Family, friends and the Ordnung (rules for living) are central to the Amish way of life. Within the Pennsylvania Dutch community, meals are shared in fellowship and in celebration of life's blessings. Desserts are a special part of such communal celebrations, and an array of tempting baked goods is usually laid out to feed the crowd.
These delicacies fit the Amish tradition of basic-yet-delicious recipes for dishes that leave plenty of time for doing farm work and household chores. Busy cooks will appreciate that these recipes are straightforward and follow a simple mix-and-bake method, with just a few extra minutes to assemble the whoopie pies.
The origin of whoopie pies and their catchy name is a mystery. Was it an attempt at individual layer cakes? Or a way of righting cookies-gone-wrong?
Whoever first chose to smear creamy icing between two pieces of chocolate devil's food cake deserves our thanks. The delectable sandwich-cakes (also popular in oatmeal and pumpkin versions) have spread well beyond the Amish community.
They are easily wrapped to carry as snacks for picnics and on day trips. And kudos to mothers who keep a few of the pies frozen and ready to slip into bag lunches. Forget the cream-filled commercial cakes from Little Debbie and Tastykake. This is the real thing.
Shoofly pie, though more traditional in appearance, is a unique fusion of molasses and sweet crumbs baked in a pie crust. The name is said to come from a need to shoo pesky flies away from the sticky pies, a necessary practice in a time before window screens.
First made with syrup from sorghum, a grain grown here since colonial days, these densely filled pies fared well in the inexact, unpredictable temperatures of early ovens.
A specialty in Pennsylvania's Amish and Mennonite communities, shoofly pies vary in consistency, some having wet gooey bottoms (Lancaster County), some being dry and cake-like for dunking (Berks County). And some, a mixture, are moist throughout. All are delicious.
The easiest and most versatile of Amish desserts is the spoon pie or pudding, known to some cooks as a crisp, crumble, grunt or slump. Or, to the Esh family from whose cookbook this recipe was adapted, Apple Goodie. Among the cobbler kin, such spoon pies have neither crust nor dumplings but rather a crumb or streusel topping.
Spoon pies are so wholesome that serving them for Sunday breakfast is not uncommon.
Almost any fruit can be substituted for or combined with the apples that make this a year-round staple. Right now ripe peaches from local orchards get our vote.
Makes 9 pies, about 4 inches each
For the cookies:
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon hot coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening
1 pasteurized egg (see note)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup water, approximate
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. For the cookies: Whip the eggs until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar, oil, coffee and vanilla and beat briskly until well blended, about 2 minutes more.
3. In another bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat until well blended, about 2 minutes.
4. Using a 2-ounce or 1/4-cup scoop, drop batter portions, 2 to 3 inches apart, on Silpat- or wax paper-lined baking sheets.
5. Bake until cookies are firm enough to spring back when pressed lightly at the center, about 7 minutes. Cool. Reserve.
6. For the filling: Mix the confectioners' sugar, shortening, egg, vanilla and salt. Beat until blended; add water gradually, just until mixture is fluffy and spreadable, 2 to 3 minutes.
7. Assemble pies by spreading filling on the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich the remaining cookies onto the filled cookies. Serve. Or wrap in plastic wrap and freeze.
- Recipe adapted from the Amish Market in Annapolis, Md.
Note: Use of ordinary raw eggs in uncooked mixtures is discouraged because of the risk of salmonella infection. Pasteurized in-shell eggs (Davidson brand) are available in most Pathmark and ShopRite markets. EggBeaters or other pasteurized egg products may be used or two egg whites may be substituted.
Per serving (based on 9 servings): 836 calories, 7 grams protein, 94 grams carbohydrates, 62 grams sugar, 48 grams fat, 71 milligrams cholesterol, 434 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
4 cups sliced fruit, see note
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon butter for the dish
3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
1 cup brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
1. Place the fruit in a mixing bowl. Set oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix the granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt; add to the fruit and stir to combine. Pour the fruit into a lightly buttered 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Or divide it among four to six individual ovenproof, 1- to 1 1/2-cup ramekins, also buttered.
3. Combine the oats, brown sugar, baking soda and baking powder. Add the softened butter. Mix with a fork or by hand to a coarse crumb texture. Sprinkle the crumbs over the fruit.
4. Bake until fruit is tender and topping is lightly browned, 30 to 40 minutes. Timing will depend on the type, ripeness and size of the fruit. Serve warm or cooled, with milk or cream if desired.
Note: Select apples, apricots, peaches, plums, blueberries, strawberries or other fruits - alone or in combination - to use in this dish. The fruit should be ripe, but slightly firm. Wash, peel, pit and slice the fruit as needed or desired.
Recipe adapted from The Esh Family Cookbook
Per serving (based on 6 servings): 383 calories, 2 grams protein, 76 grams carbohydrates, 61 grams sugar, 10 grams fat, 24 milligrams cholesterol, 203 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.
Wet-Bottom Shoofly Pie
Makes two 8-inch pies, 6 servings each
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup dark (unsulphured) molasses
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup boiling water
2 large eggs, beaten
2 (8-inch) pastry pie shells
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a bowl, mix the flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the light brown sugar and butter. Work the mixture with your fingers until small crumbs are formed. Set aside.
3. In another bowl, combine the molasses and dark brown sugar. Stir in the beaten eggs.
4. Mix the boiling water and baking soda; stir to dissolve and add to the molasses mixture. Stir until well blended.
5. Divide the molasses mixture evenly between the pie shells, filling each no more than two-thirds full.
6. Sprinkle the reserved crumbs evenly over the 2 pies.
7. Bake until the crusts brown and the fillings set up to become somewhat firm, about 35 minutes. Do not over bake.
8. Let pies cool completely on a rack before cutting.
Per serving: 458 calories, 5 grams protein, 71 grams carbohydrates, 37 grams sugar, 18 grams fat, 52 milligrams cholesterol, 360 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
A Taste of Amish Desserts
If you'd rather buy than bake, here are a few sources - including a Pennsylvania Deutsch (German) festival in Center City - where you can get a taste of Amish and Mennonite culture as well as sample or stock up on the lush Amish pies:
Tomorrow through Saturday - Pennsylvania Dutch Festival at Reading Terminal Market, 12th & Arch Sts., Philadelphia. 215-922-2317. Showcasing foods, crafts and traditions. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Free.
Amish Farm & House, 395 Route 30 East, Lancaster, Pa. 17602. 717-394-6185. Experience the Amish lifestyle at a working farm. Sample shoofly pie and whoopie pies at the food pavilion (Apr-Oct). Daily 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Memorial Day to Labor Day; to 5 p.m. Sep-Oct, Apr-May; to 4 p.m. Nov-Mar (closed Christmas). Adults, 12 & up, $6.75; 5 to 11, $4.
Beaver Creek Farm Market and Bakery, 1 Little Beaver Rd, Strasburg, Pa. 17579. 717-687-7946; 717-687-0938 (fax); www.beavercreekfarm.com. Whoopie pies, 9 for $6, wet-bottom shoofly pies, 9-inch, $6, plus handling and varied shipping, Mon-Fri, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant & Bakery, 2715 Old Philadelphia Pike, Box 402, Bird-in-Hand, Pa. 17505. 717-768-8273. Orders at 1-800-788-1105. Wet-bottom shoofly pie, plain or chocolate, 10-inch, $15.85 (east), $16.95 (west), includes shipping. Whoopie pies, $24.15 a dozen, UPS/Mid-Atlantic or by air, $30.85 (east) or $36.25 (west).
Dutch Haven Shoo-Fly Pie Bakery, 2857-A Lincoln Highway East (Rt.30), Ronks, Pa. 17572. 717-687-0111. Since 1946. Claims to be "the place that made shoo-fly pies famous." Wet-bottom shoofly pies, 10-inch, $17.95 includes shipping ($21.95 west of the Mississippi). In-store samples. Daily, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; to 7 p.m., Sun-Thu, Sep-May. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.