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Pie thickener

I have baked many pies - and have never used tapiaco as a thickener...what is the difference between cornstarch and tapiaco. Does tapiaco work better than cornstarch...does it make a difference?

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  1. This link gives a pretty good breakdown of the different thickeners:

    http://www.everythingpies.com/pie-thi...

    1 Reply
    1. re: BabsW

      Thank you - BabsW...I'll have a look.

    2. I think you are referring to Minute Tapioca? I prefer it in fruit pies to cornstarch or flour. It keeps the filling more clear than flour and to me it is more reliable than cornstarch.

      The instructions for using tapioca in pies is on the box if you want further info. For an apple pie, I combine the apples, sugar, spices and tapioca, then microwave for two minutes and pour hot apples and all the juices into the pie shell, cover with top crust with slits cut in the center, then bake.

      In order for a pie filling to thicken properly - it's all about science. The filling must come to a boiling temperature, which I call "singing," as pictured in my CH icon. When a pie sings, the crust starts heaving and the filling pops through the crust, That shows it has reached the proper temperature. Whether you use cornstarch, flour or tapioca, the filling must reach the appropriate hot point or the filling won't thicken and will be runny.

      5 Replies
      1. re: TrishUntrapped

        I grind up minute tapioca in a coffee grinder as this aids even dissolving. Tapioca is far superior to cornstarch, imho.

        1. re: magiesmom

          I haven't found the need to grind it up. Just make sure it soaks in with the fruit before it cooks. But as I often say, "Whatever works. If it encourages you to make pie, by all means do it."

          1. re: magiesmom

            I have always ground up minute tapioca as well, but I recently found tapioca flour at my grocery store (in the Hispanic foods aisle) - it's about 1/10th the price of minute tapioca and it's already ground up fine! Hopefully it will work just as well as minute tapioca - I'll report back when I try it.

            1. re: biondanonima

              Tapioca flour = Cassava flour which it is the same thing as tapioca (just in flour form) so I would think it would work fine. Whatever works. Just keep making pie. ;-)

              1. re: biondanonima

                Tapioca flour can also be purchased at most Asian grocers for much less than the cost of minute tapioca.

          2. I prefer tapioca too, maybe because that's what Mom used. However I just got a recipe here for rhubarb pie and it used strawberry jello as a thickener, I'm going to have to try that just for fun.

            3 Replies
            1. re: coll

              I have never used tapioca...but I am going to get some today and try it on my next pie. I thank you so much for answering my post.

              1. re: eaglelake

                Glad to share, hope you like it. Personally I am a big tapioca fan, anyway it's made!

                1. re: coll

                  I made the rhubarb pie with strawberry Jello as thickener, and it came out great. Might experiment with other flavors for other fruits in the future.

            2. Instant clearjel is by far my favorite. It is a modified cornstarch I believe. It thickens perfectly, it is very stable, and has no taste. I get it from King Arthur. I like it way better than minute tapioca.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Becca Porter

                Thanks for mentiong this Becca. I've yet to tread the ClearJel waters, but it does interest me. While there are many raves, there also complaints. Some day I'll buy some and try it myself and see how it goes.

                1. re: TrishUntrapped

                  The only complaint I have concerning it is that it is harder to find.

                  1. re: Becca Porter

                    My other complaint about Instant ClearJel is that it loses its ability to thicken over time. I order it from Bakers Catalog (the King Arthur Flour people) and after it failed me a couple of times, I contacted them to ask about it. They said it should be used within a year of purchase. I wish they'd put an expiration date on the package if they know that's the case, but now at least I can write my own.

                    I still use it because, when it's fresh, it works better than any other thickener I've tried!

                    1. re: MsMaryMc

                      weird, I know I had no problems using mine after it had been opened for more than a year and I live in a humid climate which tends to cause issues with some products.

                2. I also prefer tapioca for fruit pies, but do not use very much of it. Much of the fresh fruit juices can be absorbed by simply adding dried (dehydrated) fruit to the filling. No one knows that some of the wonderful whold berries or sliced apples were previously dried.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: condie

                    I'd know, if you did that with my sour cherries! ;-)
                    doubling the tapioca never hurt no one -- and it helps the crust!

                    1. re: Chowrin

                      You wouldn't recognize them.
                      Sour cherries, cranberries or gooseberries that have been dehydrated and then rehydrated with the juice from sweet fruit or honey will become sweet, while offsetting the super sweetness of the pie.
                      I wish I had a treefull of sour cherries.

                      1. re: condie

                        I found an local farm that does a variation on CSA's--if there's a specific crop you want, they let you pre-order ten pounds or more and pick it up in their CSA drop locations. I just got done washing and pitting fifteen pounds of exquisite sour Montmorency cherries Some went to preserves and some are frozen in pie-sized portions. Cherry pies all winter!! :-> :-> :->

                        1. re: condie

                          My sour cherry pies aren't that sweet. Cuppa sugar max, sometimes go with a 2/3rds cup. The sour cherries are so freshly delish.
                          (I get mine shipped freshfrozen from Michigan. in a good year, which this isn't!)

                    2. I usually use tapioca flour from kingarthurflour.com to thicken my pie fillings, but recently, I have begun following a method laid out by Nick Malgieri in his book Modern Baker. It works brilliantly for both blueberry and cherry pies. If you're making a blueberry pie using 6 cups of blueberries, you would take one cup out, put it in a saucepan with 3/4 cup of sugar and cook until the blueberries give up their juices and boil. In the meantime, you mix 4 tablespoons of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water, and after the blueberries boil and give up their juice (mashing them a bit will help this process), you take about a cup of this hot liquid, stir it into the cornstarch mixture, mix it up, and add it back t the pot with the rest of the sugar and blueberries. You let this boil until it is clear, and then you add this mixture to the remaining 5 cups of blueberries.

                      I have found that this method works brilliantly for blueberry and for cherry pies, yielding a slice with enough binding to hold together without being stiff.

                      Here are photos of two pies I made with this method -- one each of cherry and blueberry:

                       
                      43 Replies
                      1. re: roxlet

                        glad to see my pies aren't the only ones with bubble over "issues". ;-)

                        1. re: Chowrin

                          That's how you know they're homemade and not from a factory!!!

                          1. re: roxlet

                            Some of the farms out here buy factory pies, and let them thaw a bit and rework the outer crust to look homemade. I really have to learn how to be more decorative than pressing down with the tines of a fork like Mom, your edges are gorgeous!

                        2. re: roxlet

                          Hi Roxlet, Nick recommends what I also have been touting for years as well.

                          It's simple science. If you want a pie filling to thicken, the temperature needs to come to a boil. When it doesn't reach the proper temperature, the filling is runny, soupy and usually murkey with thickener that hasn't dissolved.

                          I can tell by looking at your photos that the filling is properly thickened because your pies are "singing." Like the pie photo in my chowhound icon, a pie sings when the crust heaves and the juices start pouring out its mouth.

                          I went to a barbecue last weekend and brought a sugar free Chocolate Cream Pie so myself and others watching our sugar intake could indulge. It disappeared before I could even get a slice. Several others brought apple and blueberry pies None of them showed any signs of "singing." When they were cut open the blueberry pies were watery and you could see the cornstarch hadn't dissolved. The apple pie had thick uncooked slices and was runny. In both cases had there been some par cooking, and the filling went in warm, the results could have been spectacular. Instead the pies sat there mostly uneaten. Disappointing as one of the blueberry pies was made with wild Maine berries the cook had picked herself and frozen.

                          For a very easy no-fail fruit pie, the hot filling can be poured into a precooked crust. Done. Let come to room temp, cover with whipped cream and serve.

                          1. re: TrishUntrapped

                            How do you thicken the filling of an apple pie?

                            1. re: roxlet

                              Two different ways to thicken apple pie. My personal preference is Minute Tapioca, my mother-in-law who makes pie even better than me (even though I use her recipe, why is that?) uses flour.

                              The secret for apple pie filling:

                              Roll out bottom crust and fit in pie pan. Combine the sliced apples, sugar, spices, and thickening agent (tapioca or flour), and microwave for two to three minutes until they start to steam. You ar eNOT fully cooking them only partial, or parcooking them. Roll out the top crust. Pour filling, juices and all into shell, dot with butter, top with crust, cut air slots, brush top with heavy cream if desired (not necessary, but adds extra brown without shine), bake at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the pie starts singing.

                              By parcooking the apples, they are ready to rock! They will cook through, the filling will thicken, but not so much it isn't juicy. another advantage to parcooking is you can use more apples in the pie because they are cooked down a bit. You also avoid getting that dreaded "gap" between the crust and apples because the apples are already a bit shrunken.

                              1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                This is similar to the way I make mine except I actually precook the apples on the stove, not the microwave. It also helps to have two types of apples -- an apple that is saucier -- like a mac, and a firmer apple, like a golden delicious or a Granny Smith. I used to use tapioca flour in my apple pies, but lately I prefer the result I get with flour.

                                1. re: roxlet

                                  Cooking on the stove works fine too as long as the apples aren't boiled. You make luscious looking pies Roxlet.

                                  1. re: roxlet

                                    I use tapioca for berry or cherry pies but always flour with apple. I feel like the glossy, almost translucent look that tapioca gives the filling is just wrong with apples - it makes them look like Hostess pies or something. I do exactly what Trish described, too - brief microwave, then bake. I find that most pies take at least an hour in the oven, though, even with the filling somewhat precooked.

                                    1. re: biondanonima

                                      you must be grinding the tapioca.
                                      I leave it as pearls, and it looks just... homemade!

                                      1. re: biondanonima

                                        An hour? Are you baking at 425 degrees? In my oven an apple pie takes only about 30 to 40 minutes tops to bake.

                                        1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                          I do an hour too, but at 400 degrees. Ovens can be so variable with their temperatures though, I have to adjust everything up at least 25 degrees or more and spin things around at least once, that's one of the downfalls of gas ovens. At first I used to cook 30 to 40 minutes and it wasn't enough for me.

                                          1. re: coll

                                            Which goes to show us all that a recipe may say X, but your oven may tell you Y, so go with what works. But always bake at a hot temp. 425 degrees is recommended.

                                            1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                              Thanks, I am just starting to make my own crust and winging it. I will remember this! I only remembered it was hotter than 350.

                                            2. re: coll

                                              I have had several new ovens and a fruit pie is always an hour or more at 400 or higher.

                                            3. re: TrishUntrapped

                                              I have never baked a pie that was done in 30 minutes. Are you using convection? I usually bake my pies at 375, and I always feel that my oven runs hot...

                                              1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                                I bake pies at 400 usually - I find the edges of the crust burn if I go up to 425. I do grind tapioca or just use tapioca flour - I definitely don't like pearls in my pies!

                                                1. re: biondanonima

                                                  I don't have convection. I'm guessing my pies are possibly smaller than yours. I wouldn't use tapioca if I could see the pearls. I'm making an apple pie this weekend so I'll pay attention to cooking times and such, plus I'll take pictures and post them.

                                                  1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                                    it's no fun if you can't see the pearls!
                                                    like no lumps in mashed potatoes!

                                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                                      You've got that right! For Thanksgiving pies, I even prefer to mash pumpkins and sweet potatoes with a potato masher rather than pulverize them with a blender.

                                      2. re: TrishUntrapped

                                        It's my experience that a bubbling center and a nice brown crust happen well together. Those who look for a pasty, underbrowned crust (there should be a law against this!) will not get a cooked filling.

                                      3. re: roxlet

                                        Hi Roxlet,
                                        Would you use the NIck Malgieri method for a raspberry pie? Raspberries seem to cook down much faster than blueberries...
                                        Thanks.

                                        1. re: soccermom13

                                          Sorry, soccermom13, I have never made a raspberry pie just because it seems like you would need gallons and gallons of raspberries since they do, as you say, cook down so fast. My instinct is that it would probably work, and when I checked other recipes on line, it seemed to me that they could benefit from this method since they all look too saucy. Have you made a raspberry pie before?

                                          1. re: roxlet

                                            I've made raspberry pies. They're great! I add a good squeeze of fresh lemon to them to heighten the flavor. I think the Malgieri method would be great for that. I also make a Black and Blue Pie - half blackberries and half blueberries and the Malgieri method would work there too.

                                            The key to success being the filling temp needs to come to a boil and parcooking some of the berries and thickener will get you there.

                                            If anyone reading this makes a pie using this technique, post photos! It's good to share and discuss what works and what doesn't.

                                            1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                              Roxlet and Trish,

                                              Thank you very much. I've not made a raspberry pie, but I want to. We have a small backyard raspberry patch which has produced prolifically this year, so I would not have to sell a kidney to buy enough raspberries for a pie. I'm a pretty fearless baker, but pies give me pause for two reasons: thickening the filling properly (which is why this thread is so interesting) and producing a crust that is half as good as my mother's legendary crusts (made with lard and great skill) were.

                                              I think I am going to try a pie made with Kenji Alt-Lopez pie dough (see link below) and raspberry filling made using the Malgieri method (with a good squeeze of lemon juice as Trish suggests).

                                              Thanks.

                                              Kenji's pie dough:
                                              http://sweets.seriouseats.com/2011/07...

                                              1. re: soccermom13

                                                Kenji's method produces a great crust, although I use a couple of tablespoons of vodka for some of the water. Great results every time.

                                                1. re: soccermom13

                                                  The Kenji recipe is good, it's very similar to what I use for tarts. Should be great for pies too.

                                                  1. re: soccermom13

                                                    How wonderful it must be to have that many fresh raspberries! For a raspberry pie, I think I would used 7 cups of the berries just because they do cook down so much.

                                                    That Kenji pie dough recipe, which is a riff on the Cook's Illustrated method as the article indicates, should be ok, and particularly so if it gives you courage to try it. I tried it when it was first on SE, and my husband's reaction was just OK. He wanted to know why I messed with a good thing -- he loves my pie crust. Here's how I make it:

                                                    Pie Crust
                                                    3 cups flour
                                                    1/2 tsp salt
                                                    1 tablespoon sugar
                                                    1 stick of butter frozen
                                                    3 oz (I like the sticks) crisco, cut into bits and frozen
                                                    ice water

                                                    Mix the first 3 ingredients
                                                    Grate the butter into the flour using the large holes of a grater. Watch your knuckles. Make sure you fluff the flour/butter as you go so it doesn't clump. Then add the crisco, and cut in with a pastry blender, if you have one, or two knives if you don't.

                                                    Start sprinkling water over the mixture. This is the only difficult part. When the dough begins to hold together if you squeeze it, dump it out onto a counter or board. There will be a lot of dry areas, and bit by bit, drop ice water on them until all the pieces hold together. You don't want it to be soggy, but if it isn't sufficiently hydrated, it will crack and break apart when you go to roll it out. Use the heel of your hand to push the dough away from you on the board, and this will help it all hold together. Divide in half (making one half slightly larger -- this will be the bottom crust), form them into flattened rounds, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days. Or freeze, well-wrapped. Make sure that the dough has a minute or two out of the refrigerator before you roll it out, but don't let it get warm. Roll out the bottom crust, place in the pie plate, and refrigerate. Roll out the second ball, and refrigerate too. Personally, I really like a lattice crust for a berry and cherry pies.

                                                    1. re: roxlet

                                                      I'll have to bookmark your crust recipe - it uses a good bit less fat than Kenji's recipe, which might not be a bad thing. Do you ever make it with all butter?

                                                      1. re: biondanonima

                                                        I have made many all-butter pie crusts, but this is the one I now prefer.

                                                2. re: roxlet

                                                  frozen triple berries from costco. fabulous pies.

                                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                                    Roxlet, Trish, Biondanonima, Chowrin---THANK YOU.

                                                    Roxlet--do you weigh flour? If so, how many oz or grams per cup for the flour in your pie crust?

                                                    1. re: soccermom13

                                                      I use King Arthur All Purpose flour, and their web site gives the weight per cup as 41/4 per cup. I thing weight might differ slightly by brand.

                                                      1. re: soccermom13

                                                        Do NOT weigh flour for your crust! Do NOT. Unless you've got a hygrometer and are prepared to finish the damn job.

                                                        Translation: pastry making is HIGHLY humidity dependent. Screw up a couple of times (reroll,it'll be fine), and you'll learn.

                                                        I do have a hygrometer, but haven't bothered. Still screw it up half the time, but it's fine if i redo it.

                                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                                          Thanks, Roxlet.

                                                          Hi Chowrin---I think that making pie crust is like making bread---many variables dictate how much flour to use, and you get a feel for how much to add. That being said, I do like to have a sense of how much flour the recipe calls for. If I had assumed that Roxlet's recipe called for 5 oz cups of flour, I would probably have started with more flour than I will knowing that Roxlet's recipe calls for 4.25 oz cups.

                                                          1. re: soccermom13

                                                            Oh, but only King Arthur All Purpose flour! Most other flours weigh in at 5 ounces per cup.

                                                            1. re: roxlet

                                                              I have started logging weights of cups of flour used by various authors and they seem to range from about 4 oz to 5 oz. Here are a few:

                                                              Maida Haetter 4.00 oz
                                                              King Arthur 4.25 oz
                                                              Fine Cooking, Flo Braker 4.5 oz
                                                              Dorie Greenspan 4.8 oz
                                                              Sherry Yard, Cooks Illustrated 5.0 oz

                                                              It's all about how you get the flour from the bag into the cup---if you sift, like Maida does, you get really light cups. King Arthur has you fluff up the flour, gently spoon it into the measuring cup, then level it. I think the 5 oz per cup authors are the "dip your measuring cup into the bag of flour then level it" people.

                                                              1. re: soccermom13

                                                                What kind of flour do you use? Maybe you can visit the web site of the brand, and get their measurement.

                                                3. re: roxlet

                                                  Joanne Chang, in her baking book Flour, uses a method much like Malgieri's. Her blueberry pie calls for 8 cups of berries. She cooks 2 cups of the berries with 3/4 cup of sugar, 3 T of cornstarch, and 1/4 t kosher salt until these ingredients "melt into a gooey mass." Then she stirs in the rest of the berries and some lemon zest.

                                                  Chang also blind bakes the bottom crust for 1/2 hour in a 350 degree oven (with parchment and weights) and then fills the pie with the berries, puts on the top crust, and bakes for 90 minutes at 350 degrees. IIRC, my mother might have given hers a short baking in a very hot oven (425?) then finished the baking at 350 degrees.

                                                  What oven temp do you experienced pie bakers use for two crust fruit pies? And do you partially bake the lower crust before filling it like Chang does?

                                                  1. re: soccermom13

                                                    I've seen recipes before for a two crust pie in which the bottom crust is partially baked, and I have to say that I don't get it. How do you attach raw pie dough to partially cooked pie dough? Also, I never seem to have a problem with soggy botton crusts, which I think is due to using pyrex pie plates. Moreover, while I do pre-bake the bottom crust for pies like lemon meringue, I always find it to be a PITA.

                                                    I bake my fruit pies at 375. They cook well, but I also think my oven runs a bit hot...

                                                    1. re: roxlet

                                                      Thanks, Roxlet. I appreciate your comments.

                                                      1. re: roxlet

                                                        I've also never understood how that works. And the last thing I want to be doing is draping and shaping dough over a screaming hot Pyrex plate! I never have a problem with soggy bottom crusts either - I put a sheet pan on the bottom rack of my oven while it's preheating, then put the pie on that - my oven heats from the bottom, so the more intense heat down there helps with the bottom crust browning, and the sheet pan catches any drips (which there always are if the pie has cooked until "singing").