Savor the season with this simple, spiced-up comfort food from Old Salem’s Winkler Bakery— a recipe that’s centuries in the making.
If fall in Winston-Salem had a flavor, it’d probably taste something like the Moravian-style pumpkin muffins from Winkler Bakery — tender, flavorful, and perfectly sweet, with just a hint of spice. Like many favorite items at Winkler, the muffins are available throughout the year but become increasingly popular during the fall and holiday seasons. (If you need proof, check out the long line of bakery-goers spilling out of Winkler this time of year.)
“We’ve seen the line stretch several hundred feet, all the way to Salem Square,” says Jeffrey Sherrill, one of three bakers at Winkler. “People have waited up to three hours just to come during the holiday season — and many of them are coming for the pumpkin muffins.”
The recipe was concocted by none other than Christian Winkler, who started baking them shortly after taking over bakery operations in 1807. While the muffins have been around for centuries, their popularity skyrocketed towards the end of the 20th century when the now-closed Salem Tavern (aka, The Tavern at Old Salem) began offering them as appetizers.
Had they been invented in the Starbucks era, the muffins might be called “Pumpkin Spice Muffins” since that’s the dominant flavor. But Winkler dubbed them simply “pumpkin muffins,” so that’s what we’re sticking with. Try them slightly warmed with a slab of butter or a schmear of cream cheese; you’d be hard-pressed to find more comforting comfort food this time of year. (OK, any time of year!)
MORAVIAN-STYLE PUMPKIN MUFFINS
prep time: 20 MINUTES | cook time: 20 MINUTES | total: 40 MINUTES | Makes: 12 MUFFINS
The recipe makes around a dozen standard-size muffins or two dozen mini-sized — both of which freeze wonderfully, especially if you reheat them gently after thawing them out.
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/3 cup raisins
• 1/3 cup soft butter
• 3/4 cup brown sugar
• 1/4 cup molasses or maple syrup
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 cup pumpkin puree
• 1/2 cup milk
• Bake these in well-greased muffin pans, mini-muffin pans, or paper liners.
• Prepare muffin pans, greasing them well or adding paper muffin cups to each muffin location.
• Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
• Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and spices in a medium bowl. Use a fork or a whisk to stir them and combine everything together evenly and well. Add the raisins and toss to coat them well. Set aside.
• In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar, and molasses. Using an electric mixer or a whisk, beat them together to make a smooth, creamy, gooey mixture.
• Add the eggs and pumpkin and continue beating and mixing until you have a thick, smooth, and creamy mixture.
• Add the flour and spice mixture, and use a wooden spoon or a spatula to mix the flour into the pumpkin mixture. Stir and scoop gently, mixing just until the flour disappears. (Mixing flour in gently encourages tenderness in muffins).
• Bake at 375 degrees F for 16 to 18 minutes, until the muffins rise and pull away from the edges just a little. (Mini muffins bake faster, so check from 12 minutes onward.)
The muffins might seem small at first glance, similar in size to a standard dinner roll. But remember, this recipe was created long before the advent of the massive coffee-shop muffin, which has skewed our modern perception of portion size.
Remember, the times listed above are a guide — not a mandate or a guarantee — so be sure to check often to see how your muffins are doing. Also know that the mini-muffins cook faster than the standard-size muffins, so we suggest checking them starting around 12 minutes.
As far as adaptations, you could use mashed/pureed sweet potatoes or butternut squash and play with the spices, adding nutmeg, allspice, or even pepper. (The spices don’t really matter in terms of one versus the other. If you love cinnamon, add it in. If you aren’t a fan of nutmeg, leave it out. Brown sugar can be dark or light.)
If you want to spice things up, consider adding a bit of candied ginger to the recipe, finely chopped.
You can quickly adapt these muffins to be dairy free by substituting a vegan butter spread and sorghum syrup.
Visiting Old Salem
Winkler Bakery is just one of the 100-plus historic buildings that have been painstakingly preserved at Old Salem Museums & Gardens, one of America’s most authentic historic sites. Spread across 100 acres, Old Salem stands as a living tribute to the humble, hardworking Moravians who established the village of Salem in the mid-1700s.
Since there’s no charge to wander through Old Salem, many visitors are content to simply stroll along its cobblestoned streets — perhaps stopping by Winkler Bakery and other onsite shops. But to really get a sense of the place, go for the All-in-One ticket ($20; $12 students), which grants you access to nearly a dozen interpreted buildings along with Old Salem’s award-winning gardens. Ticket holders also gain entry to the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA), home to a stunning maze of “period rooms” filled with furniture, art, and other souvenirs of the early South.
This fall is the perfect time to visit, as Old Salem has revived its Salem Saturdays tradition and reopened several buildings previously closed off during the pandemic. For more on tickets, experiences, and hours of operation, go to oldsalem.org.