Maude McDaniel, Columnist
Beginning the new year with a tasty recipe always seemed like a good idea to me. Unfortunately, in this day and age, it should be a healthy recipe, and I’m a little short of those. It turns out that the period I learned to cook in (the 40s and 50s) was not noted for its general nutritional values. Although, of course, we thought we were pretty much on course there. Later, the next generation informed us that we were way off track and what did we mean by raising them in such unwholesome habits. (Foodwise, I mean. They arrived at certain other unwholesome habits on their own.)
Anyway, pies were always a big part of my early life. Every Saturday morning Mother baked four or five to take us through the next week in the proper manner. In our house, it was always pies, never cakes. After I turned 10 or so, I took over the cookie baking, which, come to think of it, was when I started to gain weight. But cakes were never a part of the picture, and I don’t even remember what we used for birthdays.
On the other hand, I never baked pies much because the crust scared me to death. Mother had two rules of thumb: 1. ALWAYS use lard, and 2. LEAVE it alone! If you worked the crust just a smidgen too hard it would turn tough, and heaven knows one thing you don't want around the house is a tough piecrust. Hers were tender to a turn and I knew I could never equal them so I never tried.
One of her specialties was milk pie, which I think I already wrote a column about years ago. Her milk pie was to die for, and sweet enough to knock out any other candidates. That may be why she never, so far as I know, ever baked a shoo-fly pie, which is not quite as sweet as milk pie, but getting there. But I came across them in time (we hung around in Pennsylvania Dutch country a lot), and, just as milk pie retains its throne in my heart, nothing else can take the place of a really good shoo-fly pie.
How it got its name is not something I want to think about too much. At least it’s better than say, house-fly pie, which would take an awful lot of explaining. (Or horse-fly pie, which would take even more.) And here’s another problem: basically there are two kinds of shoo-fly pie, one with a wet bottom and one with a dry bottom. Ordinarily, I’d stay away from anything with a wet bottom, but in this case, it’s the key to contentment. Most people with a highly developed sense of taste gravitate to the wet-bottom pie immediately.
And that is what this recipe produces. Hope you like it. It’s from a recent Washington Post article by Nevin Martell. Here is the absolutely best pie in the world that I never made.
For 9 inch pieplate crust: 2¼ cups flour, ½ tsp kosher salt,1½ sticks chilled unsalted butter cut into small cubes, 1/3 cup plus 1 to 2 T water. (Don’t ask me why they tell you to use unsalted butter and then fill in with salt later on.) Filling and topping: 1/2 t. baking soda, ¾ cup just-boiled water (?), 1 cup dark molasses, 1 large egg, lightly beaten, ½ cup packed light brown sugar, 1 ¼ cups flour, 1/4 t ground cinnamon, 1/8 t ground ginger, 1/8 t ground cloves, 1/8 t. freshly grated nutmeg, 2 T chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes.
Crust: Lightly flour a work surface;, combine flour, salt, butter in a food processor (or use a mixing bowl and a pastry cutter.) Pulse or blend by hand to form a coarse mixture with pea-size crumbs. Add the water in 1 T increments to form a dough that comes together in a ball and is not wet. Roll it out to a disk that is 11 inches across and about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer to the pie plate and fit it in, crimping the edges. Dock the bottom with the tines of a fork (I have no idea what that means), refrigerate for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
For filling and topping; whisk the baking soda into a medium bowl with the just-boiled water, then whisk in the molasses and egg. Combine brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and butter in a food processor (or in a mixing bowl, using a pastry cutter.) Pulse or incorporate to form a mixture with pea-size crumbs.
Pour about 1/3 of the filling into the pie plate lined with dough. Scatter about 1/3 of the topping over the filling. Pour the remaining filling over the first layer of topping, then scatter the remaining topping so that the surface is completely covered. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes; the filling will be slightly jiggly, and some of the topping will still be floury.
Cool for at least 30 minutes or longer, before slicing and serving. The pie might be a little weepy but that’s okay; your own tears will be tears of joy.
And a Happy 2014 to both my readers!
Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in the Times-News.