We’re in peak fruit pie season and there’s arguably no better way to enjoy your favorite summer bounty—but nothing ruins a great pie faster than cutting a slice to find a big fruit puddle. It’s a topic hot on our Baking Club members’ minds, as we bake through Melissa and Emily Elsen's The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book this month.
To ensure picture-perfect pies, we’ve rounded up a handful of strategies to help control juiciness. Test them out to see which ones work best for you.
Literally, reduce it! Baking guru and pie whisperer Erin McDowell recommends tossing fruit with the sugar called for in the recipe (a process called maceration). Once the fruit has releases its juices, strain it, and boil until it reduces to about 1/4 to 1/3 cup. At that point some of the warm juice can be used to make a slurry with your thickener of choice (more on that in a moment). Freezing and thawing the fruit is another option for getting the fruit to release its juices, a technique the Elsen’s use for their Rhubarb Pie.
Another one of McDowell’s strategies is to fully pre-cook the pie filling. This way you can control the filling’s thickness before it even goes into the crust. She especially likes to use this method for stone fruits, like peaches, cherries, plums, and their kin.
Another option for dealing with the fruit’s inevitable juiciness is to sprinkle something on the bottom of the crust to soak it all up, like breadcrumbs or crushed graham crackers.
Cornstarch, arrowroot, tapioca, flour—the list of options goes on and on. Generally, it’s best to stick with the thickener called for in the recipe (presumably it’s been tested and should work!), but if your pies are still runny, it might be time to play around with a different one. King Arthur Flour has a rundown on the differences between a few of the most common options, as well as a couple of ones they sell, like Instant ClearJel and Pie Filling Enhancer.
Pectin is what makes jam gel, and can be used to help pies set as well. When making a pie with a low-pectin fruit (like blueberries, strawberries, and peaches), try mixing in a fruit higher in pectin. One common combination is blueberry with grated Granny Smith apple mixed in. Mrs. Wheelbarrow uses kiwi to help set strawberry jam, and hardlikearmour ran with that idea and now adds kiwi in low-pectin fruit pies to minimize the amount of starch needed to set them. And packaged pectin works, too—Cook’s Illustrated uses a combination of pectin and cornstarch to thicken its peach pie filling.
We get it. It’s unbelievably tempting to cut into a pie before it’s fully cooled. Warm pie, cold ice cream, it’s a match made in heaven, right? Not if you want your pie to be fully set. Let you pie cool completely before cutting into it. Mark Neufang says, “I find that if you don't give it at least a solid 8 hours cooling, there is a greater chance for runniness when you cut into it.”
Ready to bake up some non-runny pies?! Find out how to get involved with the Baking Club here.
What are your best tricks for avoiding runny fruit pies? Fill us in below.