Thickeners for Fruit Pie—new best choice!
Posted: 03 July 2008 12:28 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I just added this as a comment in the blog post on fruit pie thickeners, but I’m so excited about my new discovery that I wanted to share it here too.  Since Rose has designed July as Pie Month, I’m hoping she can weigh in on this when she returns from vacation.

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:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3061/2633160883_f213defec8.jpg?v=0 PeachPiePhoto</a>

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 Clear Jel, 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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Posted: 03 July 2008 12:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I just Googled it and the description of it is just as you say.  It does say that only the Instant ClearJel can be frozen so that is a consideration if using either one type or the other.

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Posted: 03 July 2008 12:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yes, I noticed they have the ‘instant’ kind too, but I’ve never tried that one.  May have to freeze a pie to see if it works just as well!

...Maggie

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Posted: 03 July 2008 05:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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how about using the method of macerating the fruit, let the juice drain, and then simmer the juice to effectively reduce the water content?

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Posted: 04 July 2008 12:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Hi Hector— yes, I’ve used the reduction method on juices very successfully, but for me the issue was really one of taste.  I always felt like I could taste the thickener used (or “feel” it in my mouth), but with the ClearJel there was no discernible taste other than fruit and the spices used.  I had three other people taste that peach pie today and they were all equally amazed ... although none of them felt that “thickener taste” was as big an issue as I did smile

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Posted: 05 July 2008 04:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The July 2008 issue of Cooks Illustrated does an interesting thing to thicken their blueberry pie. They use 2 Tbsp instant tapioca (ground in a spice grinder) and one medium Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater and then squeezed in a kitchen towel to get the water out. (This amount of thickening power for 6 cups blueberries.) I made the pie yesterday, and there’s no apple flavor or discernible bits of apple in there, just blueberries. It holds up perfectly, but it doesn’t have a mouthfeel or flavor of having been thickened in any undesirable way. I’m thinking that I may have to try this method on other fruit pies in the future.

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Posted: 05 July 2008 07:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Mitch, I saw that article too and decided to try it for a cobbler filling. I was using 4 1/2 cups of frozen black raspberries. I used one large grated Granny Smith apple and 1 1/2 teaspoons of potato starch. It thickened nicely and like you, I could not detect the texture or flavor of apple. I did feel that the result was too thick for a cobbler (which I think should be a bit runny) but perfect for a pie.

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Posted: 06 July 2008 01:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I first read about Clear Jel years ago, but have never tried it.  I’m pretty lazy when it comes to recipes that should be easy.  So your mention made me wonder where I first heard about it.  It is addressed in the May/June 1998 Cook’s Illustrated in their article on Fresh Strawberry Pie. They use it to produce a glaze for their “Diner Style Fresh Strawberry Pie”.

I think this recipe is where I found the basis for the filling in my Strawberry Pie, but I don’t follow it exactly in that I don’t use SureJel pectin or Clear Jel in my filling.  As I said, I’m pretty lazy when it comes to ingredients that I don’t have in the pantry.

I don’t know that I would bother to add a grated apple to my pies.  I know that apples have a high pectin content and that aids with thickening.  But once again, it’s one more step.

I tend to lean in the direction of cornstarch, but have used instant tapioca starch as well.  Cook’s Illustrated talks about tapioca in a July/August 1995 article on Thickening Fruit Pies.  That is probably why I tried it.  But in the end, I use cornstarch, mostly because I have it. I like my basic stuff kept simple.  I don’t care if it runs a little, as long as it tastes good and the whole filling doesn’t run into the empty space in the pie plate.

BTW:  Does anyone else name the pies in Harold and the Purple Crayon?  You know where he makes a picnic with just pie.  Nine kinds of pie.  My kids and I come up with flavors for each pie.)

Here’s to Pie!

JennyBee

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Posted: 05 August 2008 09:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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If you are trying to find it and it’s not available locally (as in my case), King Arthur Flour has sold this for years in their catalogue and on their website.  It is a great thickener.  They use it in all their pie recipes.

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Posted: 20 December 2008 01:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I’ve used this thickener for years.  It’s the best.  I make fruit pies all winter long using frozen fruit from bags.  Just mix the frozen fruit with sugar, spices, and instant clear jel - no need to thaw fruit - and my pies come out great.  I use about 2 1/2 tbsps. clear jel and my pies have just the right amount of thickening; there is never any discernible taste or off putting color.  I read the CI article about thickening with an apple.  Too much work if you can get an excellent result with instant clear jel.

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Posted: 23 December 2008 09:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Clear Jel is often used in professional bakeries because it’s so easy to use and tasteless. The instant Clear Jel you don’t even have to cook for it thicken liquids. In bakeries where I’ve worked, we used it to thicken fruit purees without having to cook them. It also makes a decent stabilizer for whipped cream (stabilizes for about 24 hours).  You have to whisk in a small amount of Instant Clear Jell into the cold cream until completely dissolved before whipping it, but it usually works pretty well.

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