December 15, 2023

A Holiday Tradition: Old-Fashioned Moravian Sugar Cake

Indulge in this comforting Moravian classic this season.

Whether fresh-baked in your oven surrounded by family or bought from a store like Dewey's Bakery, Winkler Bakery, or Wilkerson's Bakery... few dishes evoke the sugar-dusted memories of years past quite like a Moravian Sugar Cake.

A slice of Moravian sugar cake on a plate in Old Salem, Winston-SalemWhether enjoyed with breakfast alongside a hot cup of coffee or served as dessert around the fireplace with family and friends, one thing remains true about every Moravian Sugar Cake -- they're each baked with twice as much love as they are brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon.

The yeast cake, best served warm, is a favorite in most Winston-Salem households and a timeless classic amongst the Moravians who brought the recipe with them when they first arrived here in 1753. A distinct feature of the cake is its deeply pressed pockets, creating little pockets of the butter and spiced sugar mixture. It is said that Moravian men sought out their women partially based on the size of their thumbs. The bigger the thumb, the more gooey goodness to be crammed into every cranny of a freshly baked sugar cake.

Looking to try this classic recipe out for yourself this season?

Moravian Sugar Cake Recipe
From Dewey's Bakery in Winston-Salem, NC (Makes four small sugar cakes, each about 4.5” x 6”)
Dough Ingredients:
  • 1 medium potato
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup shortening
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons powdered milk
  • 2 teaspoons mashed potatoes
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1½ cups bread flour
  • ½ cup cake flour
  • 1 oz. yeast (4 ¼-oz packages active dry yeast)
  • ¾ cup water
Topping Ingredients:
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1½ cups brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Peel potato, and boil until soft. Drain, mash, and reserve.

Combine egg, shortening, salt, milk, 2 tsp. mashed potato, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer outfitted with a paddle. (If working with a hand mixer, use the whisk attachment.) Mix for 4 minutes. If you are using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook and add bread flour and cake flour. If not, continue with your hand mixer. Combine yeast and water and stir it into the other ingredients. With a dough hook, continue mixing on medium speed for 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Otherwise, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic.

Cover and let dough rise about 1½ hours, or until it has doubled in size.

Using shortening, grease a 12 x 18 sheet cake pan with 2-inch sides. Punch the dough down and roll it into a rectangle on a flat surface. Poke holes in it with a fork, and then fit it into the pan. It should touch the sides.

Let the dough rest in the pan and combine the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a pan on the stovetop. Bring it to a boil, then remove it from the heat. Use your fingers to poke small indentations into the dough, making sure not to poke all the way through to the pan. Pour the warm topping over the cake, spreading gently with a small spatula to ensure even distribution. Let the dough rise again until doubled in height, about half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 365 degrees, and bake the cake for 15-17 minutes, or until it is lightly browned. Check it for bubbles after about 10 minutes in the oven. If you see a bubble forming, burst it and continue baking. To serve, warm the cake and cut it into squares.

See the full Garden & Gun feature and recipe here.