It’s a certain sign of spring: roadside strawberry vendors have appeared. Last week, entire flats of berries sold for $18; by Sunday, the price dropped to $15. I bought half a flat, stuffed myself silly, then concocted a strawberry tart to use up even more fruit. (When the price drops a bit more, I’ll make jam.)
When cooked, the texture of strawberries tends toward the slimy, so they’re not my first choice for a traditional, baked fruit pie. Fortunately, a solution for soggy strawberries is at hand: I recently discovered Instant Clear Jel, a modified food starch perfect for thickening uncooked fruit. ICJ, a white powder, is made from waxy corn (see King Arthur Flour to purchase), and it requires no heat to set or thicken. When mixed with liquid, it creates a soft, clinging gel without the rubberiness of gelatin or the gluey sliminess of cornstarch.
After baking a chocolate tart crust (9 T frozen butter cut into small bits, 1-1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup almond flour and 1/4 cocoa powder, pulsed in a food processor until mealy; add 1 egg yolk and pulse until dough clings together; press into a tart pan; freeze for 30 minutes, then bake for 25-30 minutes at 360), I sliced two pints of washed strawberries and sprinkled them with 1 T sugar to draw out the juices.
Twenty minutes later, when ample berry juices had collected at the bottom of the bowl, I stirred in 2 T Instant Clear Jel powder mixed with 1 T sugar. The ICJ thickens within seconds as it hydrates and the sugar dissolves. After thorough stirring, the filling was ready to pile into the cooled, baked tart crust; topped with a restrained swirl of unsweetened, whipped cream, it was a dinner-party-worthy dessert.
Instant Clear Jel can be used as a thickener for cooked fruit pies and to make home-canned apple pie filling. (Though I’m sure modernist cuisine/molecular gastronomists have found uses for this stuff far beyond my simple pie filling.)