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Welcome to “Cook Along With A Coalcracker In The Kitchen”. This is the first in a (planned) series of posts that will help guide you through making some of The Coal Region’s favorite comfort foods.
Ask people what food they think of first when you say. “Pennsylvania Dutch” and for many, the answer is “Shoofly Pie, of course!”
Found in abundance in bakeries, diners, at farm markets and stands, and on the tables of many a family in both The Coal Region and Pennsylvania Dutch country throughout PA, this definitely is a well-loved dessert.
The pie is a combination of a molasses layer topped with a crumbly mix of flour, sugar, and some kind of shortening; traditionally lard, but often butter or vegetable shortening is used. Popular theory has it that the pie got its name as a result of its tendency to attract flies due to its sweet, sticky ingredients and cooks tried to rid the kitchen of the pest with a wave and a shout, “Shoo fly!”
The actual origin of the name may remain a sweet mystery, but the actual origin of the pie is believed to be 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, but 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.
There are two versions of Shoofly Pie; wet-bottom (my personal favorite) in which a moist, distinctly molasses layer graces the bottom of the pie as the crumbs rest mostly on top or “dry-bottom” in which the crumbs and a cake-like layer are more pronounced and the bottom of the pie does not have a distinct “wet” molasses layer. Each version has its fans and each is delicious in its own right.
As with most classic dishes, Shoofly Pie has as many “family recipes” as bakers who make it. I actually have several dozen recipes in my files, each a little different than the other; some yield a deep wet bottom (like the one featured here and my go-to favorite), some a dry-bottom; many of the recipes in my collection run the gamut in between.
If you cannot get Shoofly Pie where you live, or would like to try your hand at making one, this recipe is a great place to start. It is straight-forward and yields delicious results.
Let’s get started!
Gather your equipment
- 2 medium-sized mixing bowls or 1 bowl and 1 4-cup glass measuring cup
- 9 inch glass pie pan or aluminum pie pan
- Measuring cups for wet and dry ingredients
- Measuring spoons
- Fork or pastry blender
- Whisk, small wooden spoon, or metal spoon for stirring
- Baking sheet large enough to hold pie pan and catch any spills
Getting down to business
Thaw a frozen 9 inch pie shell if using frozen; if using refrigerated, follow package instructions for preparing a single crust 9 inch pie shell. Flute the edges as desired. Due to my Rheumatoid Arthritis, my limited dexterity means my fluting ability is not what it once was, but I pass my goofy looking crimps off as “rustic!”
Next, add the flour and brown sugar, along with the baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg to a bowl, then stir the ingredients with the back of a spoon or a fork to get the lumps out of both the flour and brown sugar and distribute the ingredients. Now toss in the butter/shortening that finalize the ingredients for the crumbs.
Work the fats through the blended dry crumb ingredients using your fingers, a pastry blender, or – my favorite method – using the tines of a fork. The fork works well because the fats are room temperature, not cold. It only takes a few minutes of tossing the ingredients around the bowl while pushing down on them with the back of the fork. This forces the fats to break up nicely and I like the resulting texture of the crumbs. Set these aside for now.
It is time to start on the liquid filling. My preferred vessel for mixing the liquid is a 4 cup glass measuring cup; the built-in pouring spout and the easy to grip handle make handing the mixture easy for me when it comes time to pour it into the crust. Using either the cup or a mixing bowl, place the filling ingredients of 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons all purpose flour in the bottom.
Using a spoon, mix these dry ingredients together to break up the clumps of flour and brown sugar and blend everything nicely.
Next, add the 1/2 cup molasses, the beaten egg, and the 1 teaspoon vanilla to the dry mix.
Bring 1 cup water to boil. I prefer to do this in a microwave-safe glass measuring cup, both to get the water heated quickly and the handle of the cup provides safer pouring of the hot water. (You will add the boiling water called for in the filling in the next step below). Mix the ingredients already in the cup/bowl with a spoon or whisk, making sure the dry ingredients are fully incorporated.
Add the (recently) boiling water to the molasses/egg mixture. You want to stream the water in slowly as you do not want the egg to curdle; slowly adding the hot water will temper the egg, which is what you want. At this point, the mixture will become foamy on top; a result of the baking soda in the mixture. This is normal, don’t try to remove it!
It is now time to construct the Shoofly Pie! Place the prepared crust in the pie pan on a baking sheet. This is not necessary, but trust me, you will be glad you did. Not only will the super giggly pie be easier to slide in the oven, but the tray will catch any spills or overflow rather than have them wind up on your oven floor. Carefully pour the entire liquid mixture into the un-baked pie crust. The liquid will come about half-way up the side of the crust.
Final step to the filling is to add the crumbs you made earlier. Sprinkle the entire bowl of crumbs over the top of the pie. Try to distribute them somewhat evenly; you do not want to dump a large amount of them in one spot. I sprinkle them using either my fingers or a 1/4 cup dry measuring cup, rotating the pie pan as I go to get crumbs as close to the edge and fluted crust part as I can. Taking small amounts of the crumbs to work with at a time helps me distribute them more evenly that other methods, I have found. Your creation is now ready for the oven!
Carefully set the baking tray with the pie onto the middle rack of your pre-heated 375 F degree oven. My oven bakes this Shoofly recipe in about 35 to 40 minutes, but your mileage may vary. As the pie bakes, it “puffs” as a result of the egg in the filling, but will settle and firm once it is removed and set aside to cool. At this time and oven temp, I never experience over-browned crust edges, but you know your oven better than anyone, so you may have to adjust time or temperature slightly. Remove the pie from the oven and set on a rack to cool. Congratulations! You just baked a classic wet-bottom Shoofly Pie!
Just look at that deep molasses layer! Shoofly Pie is often enjoyed for breakfast with a cup of coffee. The pie is delicious warm or at room temperature. Many folks like their Shoofly Pie lightly warmed and served alongside a scoop of ice cream.
I hope this “cook along” has given you the confidence to make Shoofly Pie in your own kitchen. Please give it a try, I think you will find it will become a cherished comfort food in your home.
Cook Along with A Coalcracker In The Kitchen – Wet Bottom Shoofly Pie ICourse: DessertCuisine: Pa Cutch, Coal Region
Perennial Pennsylvania Dutch favorite, this molasses-based pie forms a gooey wet bottom with a crumb topping when baked.
- Pie crust
One refrigerated or frozen (thawed before using) 9 inch pie crust (or crust recipe of your choice if making your own)
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
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
1 beaten egg, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup boiling water
- Getting started
- Thaw frozen 9 inch pie crust OR place refrigerated crust in 9 inch pie pan and crimp edges if/how desired. Set aside in refrigerator until ready for use.
- Place oven rack in center position in oven; pre-heat oven to 375 F degrees.
- 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. Set aside.
- 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.
- I use Grandma’s, Brer Rabbit Full Flavor, or Golden Barrel Baking Molasses for this pie.