The Dessert Course: Shoo Fly Pie

Holidays mean family. And in my family, family means dessert. So, logic would have it that holidays lead to family-centric dessert sessions, where dessert is a second meal (arguably, the best meal) after the normal, over-sized feast. All of my Christmas dessert sessions have been spent in one place – the farm where my grandfather lives and where my mom grew up, in rural Pennsylvania (a place called Pillow, PA). This is Pennsylvania Dutch territory – a moniker for the German folk who settled in Pennsylvania – the land of abundant fields, gorgeous seasonal landscapes, butter, and molasses.

Enter Shoo Fly Pie.

Shoo Fly Pie. Courtesy via

Shoo Fly Pie. Courtesy via

A quick Google search will help anyone identify the origins and meaning of this molasses-based dessert, growing up it was something none of my New York friends had heard of. It was my special family dessert, for when the city mouse in me became country mouse at the holidays. Tradition has it that its moniker comes from its strong molasses scent which attracts flies that must be “shooed” away, and I can confirm that it’s an appropriate name, having waved some flies away myself when eating it in the summertime. But winter was where the pie took greatest hold – the sweet buttery crumble mixed in with the sticky molasses bottom.

Sure, there are variations — whether we were going to have a “wet bottom” or “dry bottom” pie was a recurring discussion (dry bottom is a little lighter on the syrupy molasses base). But at the end of the day, with this dessert came sweet, crumbly Pennsylvania Dutch love. And considering that some of the other traditional dishes of this heritage involved parts of an animal I didn’t even know of as a girl, Shoo Fly was the clear winner for my young heart.  Watch Pennsylvania Dutch farmer-turned-professional Dwight Schrute talk about traditional dishes on The Office and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

I’ll caution that this is a sweet pie, if you didn’t already form that conclusion. Granted, I have no comprehension of how something can be “too sweet.” (I worked at a bakery growing up. It feels right to be in the presence of an overwhelming amount of sugar.) But all who have tasted agree that a narrow slice is the perfect holiday treat–a taste that embodies everything sweet about the holidays. Though clearly I am a fan of creativity and innovation given my job at Ketchum, this is one holiday hallmark I will never tamper with–and I don’t believe any chef has either. That said, shoo fly pie donuts could have some potential…or shoo fly pie pancakes…maybe even shoo fly pie in a jar? You know what, let me get back to you on this…I’ve got some baking to do.

Wet Bottom Shoo Fly Pie Recipe

Pastry Shell:
1 1/4 (124 g) cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 (12 g) tablespoon sugar
Pinch salt
1 stick (115 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small chunks2 tablespoons (30 g) ice water, plus more if needed

Crumb Mixture:
1 cup flour (99 g)
1/2 cup brown sugar (101 g)
1/4 cup vegetable shortening or butter (cut into 1/4″ bits) (57 g)

Liquid Mixture:
1 teaspoon baking soda (4 g)
1 cup boiling water (237 ml)
1 cup dark molasses (237 ml)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

To make the pastry: combine the flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and mix with a pastry blender or your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour in the ice water and work it in to bind the dough until it holds together without being too wet or sticky.

Squeeze a small amount together. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Sprinkle the counter and a rolling pin lightly with flour. Roll the dough out into a 10 inch circle. (To check the size, put the 9 inch pie pan upside down over the dough.) Carefully roll the dough up onto the pin (this may take a little practice) and lay it inside the pie pan. Press the dough firmly into the bottom and sides so it fits tightly. Trim the excess dough around the rim. Place the pie pan on a sturdy cookie sheet so it can prevent spills from burning in the bottom of the oven.

In a bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar and shortening (or butter) using a pastry blender until it resembles coarse meal.

In a second bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water, then add the molasses and stir to blend well.

Pour the liquid mixture into the unbaked pie shell and sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the top.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 25 minutes or until the filling is set and does not quiver when the pie pan is gently shaken from side to side. DO NOT OVERBAKE OR THE FILLING WILL BECOME TOO DRY.

Cool pie to room temperature before serving.