ... & a pie bird I wanted to make an apple pie but I had my last stash of red luscious strawberries from the recent Pune trip. I thought a strawberry pie just might work. It did and the pie baked up beautifully. Once completely cool, it stepped out of the dish gingerly with no trouble at all. It’s a good size baking dish for a meal for two, or maybe part of a meal for four.

Strawberry Pie ... & a pie bird I was in a hurry to slice the pie so the juices ‘leaked’ a bit. It sliced just fine a while later! The dough is a normal short crust that I substituted with a little cornmeal. Cornmeal works really well in all my galettes. This was my first double crust pie. It worked great. A classic American apple pie served with vanilla ice cream seems likely in the future!

Strawberry plum galetteI had some leftover dough, and about 1/2 a cup of left over filling. Could I just let it sit? Of course I couldn’t. The leftovers made a neat little galette which included one left over plum from an earlier baking project. The galette was crisp and full of fruity goodness. A drizzle of unsweetened single cream … delicieux!

Strawberry Pie ... & a pie bird

[print_this]Recipe: Strawberry Pie
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SummaryA fruity and delicious strawberry pie. A great way to use fruit in season.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour plus cooling time

  • Pastry
  • 160g plain flour
  • 40g cornmeal {makki ka aata}
  • pinch salt
  • 100g unsalted butter, frozen, grated
  • 2-3 tbsp of ice water {as required}
  • Filling
  • 500g frozen strawberries {or fresh}
  • 35g cornflour
  • 25g plain flour
  • 200g vanilla sugar {decrease if fruit is very sweet}
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 25g pistachios, chopped {few slivered}
  • 1tbsp apricot jam, melted
  • Single cream for brushing over {and serving}
  • Vanilla sugar


  1. Pastry
  2. Place the plain flour, cornmeal and salt in bowl of food processor and pulse briefly to mix.
  3. Add the frozen butter and pulse again for a few seconds until you get a breadcrumb like mix.
  4. Add the water 1 tbsp at a time, until the dough comes together when you pinch it between your fingers. {You might need more than 3 tbsp as the absorption property of flours differs across brands, regions etc}
  5. Turn out push together to form a tight ball. Divide into two, flatten into disks, wrap in clingwrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Filling
  7. Preheat the oven to 200C.
  8. Place the ingredients in a large bowl and toss well together. {If your strawberries are really sweet, then add about 1/4 cup less sugar. Taste and adjust if required}. Let stand for 15 minutes.
  9. Assemble
  10. Take one disk of chilled dough, and roll out to line the baking dish. Gently transfer to dish, crimp or ruffle the edges if you like, else trim them to fit the edge. Brush the base with apricot jam. 
  11. Place the pie bird in the centre of the pastry.
  12. Turn the fruit into a sieve to remove any released juices {if you have the time, you can reduce the juices in a pan over low heat and add them back to the fruit}. Ladle into the pie dish around the bird.
  13. Roll the second disk of pastry to cover the top, cut out a 1 1/2 – 2″ circle and gently place over the pie bird.
  14. Seal the edges of the pie with the tines of a fork. Use some left over dough to make leaves etc for the top if you like.
  15. Brush the top with single cream, sprinkle over with vanilla sugar and slivered pistachios if you like.
  16. Bake at 200C for 25 minutes, and then at 180C for 25-30 minutes more until the crust is golden brown.
  17. Note: Tent the top or cover the edges with foil if the crust is becoming too brown.
  18. Let it cool completely before trying to turn out of baking dish. Slice only once completely cool, 3-4 hours after baking.


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Also find me on The Rabid Baker, The Times of India

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About me: I am a freelance food writer, recipe developer and photographer. Food is my passion - baking, cooking, developing recipes, making recipes healthier, using fresh seasonal produce and local products, keeping a check on my carbon footprint and being a responsible foodie! I enjoy food styling, food photography, recipe development and product reviews. I express this through my food photographs which I style and the recipes I blog. My strength lies in 'Doing Food From Scratch'; it must taste as good as it looks, and be healthy too. Baking in India, often my biggest challenge is the non-availability of baking ingredients, and this has now become a platform to get creative on. I enjoy cooking immensely as well.


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