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Fruit pies -- how much thickener?

Actually, I've been making galettes, but I suppose the question is about the same -- does anyone have good advice on how much thickener to add to get a pie that is neither dry nor dripping? (Or any other technique.) I know it varies depending on the juiciness of the fruit, but I always seem to get it wrong.

And does the amount of sugar make any difference in the end result (consistency, not taste)? I usually reduce the sugar. What about if I omit the butter that is called for? Any impact on consistency?

I normally try to follow the recipe in Joy of Cooking, but the amount of fruit always varies, nor is JOC specific for every fruit.

Cornstarch? Flour? Tapioca?

Favorite fruits recently have been frozen cherries, fresh plums, mixed fresh berries (blueberry, blackberry, raspberry).

Any ideas would be appreciated.

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  1. Anne--Sorry, but this a rec to go looking elsewhere. Although I'm not always crazy about Rose Beranbaum's books, her pie and pastry bible has a nice table that lists out the fruit, the amount you want for a pie and the amount of suggested sugar and thickener. It's pretty handy, and, of course, can be modified depending on how juicy or sweet you think the particular batch of fruit you have at hand is (if you have a sense of the 'norm' for that fruit). Without a sense of the norm, you can just follow the formula and figure it can't be too off!

    I simply copied the table from the book in my local library and refer to it when necessary. Hope that helps!

    6 Replies
    1. re: Smokey

      I used to really dislike using cornstarch as a thickener, I hated the gluey texture it gave my pies. But I have been using RLB's Pie and Pastry Bible, which usually calls for cornstarch, but much less than most other recipes I have seen, and I really like the way the pies I have made came out. Thick enough to to run all over the plate, but with a little 'flow', and not at all gluey.

      1. re: susu

        I much prefer instant tapioca as a thickener for fruit pies. It's very old-fashioned, but the texture is just right.

        1. re: Karl S

          Count me in on the tapioca. I use Minute instant and they have a good guide on the box. I have always used some flour in apple pies though.

          1. re: Candy

            does it remain "beady" when you use it in pies?

              1. re: Candy

                Thanks, this has always confused me

    2. Pie filling gets into some pretty complicated chemistry because the acid in the fruit tends to break down starches and prevent them from thickening. It gets even more complicated when you take into account the pH of different fruits/different seasons of the same fruit.

      I pre-cook my apples for apple pie in a very wide shallow frying pan to drive off some the moisture and then combine them with a flour/butter roux. Other than that, I haven't found a tried a true recipe/resource for thickening fruit fillings.

      Arrowroot is suppose to be stable within a wider range of pH than other starches.

      Clearjel is acid stable as well and is used in commercial pie fillings.

      1. I generally use flour for apple and peach pie but tapioca starch for berry pies; don't really know why except that I think I read it in Martha Stewart mag. One issue of MS a while ago (have no idea when) had this cool looking "pie wheel" that assisted in determining ratios of fruit to sugar to thickener. Anyone have more info on this?

        1 Reply
        1. re: Carb Lover

          Tapioca is superior for dealing with acidic liquids, such as those exuded by our typical pie fruits.

        2. This is all exactly the type of information I was hoping for! Thanks. I'm going to try to photocopy the cookbook page at my library, and buy a box of tapioca.

          So if I understand correctly, one of the adjustments I should make is, more thickener if the fruit is tart, ie, acid.

          No one has suggested yet that varying the amount of sugar will have a big impact on the thickness of the end result. Thoughts?

          Also, I simply can't make enough pies to test things out and get a feel for it, we'd all gain huge amounts of weight. If I made little pies/galettes, and varied the thickener in each, would the size have such an impact on the thickening that the results wouldn't be relevant to a whole pie? (say I made four mini-galettes, for example, with the ingredients equivalent to one full galette...)

          1. for my blueberry pies i always use cornstarch. i use one and one half ounces for 2 full pints of berries. in fact, heres the whole recipe i use without fail. it produces (after its completely cooled) a pie that is entirely sliceable and servable and yet not gelatinous at all:
            2 pints of blueberries
            5 ounces sugar
            1 1/2 ounces cornstarch
            1 fl. ounce cold water (for dissolving the cornstarch)
            2 ounces butter
            1 t lemon zest
            1 t ground nutmeg

            I mash 1/2 pint of berries with all the sugar and bring that combo to a boil. Thicken with cornstarch dissolved in water. boil and add butter, zest, and nutmeg. add to remaining 1 1/2 pints raw berried. set aside to cool before adding to crust.

            hope this helps.

            ps: in a pinch once when i only had one ounce of cornstarch i supplemented about one teaspoon of brown rice flour along with the lone ounce of starch. it worked absolutely fine. i dont know if a complete one to one trade would work but that one time, in the little amounts i used, it worked fine.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ben61820

              Very helpful, thanks all.

              Ahh, cooling, yes, there's a concept, ben61820, and I bet it has an impact on thickness of the liquid! ;-)
              I don't know that galettes often cool all that much before we start eating... nice hot fresh fruit pie, yummm. I'll have to think about this.

              1. re: Anne H

                yeah, the cooling is SO important. i mean, cooled, out of the fridge is THE way to eat it. the flavors concentrate sooo much, too! its way better when cooled. like bread and meat and everything.