If your pie looks like you could eat it through a straw, something definitely didn’t go according to plan. This time we will see what went wrong, how to prevent apple pie from being watery, and how to rescue it if things still go wrong. Let’s go.
Where did it all go wrong?
Time for some baking 101. Pies are usually not as finicky as cakes, but you still need to pay attention to your choice of ingredients and ratios. Here are a few mistakes you can make that will end in watery apple pie.
Some apples are simply not suitable for baking. Eating apples are juicier and will bring a lot more moisture to the party.
Pretty much avoid Red Delicious and Gala apples at all cost. If you want to mix and match, try a mixture of Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, and Golden Delicious. This combo comes courtesy of Alton Brown and rarely fails.
Too much sugar.
Sugar is a wet ingredient in baking, after all.
Most apple pie recipes keep their apple to sugar ratio at about 8:1 (by volume). If your recipe calls for more sugar, feel free to ignore it and useless. Don’t worry, apple pie is plenty sweet already and it will survive a bit less of the white stuff.
Some sugars are wetter than others. There is a reason why you pick brown sugar when you make gooey chewy cookies and chocolate lava cakes.
You can always go for jam sugar. It contains pectin which will help gel the juices.
Too much of the good thing.
“Oh, that booze will cook off instantly. Don’t worry about it!”
Wrong. Unless you are working with something with very high alcohol content, be careful how much you add to your recipe. When in doubt, add the booze to the crust instead of the filling (replace half or more of water). That way you end up with a crispy crust and your filling doesn’t get too “drunk”.
7 tips to prevent watery apple pie by thickening the filling
If you get everything listed above right, you are not very likely to fail. However, there are a few insurance policies you can take out to make sure your apple pie doesn’t come out watery.
Using a Clear Jel
Using gelling agents might sound too fancy for a regular home cook, but they are really simple to use. Plus they give better results in comparison to other thickeners because they don’t have any impact on the flavor. Clear Jel is easy to use and you can probably pick it up at your favorite supermarket.
The only thing is that you will have to switch up the method you use to prep the filling for the pie. Usually, you just arrange apple slices or chunks in the crust, cover with sugar and more party, and bake. However, when using Clear Jel, you will cook (or at least partially cook) the apples first.
It may sound like a lot of extra work, but the good news is that you can prep a lot of filling in advance and keep the leftovers for later.
Basically, all you have to do is to dissolve Clear Jel in boiled water (that contains sugar and spices as well), then fold in the apples. For exact measurements and cooking directions, refer to the instructions on the packaging.
There are two ways of using starch in an apple pie recipe. In terms of ratio, about half a tablespoon should do the trick. The exact amount depends on the rest of your recipe – mostly how high is the water content in your apples and how much sugar you’re using. Go with half a tablespoon first, and only add more next time if this pie doesn’t come out 100% perfect.
Don’t go over 1 tablespoon because the filling may turn too cloudy and gummy.
For the first method, you can mix the cornstarch with your sugar and spices. Then process as per usual. For the second method, you’ll mix the sugar and spices separately, but add the starch to the apples directly and toss them to coat.
Tapioca starch is used in the same way and the same ratio as cornstarch, so you can always go for a swap if you have some on hand
However, you should plan on having some on hand at all times if you make a lot of pies. Tapioca starch sets crystal clear and will make the filling look very glossy.
This is not recommended but it will work in a pinch. You’re pretty much supposed to follow the same method as when using cornstarch but add twice as much flour (by volume).
See why it’s not recommended? If you must work with whatever is in your pantry already, check for instant potato flakes. They make for a very good thickener, but you get to use half as much cornstarch. Therefore they don’t mess up the texture of flavor.
Using instant pudding
You can usually use one sachet of instant pudding per pie. This method is actually quite awesome because it will both provide a glossy finish and it will provide an additional layer of flavor.
The process is simple: just add the content of the sachet into a bowl with your apple slices or chunks. Toss to coat each piece, then continue with other steps as per your recipe.
Draining the juice
This is probably the best thing you can do to ensure that your apple pie doesn’t become watery.
We’ll start by prepping and cutting the apples, then sprinkling them with all the sugar. Leave them to the side to macerate, aka for the sugar to extract as much liquid as possible.
Then, you can thicken that liquid directly with either a starch or a gelling agent. All it takes afterward is to arrange your apple chunks and pour the liquid over evenly.
Using rolled oats
Scatter some rolled oats over the bottom of your crust before filling it. It will soak up some of the excess juices and help the crust from getting soggy.
How to fix watery apple pie after baking
Ah, you’re here because the worst has already happened. Okay, here’s something to try. Warning: this will take a bit of time, but it should not delay you too much from having the pie on the table for your guests if everything goes according to plan.
Hopefully, you have some gelatin on agar in your pantry, because they will make the magic happen.
Step 1: Drain the excess liquid.
Drain all the excess liquid, if there’s only a tablespoon or two of it, we might not have a lot of work to do after. Right now, we are making the first step to rescue the pastry.
Leave everything to cool for as long as possible.
Step 2: Assess the situation.
If possible, probe around and see how the crust is holding on. If it doesn’t come off as too soggy, just leave it be and skip the next step.
Check what’s happening with excess liquid as well. If it starts thickening as it cools down, you probably don’t have to do anything to it either. Proceed to the last step.
Step 3: Rescue the crust.
If the cust has gone a bit soggy, it may need to be exposed to more heat. Cover the top of the pie with aluminum foil (to prevent burning) and place it on the bottom rack of the oven.
This will be a lot easier if you’re using a glass dish so you can have a clear view of the crust turning golden brown.
Step 4: Thicken the liquid.
First, break out the scales and set them to grams. We’re going to make a fluid gel.
Measure the weight of the liquid and check how watery it is. Then measure out the agar or gelatin powder – you will need anything between 0.5 to 2% of the weight of the liquid. Of course, the more gelling agent, the thicker the gel will be. Pick the amount based on the current state of the liquid and personal preference.
If you’re using gelatin, add it to the liquid and leave it to bloom first. Then bring the liquid up to steam on medium heat. Once it’s up to temperature, add agar if using. Then whisk through to dissolve. Leave it to cool. enough to handle.
If needed, blitz the liquid with a stick blender or a hand mixer to lighten it up. Then load a syringe and prepare to finish our little rescue plan.
Step 5: Wrap it all up.
Take a syringe and fill it with thickened liquid. Distribute small doses of it throughout the pie. Try to get into the filling instead of keeping it on top of it (and just under the crust).
Leave everything to finish cooling. Walk away and pretend nothing happened.
When is a pie not worth saving?
When it actually looks like soup. If you can measure excess liquid in cups instead of tablespoons, there’s simply too much of it.
Yes, you can apply the above procedure to any amount of liquid that comes to mind, but after a certain point all that has ruined your crust. A bit of a soggy bottom never harmed anyone, but too much of it and your pie will fall apart when you try to serve it.
However, you can rescue the filling and replace the pastry with some toasted nuts and streusel and call it an apple crisp.
Kitchen tools you’ll need
- Hoosier Hill Farm Clear Jel
- Agar Agar Powder (4oz) for Vegans and Baking
- AVLA 2 Pack Ceramic Pie Dish
- Jell-O Instant Pudding & Pie Filling
- Organic Tapioca Flour Starch, 2.5 lb, Gluten Free & Non GMO
As with any baked good, check first if you’re using the correct ingredients and ratios. You can take an insurance policy by adding a layer of rolled oats to the bottom of the crust and/or adding starch and gelling agents to the recipe.
If the pie is still a bit watery after baking, drain the excess liquid first. Then you can thicken the said liquid and add it back to the pie with a syringe.