Shoofly Pie - Gastro Obscura


Shoofly Pie

Mornings in Amish country once called for pie-cake and coffee.

What’s in a name? Well, Shoofly pie has nothing to do with shoes or flies, and it’s only part pie. It’s actually a pie-cake hybrid.

Philadelphians first introduced a crustless dessert called “Centennial Cake” in 1876. Unfortunately for Centennial Cake, the Amish wanted something they could eat with their hands over morning coffee, and this crumbly format didn’t work. Bakers tossed the batter into a pie crust, effectively creating the handheld version now known as Shoofly pie.

The Amish fell in love with the molasses-filled, crumb-topped treat. Using the same set of ingredients, they developed two styles of Shoofly pie: wet-bottom and dry-bottom. Amish women made the wet-bottom version by filling a pie shell with sweet molasses, which soaks into the crust and creates a molten, “wet” bottom layer upon baking. The result is a bit like sticky toffee pudding. In a dry-bottom Shoofly pie, the baker alternates layering brown sugar crumb with molasses filling. The equally distributed ratio of wet and dry bakes into something like a pie-crusted coffee cake. Both versions are finished with buttery, brown sugar crumbs. 

Pie lore offers two explanations for its unusual name. The simple one is that flies get stuck in the sticky-sweet molasses, so bakers must shoo them away. The second explanation is that the pie was named after the 19th-century “Shoofly” brand of molasses. But the story of Shoofly goes back further. According to historian William Woys Weaver, the molasses had been named after an iconic circus animal (Shoofly the Boxing Mule), who had been named after a popular song written during the Civil War (“Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me”).

The hearty pie-cake fusion remains popular in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. You can still find the treat—unchanged from its original recipe—baked by descendants of the early Amish settlers who first made Shoofly pie more than a hundred years ago.

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