I’ve been crazy about pies lately. Maybe a summer thing, or maybe nesting. Likely both. I’ve done blueberry, raspberry, cherry and a few savory pork pies. I’ve made a batch of apple hand pies. And now I’m onto shoofly.
I have never actually eaten a shoofly pie. Other than a passing intrigue in the name, I didn’t even know what it was until recently, when I went out of my way to investigate it. I have a fantastic little booklet called The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy by Barbara Swell. It’s actually part of a collection of booklets that she’s written on heirloom/old-timey foods. They’re all great – they’re conversationally easy to read, have great vintage graphics and of course, excellent recipes. But this one on pie is my favorite. It’s the perfect primer on pie baking.
There is a small selection of Pennsylvania Dutch pies in the book, one of which is shoofly. I was surprised at how simple, yet how odd, shoofly pie is in terms of ingredients and method. The only ingredients in the filling are molasses, hot water, baking soda, flour, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and ginger. No fruit or nuts. No chocolate, milk or eggs. This is a dry pantry pie; working class pie. No matter what your situation, nine times out of ten you’re going to have all of those ingredients in the pantry. And the butter is only three tablespoons, so that’s not extravegant at all. This pie has all the ingenuity of something from nothing. No matter what, you can put this pie on the table.
While the ingredients are simple, the method is odd to say the least. The filling is a two parter. One part is the liquid (molasses, hot water and baking soda) and the other is a crumb topping made from the rest of the ingredients (like you’d do for a crumb coffee cake). You also put all of this liquid filling into an unbaked pie shell, which seems counterintuitive – you’d think the crust would end up all soggy and gross, but somehow it doesn’t. So, you pour in the liquid and then you sprinkle the crumb topping over the top. Some recipes call for layering the liquid and topping, but to me that just seems fussy. And Barbara Swell seems to agree, since she’s of the crumb-on-liquid single layer camp. You’d think all those crumbs would just sink into a mess in all that liquid, but again, somehow they just don’t. It’s pretty neat actually, and if you just go with it and don’t think about the mechanics too much, it’ll work out just fine. Here’s my very first shoofly pie, fresh out of the oven –
You’ll have to pardon it’s big shoulders. From the companion research I did on the good old internet about this pie (cause the researcher in me can never start anything without hearing twelve different sides to every project), nearly everyone said you need to use a nine-inch deep dish pie plate; standard ones wouldn’t be deep enough. I had an additional conundrum in that I only have two pie plates in the house currently – an eight inch glass Pyrex, and this nine inch ceramic deep dish. I love the eight inch for most things, because it makes a good amount of pie for two people. Nine inch pies are kind of big for two people (even pie loving people) to scarf down before they’re past their prime (four day old pie is bad – hell, even two day old pie is stretching it). But I knew the eight inch wouldn’t cut it here, so into the nine inch deep dish it went. But the internet people were wrong, at least in my case. A standard nine inch plate would work just fine – the filling didn’t really rise to an out of control level. So this is a great excuse for me to go out and buy a new pie plate, because really, what kind of pie baker doesn’t have a standard nine inch in the house? In all fairness, I did have one, until the pumpkin pie incident of a few years back. At any rate, in the meantime until I get a new pie plate, I’ll just make the crust an inch lower in the deep dish plate. Sometimes you have to improvise.
The only drawback to this pie is the fact that you really need to let it cool way down before you slice into it, so that still-molten filling has a chance to firm up a bit. Being at the limit of my waiting patience, I’ve got a slice in hand as I type. Just a sliver, because after all it is ten o’clock at night. And you know what? It’s everything I’d thought it would be. It’s a damn good pie. There’s just no other way to phrase it. You have to like molasses to like this pie, but if you do you’ll end up loving it. Being a sucker for crumb topping, I’m going to double the amount the next time I make it. But then again, I’m always doubling the crumb toppings.
And lest you start to feel left out, here’s the ingredient list, exactly as Barbara Swell calls for them in the The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy. But you should really get the book for yourself – whether you’re a novice or an old hand at pie baking, this book really needs to be on your kitchen shelf.
Liquid Layer Bottom Filling
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup boiling water
3/4 cup flour
1/3 brown sugar (I used light; she doesn’t specify light or dark)
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of salt
Proceed with ingredients as I outlined above – it’s really that simple. As for pie crust recipes, everyone’s got their favorite so I won’t tell you one to use here. But really, any dough for a single crust nine inch pie will work just fine. As for baking, Barbara Swell says start it out in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, then finish it at 325 for 20-30 minutes more. That worked out about right for me.