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What is the ideal thickener for fruit pie?

Mar 30, 2006 | From the kitchen of Rose

The three most common starches used to thicken the fruit juices of a pie are flour, tapioca, and cornstarch. I prefer cornstarch because I find that it actually enhances the flavor of the fruit.

But as any starch in excess dulls the fresh fruit flavor and can make the texture gummy, I like to let the cut fruit sit with sugar for at least 30 minutes, drain the syrup that forms, reduce it by 1/2 to 2/3 or until very thick (I like to use the microwave but be sure to use a large liquid measure sprayed with non-stick vegetable spray to keep it from boiling over) and add it back to the fruit filling.

This way only about 1/3 the usual amount of thickener is required, the pie is just as juicy, and the bottom crust crisper.

Comments

I'm in for a surprise, good or bad. Just put a fresh apple pie in oven and after 10 min remembered I forgot to use any thickener. Will be an interesting pie!

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Hi Joyce,
The Pie & Pastry Bible is sold at many bookstores throughout North America. It is also available through the links at the top of under Rose's Cookbooks. Just click on the arrow tabs to move through the pages showing each book.
Rose & Woody

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Where can I find the pie and pastry Bible? I have been looking for a recipe that uses coca, sugar, Pet milk, and no eggs, but a thickner. Have been practicing with cornstarch, but do not know the correct ammount. This is a wonderful tasting pie. There is a restaurant which sells this, but they will not give out the recipe.

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Hello Ben (great name!)

Do you have any idea how much arrowroot one needs for an apple pie? 9", deep dish, pyrex pan. I know it depends on the juiciness of the apples, but just a ballpark number to start from. Any help to get me started would be most appreciated.

Thanks!

Ben from Detroit

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I have been baking pies for 53+ years and have had great success with using corn starch, tapioca or flour. A couple of years ago I was introduced to ClearJel and that is what I use exclusively now. My fruit pies - peach, apple, rhubarb and berry - have been a big hit. The only caution I have is not to use too much. Three tablespoons in a juicy peach or berry pie is sufficient, unless you like a very thick, gelatinous pie. Sprinkling some of the sugar/ClearJel mixture on the bottom crust has kept my pie from getting soggy. Just remember to mix the sugar with the ClearJel, otherwise it clumps up and will not be distributed correctly.

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I use arrowroot as a thickener and it provides all the thickening I need and has no taste. Also leaves gel clear..
Ben

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Rose Levy Beranbaum
Rose Levy Beranbaum in reply to comment from Christa
07/19/2011 04:55 PM

christa, as i wrote above, i use 100% cornstarch as thickener. as far as how much is needed, i have a chart in the pie and pastry bible for just about every fruit and berry by both volume and weight as you are correct--it does vary according to the juiciness of the filling.

if you want to experiment with tapioca, there's no need to pulverize it as you can by it in powder form under the name cassava. this is the root before it is subjected to "beading" process which gives tapioca it's pebbly texture. it is available in asian food supply stores.

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I have seen many recipes lately that call for a mixture of cornstarch AND tapioca. The tapioca is also ground until fine (in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle) to prevent big gelatinous pearls from appearing in the end result. I tried this with a cherry pie recipe recently and it worked great. The only problem is that I don't know of a "formula" for this mixture which could be applied to all different fruits. It always depends on the juiciness.

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I'm looking for a thickener to sub for egg yoke for a lemon pie recipe. I want to be able to sell at a farmers market this summer to open up more fruit pie options.

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Rose Levy Beranbaum
Rose Levy Beranbaum in reply to comment from pat
10/20/2010 12:58 PM

sorry pat, i don't use this. and i see no one else has answered this question so it's probably a commercial thickener. try googling.

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what is perma-flow, and the equal to it i have a recipe that calls for it

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Hi, thanks for the comments on clearjel, am going to search it out as my only problem with berry and rhubarb pies is too much juice. I do want to add a note about flaky crust. This is something I read in Cook's magazine last year and has been a godsend. The article metioned using half vodka in place of the ice water that is added while mixing the pie dough. Their recipe was a butter dough but I just subbed the ice water/vodka in with my regular flour and shortening, tiny bit of salt recipe. They recommmended using a food processor and adding the liquid until a ball formed. I'd always done it all by hand but this was SO much easier, the dough rolled out like a dream after chilling, and is flaky as all get out. I guess there is something about the reaction to vodka that keeps the dough flaky while still being easy to roll. Try it!!!

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Where in Rogers did you hear it is sold? I am going to visit my parents there, so I thought I'd pick some clear jel up. Thanks!

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ann hodgman
ann hodgman
09/ 2/2008 08:52 PM

Clearjel is available by mail order from the King Arthur Flour Baking Company. It's my favorite pie thickener. The only problem is that it's easy to overuse--you actually need less of it than you would use of flour.

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maggie - just stumbled into your post 7/3/08 re: peach pie. This is my favorite fruit pie and have been plagued with soggy crust as a result of the peach juice (even after I've followed Rose's recipe in the Peach Galette). I am going to look for this ClearJel and see how my pie turns out.

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ClearJel can be ordered from
Country Life Natural Foods
PO Box 489, Pullman MI 49450
800-456-7694. Free catalog available.

www.clnf.org

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ClearJel can be ordered from
Country Life Natural Foods
PO Box 489, Pullman MI 49450
800-456-7694. Free catalog available.

www.clnf.org

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Armatha Calhoun
Armatha Calhoun
08/31/2008 11:05 PM

I have used clear jel for years as a fruit pie thickener & like it better than anything I have ever used. There use to be a place to buy it in my state but no longer can find it. I heard there was a place in Rogers Ark. which is a long ways from where I live near McAlester Ok. I make a lot of fried pies & this is ideal for it . Saves a lot of time & tastes better.

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Michele Rund
Michele Rund
07/ 7/2008 08:24 PM

Another thought on fruit pie thickener. I grew up in Indiana on a farm eating pie (sometimes for breakfast!)made by the local pie queen (Mom). I learned to bake ;early from her and my grandmother. Her choice was almost always tapioca for cherry, berry and peach pie. I live in North Carolina where humidity does not mix well with summer fruit pies- techniques for preventing soggy crust is required. I recently made three wonderful cherry pies from fresh picked cherries and had mixed up the filling a day in advance. The tapioca absorbed the liquid overnight and the filling was perfect! Taste was totally cherry! I also use the egg whites left from the family pie dough recipie to coat the inside of the crust-top and bottom. Its hard to get sour cherries down here in NC so the ones I have in my freezer are precious!
Love your cake bible- my is old and beat up but has been my trusty guide for many a cake including my daughters wedding! Michele

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Michele Rund
Michele Rund
07/ 7/2008 08:23 PM

Another thought on fruit pie thickener. I grew up in Indiana on a farm eating pie (sometimes for breakfast!)made by the local pie queen (Mom). I learned to bake ;early from her and my grandmother. Her choice was almost always tapioca for cherry, berry and peach pie. I live in North Carolina where humidity does not mix well with summer fruit pies- techniques for preventing soggy crust is required. I recently made three wonderful cherry pies from fresh picked cherries and had mixed up the filling a day in advance. The tapioca absorbed the liquid overnight and the filling was perfect! Taste was totally cherry! I also use the egg whites left from the family pie dough recipie to coat the inside of the crust-top and bottom. Its hard to get sour cherries down here in NC so the ones I have in my freezer are precious!
Love your cake bible- my is old and beat up but has been my trusty guide for many a cake including my daughters wedding! Michele

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Maggie, thanks for the review, your pie looks wonderful!

Lauren, I'm not so sure that bleached / unbleached matters with pastry dough, but I defer to those with more experience of that. What does matter is the gluten content of the flour. Too much gluten makes a tough crust. Too little makes a crumbly crust. (You do need just a little gluten development for flaky pie pastry.)

Pastry flour is generally lower in protein (gluten) than regular all-purpose flour. I find I get the best results for pie dough with a mixture of all-purpose and pastry flour, but that depends a bit on the brands you are using.

How you handle the pie dough is also very important. Too much handling can develop the gluten too much.

Hope this helps with at least part of your question.

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I wanted to contribute some info on pie thickeners, which I hope Rose might comment on when she returns from vacation, since she has designated July as Pie Month.

Fruit pies are my favorite dessert and I love to bake 'em, too, but have always been plagued by the thickener problem. No matter what thickener I used (cornstarch, arrowroot, tapioca, flour), any fruit pie that was thick enough not to "run" when cut always tasted too much like the thickener itself (or was gluey).

Now I think I've hit on the perfect solution. Here's a fresh peach pie I made yesterday. You can still see the individual peach slices, it didn't run, and it tasted like pure peach heaven -- the best peach pie I ever made, no question:

PeachPiePhoto

And the big revelation was that I used a thickener designed to be used in home canning, which I discovered a couple of years ago when I first got into canning and preserving garden fruits and vegetables.

It's called ClearJel, and I first learned about it from the USDA book on home canning. They recommended using it when canning fruit pie fillings, because it doesn't break down when re-heated (i.e., when the canned fruit filling is used in a pie).

As I understand it, it has the same chemical makeup as cornstarch, but is somehow processed differently to prevent its breakdown when heated.

But the big bonus is that I could NOT taste thickener at all in the pie!

I tried it on a whim in this pie because I had just bought some for this summer's canning. I think it's destined to become my fruit pie thickener of first choice. (I used 3 tablespoons of it in the pictured pie, and these were VERY juicy peaches. And that pie dish is 10-1/2 inches wide and 2-1/2 inches deep... a BIG pie!)

I live in a small town and couldn't find it anywhere locally, and wound up getting it through mail order. I got mine from Kitchen Krafts, but a Google search would probably reveal other sources. Or if you're in a metro area you might find it in specialty shops.


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Hi, i just have a question in regards to pastry flour. I understand that in flaky pastry, using unbleached flour is essential, but i don't understand why Rose has recommended the King Arthur Pastry Flour (9.2% protein) which is unbleached...
Thank you for all your help :)

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i wrote this for people who don't have my book. if using my book do it exactly as it says in the recipe in the book.

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Hi Rose,

for the pie thickner question. After you reduce the juice you mix in the cornstarch?

Also, your book recommends 4 cups fruit and 3 tablespoons cornstarch or tapioca. Would you use 1/3 less of that amount?

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Rose, I want to thank you for your suggestion of reducing the juices when making fruit purees, jams and pies!
I find it very helpful to reduce the juices when making a fruit pie from frozen fruit. Let's face it, fruit frozen at the peak of the season can have much more flavor than out-of-season fresh fruit. (I live in Wisconsin - "out of season" covers a lot of the year!)
But, frozen fruit releases SO much juice! My pies always used to overflow and be far too juicy.
Sometimes I thaw the fruit in the refrigerator the night before, drain it and reduce the juice in the microwave. When I'm in more of a hurry, I thaw the fruit in a huge Pyrex measuring cup (8 cup capacity) in the microwave.
Before we got a microwave (yes, we must have been one of the last families in America not to have one!), I got into the habit of not adding the sugar to the berries until after I had drained them. This was because the sweetened juice had much more of a tendency to scorch & caramelize when I cooked it down on the stove. That doesn't seem to be nearly as much of a problem when you reduce the juice in the microwave.
My favorite filling is: 20 oz. frozen tart red pie cherries, 20 oz. frozen blueberries, 10 oz. frozen red or black raspberries or blackberries. I get a lot of juice, about 2 cups or more, and reduce it down to about 1/3 of the original volume.
About 2/3 to 3/4 cup of sugar, 1/4 tsp. lemon zest. (I like a fairly tart filling)
I use this in a deep-dish pie pan that will take 5 1/2 to 6 cups of fruit.
My current favorite thickener is potato starch, but I'm still experimenting to find the right amount. The last pie was a little too firm.
My husband loves this pie and has been known to call me his "Pie Queen" when I make one! He always wants one for his birthday.
Ah, the joys of pie!

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oh! i doubt it's the crust ingredients. maybe a lattice isn't the best crust for such a juicy pie. i've only ever made it with a top crust with little decorative vents.
there's always the option to bake decorative leaves or other shapes separately but it really shouldn't be necessary. maybe your berries are exceptionally juicy and need to be reduced a bit. maybe it was slightly over baked and the juices bubbled up too much. do let me know!

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Thank you, Rose. I just bought the pie and the cake bible and loving them. I made the blackberry as per your recipe but used my usual pie crust...lard, flour, salt, water...eeks! Is the problem in the crust ingredients do you think?

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you could try that but you also might want to check out my recipe in the pastry bible--in the library or book store just to see how it may differ from what you're doing bc this has not happened to me and i prefer frozen berries for their quality!

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I have a problem with Blackberry pies...I used frozen berries. They eventually bubbled thickly and tasted great, but the top lattice crust took on the dark blue stain from the berries looking rather sad and soggy. Should blackberries be thawed and the juices reduced as mentioned in a previous post? Thank you for help!

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it's probably unbleached. if so--the usual one year cool room temp, longer in frig. or freezer.

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how long can white organic pastry flour be stored? the bulk store i can get it from has it in a cool temperature room.

thanks
herb

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diane, if 7x rose factor worked for the chocolate there's not reason it wouldn't have worked for the yellow. i'm certain it was a "human error" factor at play. especially bc you said it rose quickly. sounds like somehow too much baking powder got in!

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I had a problem this morning finding the amount of batter to prepare for the pan size that I was using-(12" x 12"). I'm sure there is a chart in the Cake Bible, but I couldn't find it. I used the Yellow base cake recipe on page 292. I multiplied this by 7 with the level 6 baking powder amt. This was too much batter and overflowed. I didn't measure the batter, but the pan was about 2/3 full and rose to the top quickly in the oven, then overflowed.

What is the best place to find the amount of batter to prepare for each pan? I have used this pan before with a chocolate cake X rose factor 7 and it was fine.

thanks
Diane

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