Pennsylvania Dutch/Amish cooking is known for its pies. Shoefly Pie is perhaps the most indigenously famous. It’s also a favorite in America’s South. Truthfully, shoefly pie isn’t a personal favorite; it’s intensely sweet, to me often cloyingly so. That’s how it got its name: flies were drawn to cooling sugary pies. I prefer desserts that aren’t so intensely sweet. But if you like your sweets to be really sweet, shoefly pie will fill the bill.
Shoefly pie’s dominant flavor is molasses. Molasses is extracted when sugar cane is boiled to make sugar. Molasses is also made from other sources, including sugar beets and pomegranates to name just two; none are suitable for shoefly pie.
Three stages/types of molasses are made from sugar cane. The first, called Barbados, is the mildest. Molasses made from second stage boiling has a slightly bitter edge. The third, blackstrap molasses, is the most pungent, but it’s also chock full of iron, calcium and other nutritional goodies. It’s been used as a health food remedy for generations. Just make sure that whichever molasses you use is unsulphered. Sulpherization is a chemical process that makes molasses almost noxious tasting.
The amount of molasses in shoefly pie recipes varies radically, from all molasses, to half molasses and half light corn syrup, or even 1/4 molasses to 3/4 light corn syrup. But my favorite, and also the favorite of New England native-turned-Cajun/Creole chef Emeril Lagasse, is cane syrup. Cane syrup used to be endemic throughout the South, now Steen’s, in Abbeville, La., is the only remaining major producer. Especially in Louisiana it’s preferentialy used as syrup on pancakes, waffles, biscuits, and to drizzle over ice cream or bread pudding – as good in its own way as maple syrup, and far superior to artificially flavored commercial syrups. Cane syrup has the deeply satisfying flavor of dark brown sugar without any molasses funk.
The closest place I’ve found Steen’s is at Urbana’s World Harvest Market. But it’s easily ordered online. I bring back a year’s worth from our annual trips to Louisiana.
- 1 9-inch or 10-inch deep dish pie shell, preferably partially baked (instructions below)
- 1 beaten egg, if partially baking the pie shell
For the crumb topping:
- 1 c. all-purpose flour
- 3/4 c. dark brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 4 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
For the filling:
- 3/4 c. hot water
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1 c. unsulphered molasses, OR a combination of molasses and white corn syrup, OR Steen’s Cane Syrup
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1 beaten egg
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Partially baking the pie shell is not absolutely necessary, but it does ensure that the bottom crust will be flaky and tender rather than doughy.
If you are making a 9-inch rather than 10-inch pie, you’ll probably have leftover filling. It’s important to not use too much of the liquid filling. If you do, it will bubble over, creating a burnt sugar mess in your oven and potentially ruining the pie.
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the crumb topping, then add the butter and use your fingers or a couple of forks to mix until it forms coarse crumbs. Set aside.
Cool the partially baked pie shell completely before adding the filling. If you’re not partially baking it, freeze the shell before adding the filling.
Put the hot water in a bowl, then whisk in the baking soda. Add the vanilla, molasses and/or corn syrup or cane syrup, and salt and stir to combine. Add the beaten egg and mix everything completely.
Pour the filling into the pie shell, being certain to not overfill it: remember that you’ll be adding the crumb topping.
Bake the pie for about 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 25-30 minutes longer, or just until the filling is set and doesn’t quiver when gently shaken. If the crust edges are becoming too brown, cover them with foil.
Let cool completely to room temperature before cutting. Serve as is, or with lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
To Partially Bake a Pie Shell: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll out the pastry and fit it into the pan. Check to make sure there are no holes or cracks – patch any holes or cracks with a little extra pastry that is very lightly brushed with beaten egg. Freeze for at least 15 minutes, then gently press a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil into the bottom and sides of the crust with as few wrinkles as possible. Fill with uncooked rice or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the shell from the oven. Pull the corners of the foil inward so they don’t tear the crust’s edges. Grab two corners of the foil in each of your hands and lift straight up, removing the foil and rice or beans. Brush the bottom and sides of the shell with additional beaten egg and return to the oven. Bake 2-3 minutes, or until the egg has formed a seal over the crust.