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I am glad you’re here, and I’m so excited to be able to teach you to make Classic Shoo Fly Pie from ingredients you probably already own.
Like most old fashioned pies, there is no one correct way to make shoofly pie. Some are “dry bottom” and some are “wet bottom.” Read on to learn the difference and how to make my wet-bottom version.
Click to find more old fashioned pie recipes.
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Necessity Is the Mother of (Pie) Invention
Man oh man, but our grandmothers and their mothers and grandmothers before them knew how to take a lot of nothing and turn it into something sublime.
And in the dead of winter when there is no fruit to be had (or wasn’t any to be had out on the Prairie or wherever), stalwart, pie-loving women took stock of their pantries and made amazing pies with what was on hand.
I don’t mean to say that the ingredients in classic shoo fly pie are dumb–they’re all pretty much pantry staples–but there were no fancy or gourmet ingredients necessary.
Pies have been around forever, and certainly well before gourmet grocery stores were peddling rarefied ingredients to the masses. Seriously, check out the ingredient list for the filling:
- brown sugar
- hot water
- baking soda
I can pretty much guarantee that you have all these ingredients with the possible exception of the molasses which is readily available at grocery stores right by the corn syrup and other baking sweeteners.
This pie is one of four I made for a series on “desperation pies” for #tbtfood. Here are the others.
Shoofly Pie and Apple Pandowdy
My first introduction to classic shoo fly pie was in the song. Do you know the one?
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pandowdy
make your eyes light up and your tummy say howdy.
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pandowdy,
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff!
Just from hearing my mom sing this song around the house, I figured that shoo fly pie and apple pandowdy were Not To Be Missed, but I never had either until I made a classic shoofly pie the other day.
Why Do They Call It Shoo Fly Pie?
The name “shoo fly pie” suggests the pie is so sweet that, before you can eat it, you have to shoo away the flies that will come visiting.
I have yet to make apple pandowdy, although I expect that will change pretty soon!
Where Did Shoofly Pie Come From?
Shoofly pie is most popular in and around Amish and Mennonite communities in Pennsylvania whose cooks are known for making delicious food alchemy with basic pantry ingredients. Moravian Sugar Cake, anyone? Right?
I referenced the ingredient list for classic shoo fly pie up at the top.
The original recipe most likely contained lard, and the recipe I based my version on called for shortening which wasn’t invented until 1910 and certainly wasn’t an ingredient in the pies made by the settlers who came to Pennsylvania in the early to mid-1700’s.
How Do You Make Pie from Molasses?
Shoofly pie is put together in a really interesting way. There are two basic components: a lean streusel (by lean, I mean it’s made without too much fat) and a molasses and egg syrup. Seems like there is no one right way to make a shoo fly pie.
- Some people put some of the streusel on the bottom of the crust, pour in the syrup and then add the rest of the streusel on top.
- My friend Joe Pastry makes his beautiful version by actually stirring the streusel into the molasses syrup making a batter that bakes into a cake-ish layer on top and a gooey layer of molasses underneath.
I rather liked the idea of having a very light-colored top and then being surprised by the very dark filling once you cut into it, so this is how I made mine:
- layer about 1/4 of the streusel into the crust
- add half the syrup
- add another 1/4 of the streusel
- add the rest of the syrup
- put the rest of the streusel on top
Why Is There Baking Soda in Shoofly Pie?
Another interesting thing about the pie is the use of baking soda. You whisk it into the molasses with hot water and then an egg. The baking soda changes the color of the mixture, making it lighter.
I’m pretty sure what is happening is not unlike the Dutch process for making cocoa powder: alkalizing.
You take an acidic ingredient (cocoa powder, molasses) and introduce a substance with a high pH (a base, such as baking soda).
This raises the pH of the original ingredient into neutral territory, and it can tone down bitterness quite a bit. These days, the unsulfured molasses we use is pretty mild, but I bet back in the days of the original Amish and Mennonite settlers in Pennsylvania, the molasses they used could have curled your hair! Strong stuff!
What Does This Pie Taste Like?
Without the baking soda, it could be a bit on the bitter side, with a very strong molasses flavor. But since some enterprising cook back on the prairie or somewhere added baking soda to mellow out the flavor, this pie tastes of molasses without the bitterness.
It is sweet, and without any dairy in the filling, the molasses flavor–sans bitterness–really shines through.
The streusel layer is sandy and a little crunchy, and the baked “molasses custard” part is sweet and smooth. Both textures contrast nicely with the crisp pie crust.
For another layer of texture, you could always serve it with a scoop of ice cream.
Wet Bottom Shoofly Pie vs Dry Bottom Shoofly Pie
There are two basic kinds of shoo fly pie. One with crumbs mostly on top, like the one I made, and another with a lot of crumbs/streusel thoroughly stirred in, yielding a more cakelike pie.
The version with the streusel on top and the molasses “gel” underneath is called “wet bottom shoo fly pie,” and the more cake-like kind with the streusel stirred in is called “dry bottom shoofly pie.”
Neither version is more authentic than the other, so don’t worry about that. You just need to decide which version you want to eat!
Pie Making Gear (Shoo Fly or Otherwise)
There is a reason that pie was big back in the days before mixers and food processors and whatnot. You just don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment to make pie, no matter what the folks at Williams-Sonoma say.
A nice pie pan or two and a rolling pin you really like are really the only things you need. A whisk is nice for putting fillings together, but I bet you already have one of those.
Enough singing and talking, talking and singing. Ready to make some classic shoo fly pie? Let’s get to it!
Other Old-Fashioned Pie Recipes You Might Enjoy
Classic Shoofly Pie Recipe
My recipe is based very closely on a recipe posted to allrecipes.com by user D. Stultz. She says it was her grandmother’s recipe.
The only things I changed were to scale back the amount of filling after reading that some folks had too much filling, to use butter rather than shortening in the streusel and to add a heavy pinch of salt.
Otherwise, this is all D. Stutz’s grandmother’s baby.
I really hope you love this pie recipe, you guys! If you make it, please share a photo with me, either in the PCO Facebook Group or on instagram by tagging @onlinepastrychef and using hashtag #pcorecipe. Thanks, and enjoy!
For the Crust
- 1 9" pie shell, (not deep dish), docked and frozen* (See Note)
For the Streusel
- 4.5 oz all purpose flour, (about 1 cup)
- 4.7 oz dark or light brown sugar, (about 2/3 cup, packed)
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
For the Molasses Syrup
- 9 oz molasses, (3/4 cup)
- 4.5 oz hot water, (1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- heavy pinch kosher salt, (about 1/4 teaspoon)
- 1 large egg, , beaten
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
To Make the Streusel
- In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour and the brown sugar. Rub in the butter very well so there are no little bits of butter remaining. The mixture should look about like cornmeal and should clump together when you squeeze it and then sort of fall apart if you poke it. Squeeze some together so you have some pebbles of streusel and leave some of it sandy.
To Make the Molasses Syrup
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the molasses and hot water. Thoroughly whisk in the baking soda and salt. Mixture may get sort of frothy and will definitely lighten in color. Thoroughly whisk in the beaten egg.
To Assemble and Bake
- Layer about 1/4 of the streusel in the bottom of your frozen pie shell.
- Evenly pour in about half the molasses mixture followed by another quarter of the streusel.
- Pour on the last of the molasses mixture and then top the pie with the remaining streusel. This layer will be pretty thick and you probably won't be able to see the filling underneath.
- Carefully place the pie on the center rack of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes then reduce the heat to 350F.
- Continue baking for about 15 more minutes then cover the pie loosely with foil to prevent excessive browning of the crust. Bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until the pie is nicely puffed up all over. It will settle as it cools.
- Serve warm or barely warm with lighely sweetened (or even unsweetened) whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream.
Since shoo fly pie filling is so wet, your bottom crust can sort of dissolve or get soggy. This didn't bother me. If it bothers you, you can blind bake and egg wash your crust to make it "waterproof." Please see the Joe Pastry post for instructions.
- Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life
- Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes, From Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan
- Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies
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And that is really all there is to it! This is a truly delicious pie. The barely set, sort of woogly texture of the molasses layer is balanced by the sandy crispness of the streusel on top. Simple and easy and pure comfort. Please, if you’ve never tried shoo fly pie, don’t miss out. There’s a reason why it’s a classic!
Thank you for spending some time with me today. I appreciate it.
Have a lovely day.