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If you ask any tourist to Pennsylvania Dutch country what food they most associate with the area, chances are high they will answer, “Shoofly Pie!”
Shoofly Pie was created out of everyday food staples that were readily available; the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch are frugal people and have a history of creating delicious foods from meager supplies. Shoofly Pie is often eaten for breakfast along with a cup of coffee.
According to historian William Woys Weaver, shoofly pie started as a crust-less molasses cake or Centennial Cake originally created in 1876 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, PA.
It is believed shoofly pie was a variation of the treacle tart; treacle being a generic British term for any syrup made during the refining of sugar cane. Later, refined sugar became more affordable and overtook treacle as a sweetener. However, colonial Americans often substituted molasses for treacle in their recipes. A crust was added to make it easier to enjoy without needing a plate or fork.
Traditionally, the pie was a poverty food served up only for breakfast or in the evening with supper, or as a field break snack with coffee. Due to the absence of eggs, historians concluded shoofly pie was a winter dish. Hens generally did not lay eggs in the colder weather. A pie without eggs produces a longer shelf life. Instead, bakers leaven the pie with baking powder. The addition of eggs was made in the 1920’s.
A popular and widely-repeated theory claims the name originates from the sticky pie itself and its penchant for attracting flies as it sat cooling in the kitchen of the proud baker who just created it and their attempt to dispatch the flies: “Shoo, fly!”
However, an interesting alternative theory on the name has been presented by the aforementioned historian William Woys Weaver who believes the name “Shoofly” likely derives from Shoofly the Boxing Mule. Shoofly was a popular traveling circus animal in southeastern Pennsylvania at the time.
The animal was trained to stand on his hind legs and wore boxing gloves on his front hooves. His frequent opponent was a horse. Shoofly was so beloved they named products in his honor, including a brand of molasses produced in Philadelphia. Shoofly’s (the mule) name may have originated from a popular song at the time, “Shoo, Fly, Don’t Bother Me!” (Source: bird-in-hand.com)
It is likely the true origins of the name are lost forever, but the theories are entertaining, none-the-less.
As with most recipes, there are as many versions — each with a little change in ingredients — as there are bakers, bakeries, and restaurants who whip up this classic delight throughout Pennsylvania.
Shoofly Pie is found in two versions – dry bottom which is much more coffee cake-like, and wet-bottom, like this one that features a sweet, molasses-laden bottom layer topped with crunchy crumbs. The flavor combinations of the pie is so popular, there is even a “Shoo Fly Cake“.
This recipe makes one 9 inch pie. I have another version, Pennsylvania Dutch Wet-Bottom Shoo Fly Pie II on the blog that differs slightly and makes two 9-inch pies.
Pennsylvania Dutch Wet-Bottom Shoo Fly Pie ICourse: RecipesCuisine: Pa Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
Luscious “wet” bottom layer of molasses topped with crumbs makes this traditional Pennsylvania Dutch treat a favorite of all ages.
Ingredients – MAKES ONE PIE
9 inch deep-dish unbaked pie shell OR pie crust as below
- Pie Crust
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
3-4 tablespoons of ice cold water
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 Tablespoons salted butter AND 2 Tablespoons vegetable shortening OR 1/4 cup room temperature all shortening, lard, or salted butter
- Liquid filling
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulphured baking molasses (not blackstrap molasses)
1 beaten egg, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup boiling water
- Pie Crust
- In medium bowl, mix flour and salt. Cut in shortening using pastry blender, until mixture forms pea-size chunks. Sprinkle with water, one tablespoon at a time. Toss lightly with fork until dough forms ball.
- Wrap in plastic wrap, flatten slightly into a disk, and place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Roll out onto a lightly flour surface into a circle about 2 inches wider than pie pan; place crust into a 9 inch deep-dish pie pan, crimp edges as desired. If using a regular depth pie pan, build your crust edges up high when crimping.
- Line un-baked pie crust with heavy-duty foil. Bake at 350 F degrees for 10 minutes. Remove foil, brush crust with beaten egg yolk. Bake 5 minutes longer, cool on wire rack.
- In a mixing bowl, place the 1 cup all purpose flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg; combine well with fork or spoon to eliminate lumps.
- Add the 2 Tablespoons butter and 2 Tablespoons shortening to the bowl (or the 1/4 cup fat of your choice) and, using a fork, pastry blender, or your fingers, combine to make fairly fine crumbs.
- Liquid filling
- In another mixing bowl or 4 cup glass measuring cup, place the 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons all purpose flour listed for the liquid filling. Blend the dry ingredients together with a fork or spoon to help eliminate clumps.
- Next, add the 1/2 cup unsulphured baking molasses, the beaten egg, and the 1 teaspoon vanilla to the dry mixture; blend together well, using a spoon or whisk making sure the dry ingredients are mixed in.
- Add the 1 cup boiling water to the molasses mixture, SLOWLY streaming it in while stirring or whisking to avoid curdling the raw egg, Stir or whisk until well blended. The mixture will appear “foamy” at this point.
- Place pie pan with unbaked crust on a baking sheet large enough to catch any drips or spills, then pour all of the molasses mixture carefully into the pie shell.
- Completing the filling
- Using your fingers or a spoon, sprinkle the entire bowl of crumbs evenly on top of the liquid filling in the crust; pay attention to getting some crumbs right up to the edge of the pie crust as well.
- Finishing the pie
- Place the tray with the filled crust carefully into the oven. Bake 375 F degrees about 35 to 40 minutes. Pie will “puff” while baking, but will firm up and settle some as it cools.
- Serve warm, room temperature, or chilled. Pie can be stored on the counter for 3 days, refrigerate leftovers after that time.
- Place the unbaked pie on a rimmed cookie sheet to help with moving it in and out of the oven and catch any drips while baking.