Instant ClearJel is the “secret” ingredient you didn’t know you needed. Bakers swear by this humble, seemingly simple powder, tossing it into fruit pie fillings or mixing it into their whipped cream. It only takes one look at the impressive 5-star rating and reviews posted on the product page to prove it: There, bakers share why they love it and all the ways they use it in their kitchen. One baker even declared it his favorite King Arthur product.
If you haven’t baked with ClearJel, you may be wondering what all the hype is about, how it works, and what exactly it even is. Let us explain!
What is Instant ClearJel?
Instant ClearJel is made of only one ingredient: modified food starch. While modified food starch can be made from a number of ingredients, including wheat, potatoes, and tapioca, ClearJel is derived from corn that has been ground and processed to sort out specific starches with certain sought-after gelling properties.
The result is similar to cornstarch: a fine, powdery starch meant for thickening fruit pie fillings and smooth, creamy cake fillings. But they’re not the same. The proprietary sorting process makes ClearJel more specialized than supermarket cornstarch: When used in the correct amount, it prevents fruit fillings from having the gummy or starchy texture or cloudy appearance that can sometimes happen with run-of-the-mill cornstarch.
Instant ClearJel is not the same thing as similarly named products used for canning and preservation and should not be used for that purpose. “Instant” is the key distinguisher in the name, as this starch begins to swell or thicken as soon as it comes in contact with liquid — no heat required! This “cold-swelling” property allows Instant ClearJel to be used in uncooked fillings, such as the mousse in this Chocolate Mousse Cake with Raspberries.
While heat is not required for Instant ClearJel to work, it can be heated. It works beautifully in our Apple Pie, for example, where the fruit gets tossed along with Instant ClearJel, sugar, and spices before being baked. Doing so thickens the juices and sets the interior texture of the pie, allowing it to hold its shape when sliced and not be runny, all without getting too stiff or gummy.
So how do you use Instant ClearJel?
As the apple pie example above demonstrates, one of Instant ClearJel’s primary uses is as a thickener for pie fillings — it gets tossed with the fruit alongside other ingredients. Our tried-and-true pie thickener chart gives guidance on how much to use depending on the type of fruit in your pie: use more for fruits without much pectin for thickening (such as strawberries) and less for high-pectin fruits like apples and blueberries.
The key to using Instant ClearJel is to mix it with sugar first. This step prevents clumping once it’s added to wet ingredients. To get technical, the sugar controls the rate at which the starch absorbs moisture. Without it, the Instant ClearJel has the tendency to quickly soak up available liquid, causing lumps in the mixture. Nobody needs those.
It’s also important to add Instant ClearJel to liquid that is not too hot; otherwise, it will become too viscous too quickly, again leading to lumps. King Arthur Research & Development Specialist Frank Tegethoff offers guidance: “If the liquid it's first added to is too hot to touch comfortably, it’s too hot for Instant ClearJel.”
Instant ClearJel is best stored well-sealed in a cool, dry cupboard. While the freezer is a (very) cool and dry place, taking Instant ClearJel in and out of the freezer causes condensation on and inside the container, which can lead to clumping. For this reason, the freezer is not the best place to store it (unless it’s already mixed with sugar and other ingredients, as with freeze-and-bake pies).
What else can Instant ClearJel do?
Thanks to its gelling properties, Instant ClearJel makes a great stabilizer for creamy fillings and toppings. In our Strawberry Mascarpone Tea Cake, for instance, we call for Instant ClearJel in the mascarpone filling to prevent the cake from slumping and give you neat, clean edges when slicing the cake. Similarly, if you need your homemade whipped cream to last longer, adding ClearJel along with the sugar will prevent your soft, fluffy topping from dissolving into a sad, weeping mess (for up to 48 hours!).
Instant ClearJel can also stabilize the sugary filling in our Cinnamon Streusel Swirl Bread, which starts to melt and liquefy while the dough is proofing. Because ClearJel soaks up available liquid, mixing it with the other filling ingredients prevents it from leaking out the bottom during baking. In addition to saving a lot of messy clean-up, this also eliminates large air gaps within the spiral.
Because of its fast-acting nature, Instant ClearJel is the MVP in our Easy Fruit Cobbler recipe. This large 9" x 13" cobbler bakes in about the same amount of time as square and round cobblers half its size, thanks in part to Instant ClearJel. Because Instant ClearJel starts gelling as soon as it touches the liquid from the fruit, the filling begins to thicken before it even goes in the oven. If using regular cornstarch, gelatinization would not begin until the filling reached 203°F, well into baking time, requiring a longer bake.
Instant ClearJel can also help you earn an A+. That’s the grade Hallie from Dallas, Texas, gave our Roasted Strawberry Cream Cheese Rolls recipe: She used Instant ClearJel (for her very first time!) to get ahead, making the rolls and refrigerating them overnight with the fruit filling inside. She proudly boasts that, thanks to the ClearJel’s gelling properties, her filling did not weep, and her rolls were “absolutely perfect.”
It’s easy to see why many bakers swear by Instant ClearJel. There is really nothing else like it in terms of speed, ease of use, and versatility. If it’s not there already, hopefully Instant ClearJel will become a new staple in your pantry.
Cover photo (Apple Pie) by Kristin Teig; food styling by Liz Neily.