Stroll into almost any bakery in southeastern Pennsylvania, particularly in Lancaster County, about an hour and a half west of Philadelphia, where a large population of Pennsylvania Dutch reside, and you’ll find this crumb-topped creation on the menu. You’ll also discover that these days there are two prominent versions of the pie—wet bottom and dry bottom—and most bakeries will serve their interpretation of one. Both versions include piecrust, molasses-flavored filling, and a crumb topping. The difference is all about the texture: Dry-bottom shoofly pie is very cake-like, with a thin molasses ribbon on the bottom crust, making it more similar to the original coffee cake incarnation. The wet version features a much thicker molasses layer and a thinner crumb topping. This version came about in the 1920s by accident. “A pie didn’t get cooked enough, and some people discovered they liked it that way,” William says. “It’s a whole branch of shoofly pie cookery unto itself.”
Though both versions are traditionally flavored with molasses, the wet version has a stronger taste of the dark syrup. “From my observation, the wet bottom pie is similar in texture to a pecan pie, just without the pecans,” says Brett Braley, the writer behind the Pennsylvania-based food and lifestyle blog Fig + Bleu and contributing editor at thefeefeed.com. “But that bitter, almost acrid flavor of the molasses can really turn some people off. In the dry bottom version, [the ribbon of molasses] runs through layers of cake, so it’s a little easier on the palate.” In some bakeries that cater to tourists, this key ingredient of shoofly pie is often toned down or replaced altogether with milder, sweeter corn syrup. “We don’t use it [at Bird-in-Hand Bakery], and I think that’s a large part of the popularity of our pie,” John says. However, just as many Pennsylvania Dutch bakeries would shudder at the thought of replacing the flavorful syrup. Which one you get all depends on where you go.
Dry bottom, wet bottom, bitter, sweet—like any recipe that’s been around for over a century, there are as many takes on shoofly pie as there are bakers in Lancaster County, giving this delicious oddity the mark of a true classic.