This month's baking project is the unfortunately-named Shoo-Fly Cake (based on the Shoo-Fly Pie). I say "unfortunately", because, really, who wants to think about flies while they're cooking and eating?
Despite its name, this cake is delicious. It's a dense, moist, gingerbread-type cake crowned with buttery crumbs. If I were to name it today, I would call it "Gingerbread Cake with Shortbread Topping." There, doesn't that sound better? :)
The Shoo-Fly Pie has a long history in the U.S. It's most commonly associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch, but also well-known in Southern cooking. Some sources say it came over with the earliest settlers, and that it might even be descended from the English treacle tart.
The origin of the name has been debated for years and will probably never ultimately be solved. The most logical explanation is that during the early years of our country, all baking was done in big, outdoor ovens. As these sweet, molasses-filled pies cooled beside the ovens, flies would hover, needing to be "shooed" away.
From Richardson's great-grandmother Burkholder, who was born in 1895
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small cubes
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup unsulfured blackstrap molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (I used regular salt)
1 cup warm coffee
Center an oven rack and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 X 2 inch cake pan with 1 tablespoon soft butter. I used a 10 1/2 inch iron skillet. I loved the idea of baking such an old-fashioned cake in an old-fashioned pan.
To make the crumb topping, combine the brown sugar and flour in a small bowl. Toss in the butter cubes, and, using your fingertips, pinch the butter into the dry ingredients to make crumbs. Place the bowl in the freezer while you make the cake.
To make the cake, whisk together the sugar, butter, molasses, and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Blend in the eggs one at a time.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt, then whisk the ingredients together by hand to make sure they are well mixed. Using a rubber spatula, stir the flour mixture into the batter in three additions, alternating with the coffee in two additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Pour the thin batter into the prepared pan, and sprinkle with the chilled crumb topping.
Bake in the center of the oven until the top is just firm, about 45 minutes. Be careful not to overbake or it will be dry. Cool the cake on a wire rack for about 30 minutes before serving warm from the pan.
Well wrapped and kept at room temperature, this cake keeps for 3 days.
I thought it might have been even better the second day.