Possibly meant to be a version of the British classic Treacle Tart (Harry Potter’s favorite), this sweet molasses pie is an American tradition, especially in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. There are a couple of versions, but this recipe is the one I got when we visited the region during the Bicentennial. (That’s 1976, kids.) Supposedly it gets its name from the flies it attracts, which is pretty gross, if you think about it too long. So don’t think–just bake.
1 unbaked pie shell
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup boiling water
½ cup molasses
1 large egg, beaten slightly
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter
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To make a successful pie dough there is one simple rule to follow: keep the dough cold. From the time you begin making the dough until it hits the oven, everything about it must remain cold. Cold butter, cold lard, cold flour, cold water, cold room, cold hands.
Flakiness is achieved through the tiny pieces of fat that are suspended within the flour. Butter and lard contain water. In the heat of the oven, that water turns into steam, which creates pockets of air within the crust.
If the ingredients are not cold, or they are allowed to warm up, the tiny pieces of fat will cream together with the flour, rather than remain in separate chunks. That creates tough, hard crusts, not tender, flaky ones.
Remember that fat softens with heat. Think about the way butter feels directly out of the fridge, versus how it feels after it’s been allowed to sit out for a while. Fat gets soft and sticky as it warms. If you keep the dough cold while you are working with it, it will be easy to roll out. The warmer it gets, through room temperature or over-handling, the harder it is to roll. It sticks to the counter, the pin, your hands, and it becomes the source of much frustration. To combat the problem, work quickly. As soon as the dough shows signs of warming, throw it in the fridge.
Once the dough is in the pan and the pie is ready to bake, the fat is still there and it can still melt. Keep it very cold before baking to ensure that your decorative crimping keeps its shape. Better yet, freeze it solid and bake it directly from the freezer. If the fat is frozen, the protein in the dough will solidify before the fat has a chance to melt.
1/2 cup ice water
1 TB. cider vinegar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 TB. sugar
8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, diced and chilled