Shoofly pie (or Shoo-Fly pie) bars are a modern twist on the classic Pennsylvania Dutch pie made with sugar syrup (more on which kind of syrup later). Shoofly pie bars start with a buttery oatmeal shortbread base – solid enough for you to hand-hold the bars. Above the shortbread is a blend of spiced brown sugar crumbs and sugary syrup that solidifies into a moist/spongy cake layer (it’s what coffee cake wishes it could be). The top is scattered with a few more of those brown sugar crumbs for good measure.
Though you may never have tried shoofly pie (and I can almost guarantee that you’ve never had shoofly pie bars), shoofly pie bars are one of those desserts that feels familiar and homey (after all, they’re mostly butter and sugar) – nothing avant garde like cucumber juice. Shoofly pie bars taste like a timeless dessert: a simple, sweet touch to end a meal.
But, the way your shoofly pie bars taste has a lot to do with what syrup or syrup blend you use.
What Kind of Syrup Can You Use in Shoofly Pie Bars?
Since the predominant flavor the the shoofly pie bars comes from the syrup that you use, you want to make sure that you choose a syrup you love. Ideally, you should use some kind of sugar syrup. These syrups range from light to dark and have a stronger (some say more bitter) flavor the darker they get. From light to dark, here are your choices:
- Golden syrup (light treacle) is produced from the first boiling of sugar cane juice. If you live in the U.S., you may have never tried golden syrup. It’s very popular in the U.K.
- Molasses (dark treacle) is produced from the second boiling.
- Blackstrap molasses is produced from the third boiling.
Any of these products (or a combination thereof) will work in shoofly pie bars. You just need to choose the one that tastes best to you.
Which Kind of Syrup Did I Use?
I used a golden syrup – Lyle’s Golden Syrup, to be specific. I found it at an upscale grocery near my house, but it is also available on Amazon. An Amazon review describes it well:
I bought this to use in a couple of recipes I have that call for corn syrup (which I refuse to use!). This is a much more natural option and has a really wonderful, light caramel-y, slightly nutty and slightly citrus-y sweet flavor! It is sublime.
Having made shoofly pie bars with Lyle’s, it’s hard to imagine making them with anything else. I’m sure that they would be good, but their flavor profile would be completely different. Some may say that shoofly pie should always be made with molasses and that using molasses rather than golden syrup is what distinguishes shoofly pie from treacle tart (the British dessert shoofly pie is based on). I say, “Bah humbug!” If you must call my shoofly pie bars tart treacle tart bars, then go ahead and do so. I’ll just say that I’m taking shoofly pie back to its roots.
If you can’t get a hold of golden syrup and want a similar experience, you can try a blend of 1/3 molasses, 1/3 light honey, and 1/3 light corn syrup (as recommended by Sallie on Not So Humble Pie). Sallie also suggests using either King’s Syrup or Golden Barrel Table Syrup (both are blends of corn syrup and sugar syrups that are not overly sweet).
Shoofly Pie Bars Recipe
I wanted to convert shoofly pie into hand-held bars and (do I even have to say it?) cupcakes, but I needed a starting point. The recipe that ended my search for shoofly pie, the one I knew I must try, came from Sallie’s guest post on Not So Humble Pie. Here’s an excerpt:
Harold Jamieson missed his Shoo Fly Pie. His mother had made it. His ex-wife had made it. His sister made it. However, they had either passed on or still lived in Pennsylvania. So armed with Harold’s mother’s recipe, his daughter-in-law’s recipe, an antique booklet from the Dutch Pantry in Selinsgrove, PA and a version of the pie from the Farm Journal Pie Cookbook, I baked and tweaked for weeks. By the time I had Shoo Fly Pie the way I liked it, my family was Shoo Fly Pied out. But I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the syrup and molasses based breakfast pie. Yes, you read that correctly, it’s a breakfast pie so guilt no more about eating “dessert” first.
Do you see what I mean? Do you have any doubt that Sallie knows her Shoofly pie? Here’s my adaptation of her recipe.
Shoofly Pie Bars
For the shortbread base
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 cup rolled oats
For the crumbs
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
For the syrup filling
- 3/4 cup syrup see section above on which syrup to use
- 3/4 cup hot but not boiling water
- 1 egg beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
Prepare the shortbread base
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a small mixing bowl, mix all crust ingredients. I like to do this by hand. Stop when the ingredients start to stick together; do not over mix.
Press the mixture into the bottom of a baking pan.
Bake for 20 minutes.
Prepare the crumbs.
In a small mixing bowl, mix all of the crumb ingredients together. I also do this part by hand. These crumbs won't stick together the way that the shortbread crust did. The crumbs will be small and loose, like fine breadcrumbs.
Prepare the syrup filling.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all of the syrup filling ingredients.
Put it all together.
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Place about 1/3 of the crumbs over the pre-baked shortbread base.
Pour half the syrup over the crumbs.
Place another 1/3 of the crumbs over the syrup. It will all glom together. Don't worry. You're not trying to create distinct layers.
Top with the remaining half of the syrup.
Top the whole thing with the remaining 1/3 of the crumbs.
Bake for 10 minutes.
Lower heat to 350 F and bake for another 20 minutes.
Wait for the shoofly pie bars to cool and then cut, eat, smile, and share.