If you follow me on twitter or over on my facebook page, you may have noticed that I’ve been going On a bit about Moravian Sugar Cake. And, unless you are from central North Carolina (or maybe from the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania area), you have probably never heard of it.
I grew up in Charlotte, which is about an hour and a half or so from Winston-Salem. And because of that Proximity, I took it for granted that everyone ate Krispy-Kreme Donuts and had Moravian Sugar Cake for Christmas. See, many tasty things come from Winston.
The Moravians (or more correctly, the members of the Moravian Church) originally settled in central North Carolina from what is now The Czech Republic and Slovakia by way of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the mid-ish 1700s. Old Salem has been restored and is maintained as a living history museum and National Historic Site. According to our friends at Wikipedia, about 70% of the buildings are original. Which means they’re Old, at least by US standards.
But enough about the history. As far as Young Me (and Now Me, for that matter) was concerned, the whole Raison d’Etre of the Moravians in Old-Salem was to make Moravian Sugar Cake so I could Eat It. So, what is it, exactly? It kind of looks like focaccia, with a dimpled surface. It’s a fairly thin yeast-raised sweet dough that is then positively buried under a pile of butter, sugar and a bit of cinnamon.
Many recipes that I researched contain potato, although the bakery that made the version I grew up eating does not use potato in their dough. Honestly, I think that is an anomaly (although it is tasty). Folks from Central and Eastern Europe like their potatoes, and they would certainly have used potatoes–or at least the water from cooking potatoes–in some of their breads.
Up until last Sunday, I had not had Moravian Sugar Cake in probably 20 years. But then, while drinking the Sleep Number Kool-Aid at the mall, we spied the Seasonal Moravian Bakery Stand. I made the Pleading Eyes at The Beloved, and he graciously allowed (ha!) me to purchase a 9″x9″ square of buttery-sugary goodness. I warned him that he probably wouldn’t be allowed to have much for himself, but I don’t think he believed me. Until I served both of us small pieces after dinner Sunday evening. Then, after work on Monday he came home to…No More Moravian Sugar Cake. Why? Because I had eaten the rest of it as I would have if it had been a Pizza. No fork–just folded it over and shoved it in my face. It wasn’t pretty, and I’m not proud of the fact. But there it is. He appeared slightly startled.
My justification for eating it was to get it out of the house. The reasoning goes like this. “This stuff is The Devil. If this stays in the house, I will eat it all and get Very Large. I shall need the Stretchy Pants. Maybe even the Flappy Pants. I guess I’d better eat it so there won’t be any left in the house and I’ll be safe.” Aristotle is still rolling over in his grave at my (let’s call it) logic, but I Cannot fault myself.
So, then what do I do? I get all Selfless and decide that I Must make Moravian Sugar Cake to “give to the neighbors.” Not to sit alone in bed like Bridget and eat more MSC like pizza. Of course not. It’s not like I’m addicted or anything.
To make a long story slightly less long, I ended up making 4 jelly roll pans of Moravian Sugar Cake. Of which I have eaten 1/2 of one. Yes, that’s roughly 108 square inches of buttery-sugary goodness that I no longer have to worry about. Because it is In Me.
I checked out several recipes for Moravian Sugar Cake. The recipe I finally settled on is most similar to this recipe although I did make several changes.
- ½ cup warm water (you can use the water from cooking the potatoes, if you want)
- 1 Tablespoon dried yeast
- 1 cup unseasoned mashed potatoes (just potatoes--no milk or butter or anything)
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- ½ cup sugar
- 5½ ounces melted butter
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 whole eggs
- 30-35 ounces all purpose flour, enough to make a soft, sticky dough
- 4 ounces melted butter
- ¾-1 cup EACH white and light brown sugars (depending on how sugary you like things)
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- several gratings of fresh nutmeg
- heavy pinch of fine salt
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, pour in the warm water and yeast. Stir for a minute or so to dissolve the yeast.
- Add the potatoes, salt, sugar, butter, milk eggs and about half of the flour. Mix on low until you have a smooth batter.
- Change to the dough hook, and add most of the remaining flour. Mix on low speed until combined, and then knead on medium speed for 5 minutes. Test the dough by pulling some up with your fingers. It should be very sticky and stretchy and almost-but-not-quite flow-y. If the dough doesn't have enough body, knead in the rest of the flour. Keep in mind that wetter is better than drier when it comes to yeast dough.
- Once you are happy with your dough, remove the bowl from the mixer and smooth the top of the dough with a pan-sprayed hand or spatula.
- Cover and let rise in a warm-ish place for about 1½-2 hours, until doubled in size.
- Spray 2 jelly roll pans with pan spray (I made one batch with parchment-lined trays and one without. The parchment isn't necessary for this, so you can skip it if you want.
- Divide the dough in half (I weigh mine) and plop half on each of the prepared sheets. Spray your hands and the top of the dough with pan spray to keep it from sticking, and start stretching/patting/pulling the dough to fit each pan. Alternate between pans to give the dough a chance to relax and make it easier to stretch.
- Once the dough is shaped, spray it again with a little pan spray and cover with a lint-free towel or plastic wrap and let rise until puffy, about an hour.
- Set your oven racks for the bottom third and top thirds of your oven. Preheat oven to 400F (204C).
- Whisk the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together very well.
- Once the dough is puffy, dimple the dough all over with your fingers. You don't have to be gentle--it's okay if you break holes all the way through the dough, even. Just dimple it all over very, very well.
- Liberally brush 2 ounces of melted butter over each cake. The butter should pool in the little dimples.
- Sprinkle half the sugar mixture evenly over each cake. Be generous--you pretty much don't want to see any dough showing through the sugar.
- Place the cakes on the racks and bake for 7 minutes.
- Switch the cakes on the racks and bake for 7 more minutes.
- Remove to racks to cool for a few minutes.
- With a large spatula and maybe some help, slide the cakes out onto cooling racks so the bottoms don't get soggy. Slice however you think appropriate.
- Serve warm.
- Store at room temperature. If you're not going to eat all of this the same day, wrap the cakes well and freeze them.
And what to do with any leftover mashed potatoes you might have. Here’s an idea.
No, Sam, sugar cake and potato pancakes are not for foster kitty. I don’t care how
handsome you are; the answer is no.
And that does it. I do hope you make the sugar cake so I won’t be Alone in Shame. And as this is my last post before Christmas, I again wish all of you the Very Best Holiday Celebration Ever.
Enjoy, and have a lovely day.