Moravian Sugar Cake, or As I Like to Call It: Dear Lord, Get This Out of My House Before I Have to Bring Out the Stretchy Pants!

Moravian Sugar CakeSee?! I let The Beloved have some this morning before he left for work!

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.

Done! Hello, Moravian Sugar Cake!

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.

Very Soft Dough for Moravian Sugar CakesA very soft dough, indeed. Beautiful.

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.

Dough in the PanSo, 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.

Moravian Sugar Cakes bakingCare to join me in Stretchy Pants Land?  Make some yourself. And then call me when you find yourself eating it like pizza. I'll be your support group. You're welcome.

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.

If you want to forgo the baking, both Dewey's and Winkler's in Winston-Salem/Old Salem ship, although expect them both to be sold out close to the holidays.

It's fun to make your own, though, so I vote you go for it!

5.0 from 5 reviews
Moravian Sugar Cake
Recipe type: Manna from Heaven
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2-50
This recipe makes about 60 ounces of dough, enough to make 2 jelly roll pans of cake. In other words, enough for you and one of your dearest friends.
What You Need
For the Dough
  • 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
For the Topping
  • 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
What To Do
For the Dough
  1. 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.
  2. Add the potatoes, salt, sugar, butter, milk eggs and about half of the flour. Mix on low until you have a smooth batter.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Cover and let rise in a warm-ish place for about 1½-2 hours, until doubled in size.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
For the Topping
  1. Set your oven racks for the bottom third and top thirds of your oven. Preheat oven to 400F (204C).
  2. Whisk the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together very well.
  3. 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.
  4. Liberally brush 2 ounces of melted butter over each cake. The butter should pool in the little dimples.
  5. 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.
  6. Place the cakes on the racks and bake for 7 minutes.
  7. Switch the cakes on the racks and bake for 7 more minutes.
  8. Remove to racks to cool for a few minutes.
  9. 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.
  10. Serve warm.
  11. Store at room temperature. If you're not going to eat all of this the same day, wrap the cakes well and freeze them.

Moravian Treats and More

Here are some recommendations for a stand mixer--you really need one for this recipe--gorgeous Moravian stars I grew up with in North Carolina as well as some other truly delicious Moravian treats you can purchase, at least seasonally. These are affiliate links. Thank you for your support of PCO!


Sam wants Moravian Sugar CakeNo, Sam, sugar cake and potato pancakes are not for foster kitty. I don't care how
handsome you are; the answer is no.

Oh, and if you ever happen to have leftover Moravian Sugar Cake, you must try my Moravian Sugar Cake Baked French Toast. It is incredibly good!

a baked moravian sugar cake french toast-7

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.


  1. says

    Fabulous post – I am so glad that somebody else shares my logic with scoffing calorific snacks to get them out of harm’s way! I’ll bookmark this to give it a go once summer forgets it’s here.

    Oh, and Sam really wants some! So cute.

    • says

      I’m glad I’m not alone in that, either, Injera! 😆 You’ll love this–it’s perfect in cooler weather w/a cup of coffee or tea. Or just eaten like pizza. Whatever.

      And if you lived closer, you could absolutely have Sam. He’s a great boy! 🙂

  2. says

    Oh me, oh my – butter, sugar & potatoes all in one – I feel like I need to break out the stretchy pants just reading about the Moravian Sugar Cake 😀 Not only that, but you’ve snuck some potato pancakes in there as well – there’s nothing else for it, I’m going to have to pack up and move so I can be your neighbour!

    • says

      It’s a deal–would be Quite Lovely to be your neighbor! 🙂 And I totally thought of you, of course, while I was making this. I hope you give it a try and bring the joy of MSC to the masses on your Fair Isle!

  3. says

    So I have been here almost 2 years, and yet I still have not tried a Moravian cake. I guess I need to get on this, and find some:-) Your dough looked so heavenly:-) Thanks for sharing, I learned something new about the beautiful state I live in! Hugs, Terra

  4. Dorene says

    I make this every year for New Year’s Day. I feel better seeing that yours is rectangular also — I use the recipe from a friend’s cookbook (he’s a food historian) and HIS is round, so I always felt bad that I just let it rise and take up the entire cookie sheet. People just love it — it’s my “go to” recipe for when I need a treat to feed a crowd. (I live in Southeastern PA, so maybe that’s why MSC are round here)

    • says

      Hi, Dorene! All hail the rectangular MSC! 🙂 So glad you stopped in. Enjoy yours and your new year. I had great plans to take all the frozen MSC to Charlotte for the holiday and then promptly left it all in my freezer. So, it’s still here. Nooooo! Guess I have some eating to do! 8D 😆

  5. says

    After years & years of marriage, Mr. Noodle STILL can’t wrap his mind around this very same “eat it to save myself” logic that I apply to every single food gift that crosses our threshold! Men… [sigh] 8-P

    We lived in NC for several years but I MSC eluded me, though I had my fair share of the thin crispy goodness known as Moravian Sugar Cookies. Those Moravians sure know their baked goods! I’d love to give this recipe a try, but I do worry it’s a bit like inviting a vampire into my home….

    • says

      You are wise to be cautious about inviting this bread into your home, TN! If you do choose to make it, make SURE you have folks to share it with. Like right there, standing in the doorway to take it away as soon as it comes out of the oven. Otherwise, you too will be lost! 😆 8D

  6. says

    I have been craving Moravian sugar cake for years!!  I had some in Winston-Salem and there was a Moravian church in our neighborhood in Orlando that had a bake sale every year.  I have never tried making it myself because I knew I’d eat the whole damn thing.  🙂  NO way to buy any here, so I’m going to try your recipe!

  7. Legiope says

    I have some leftover cooked potatoes and am looking for a Moravian sugar cake recipe. Yours looks the best! Do you think I can halve the recipe? I ask because I do not have enough cooling rack space to accommodate two jelly roll pan sized cakes. Thanks!

  8. Michelle Johnson says

    Wonderful recipe, great photos, and I really enjoyed what you wrote to go along with it all. In fact, I shared the entire page with my mother, who is from Germany, and who absolutely loves when we all get together and go over to Old Salem (since we also live in North Carolina), to visit the shops and purchase the incredible baked goods. Now we can try making something like them in our own homes. Thank you. I have bookmarked your site, and “liked” it on Facebook, and will definitely be back. 🙂

    • says

      Hi, Michelle! I’m so happy you have found and like the site! It’s nice to meet another North Carolinian, too. 🙂 Do make sure you say howdy on the facebook page. I am proud of that community–it’s very interactive and a wonderful extension of the blog. Tell your Mom I say hi, and enjoy the Moravian Sugar Cake!

  9. Sati Marie Frost says

    Bless you, Jenni. The cake is glorious. I live in London (UK) and haven’t had any Moravian Sugar Cake since my well-traveled boyfriend brought me some from NC in my teens – so I guess about 15 years ago – and every Christmas I miss it. A couple friends sent me recipes this year, but when I went to make it – the horror! They called for shortening and powdered milk, neither of which I had in my cupboard. So I found your wonderful site and spent five (I’m slow) very fun hours making cake for pre-Thanksgiving dinner with my brother’s family.

    Who then canceled (or postponed), leaving me with an awful lot of cake to eat.

    I decided to bypass the stretchy pants and go straight for the kaftan-type beach coverup. 😀

    I’ll try the cake again for Christmas. Thank you thank you thank you for such a wonderful recipe! (And so simple even I couldn’t screw it up. *grins*)

    • says

      Fantastic! I am so thrilled you love the MSC, and I totally support your bold move straight to Kaftan Territory! Enjoy the copious amounts of yum, and Happy Thanksgiving and Christmas to you!

      Thank you so much for stopping in and for leaving a comment. Made my day!

  10. says

    I’m so glad to have this recipe! I have the really old book called Where the Star Still Shines about the beautiful Moravian Christmas Eve traditions in Salem, NC. There are still copies available online if you’re interested. Now I have a recipe!

    I saw this on FB through Cafe Sucre Farina!

    • says

      Wonderful! Chris is just lovely, isn’t she?! Enjoy the Moravian Sugar Cake–it is the best! =) I will also look up that cookbook. It sounds great! Thanks for the recommendation!

  11. Casey says

    I didn’t grow up in either area where from where this scrumptious delight hails. But rest assured, I will be using this recipe and sharing it with the history you so kindly provided. In fact, a lovely woman who works with me will have 23 people at her home for Christmas and I think she’ll need BOTH pans of this. My gift to her. Do you think I can bake them, double wrap them, freeze them and give them to her frozen to use on whichever day she pleases?

  12. Steven says

    Dewey’s Bakery in Greensboro, N.C., (your link) makes a sugar cake, but it isn’t the real thing. I know because I ate some of Dewey’s on Christmas morning, and just now had a piece of Moravian sugar cake from Winkler’s Bakery in Old Salem, where I visited yesterday, and where sugar cake was born. There’s hardly any resemblance. Dewey’s is like any ordinary sugary pastry you’d get from a supermarket. Winkler’s sugar cake is amazing. It has a depth of yeasty fermentation that is utterly missing in Dewey’s. It’s almost boozy in flavor, and it is far more tender.

    The woman in Winkler’s who sold me the sugar cake (and who was kind enough not to treat me as a traitor for having had Dewey’s version) told me the way to properly warm up a sugar cake. You do NOT warm it in the oven (she was horrified at the thought). Instead, you place a fair amount of butter in a frying pan, and heat it to melt. When it’s fairly hot, place the sugar cake, bottom down, and cook until it just begins to sizzle. Then flip the cake over and cook the top for one minute. It makes the bottom crunchy/caramely and the top becomes soft and almost gooey in contrast. Fabulous!

    • says

      I think using terms like “the real thing” when referring to anything other than Coca-Cola (lol) is kind of unfair. Dewey’s makes Dewey’s version. Winkler’s makes Winkler’s version. I don’t think there is much use in debating which is “authentic” since both are, and there are a bunch of ways to make almost anything you can think of. It’s a matter of taste and personal preference.

      That aside–this re-heating information is amazing! It never occurred to me to reheat in a butter-filled skillet! Fantastic idea, and I’m so glad that the Winkler’s lady passed it along to you and that you passed it along here. Thank you so much! And whatever kind of Moravian Sugar Cake you make, I hope you enjoy it (especially re-heated)! =)

      Thanks for stopping in and for commenting; I appreciate, Steven!

  13. says

    First, and I mean this as a compliment, I was so happy to see that yours looks pretty much like mine did lol. Because I think your stuff always looks awesome, but having never heard of Moravian Sugar Coffee Cake when I made it I really had no way to judge if it came out right! I am also curious (from a purely academic standpoint) if you came across recipes using lard in the dough or cream on top? I got my recipe from a cookbook from the 1980’s (Gourmet) and of course even on Gourmet’s website the recipe now looks different. But since you actually ate it growing up I figured maybe you might know? Here is the link to when I made it–feel free to delete if you want I swear I don’t usually leave links but I am curious in this instance and it sounds like you researched it a bit.

    • says

      Huh. That doesn’t seem traditional from what I’ve read–all the recipes I’ve seen just call for butter and sugar on the top and that’s pretty much it. I’m leaving your link because it’s relevant. =) If I had to guess, different families maybe made it different ways, and if one family had an excess of cream from a really good milker, maybe they used cream on top as well, and that’s the family the Gourmet people talked to when they were (presumably) doing their own research. I’ve never seen cream on top, though.

      I did learn something from another commenter, though. To heat it up, you melt a ton of butter in a skillet and heat it in the pan. Seems like a good idea to me, Laura!

      Thanks for sharing this new-to-me variation. And no, it’s not very photogenic, is it? But that’s okay–more for us! =)

  14. Tajar says

    We’re from Winston Salem and wouldn’t think of making MSC without mashed potatoes plus the potato water…some member of the divine cooking staff would swoop down from heaven and smack us. I notice that Winkler’s, the bakery in Old Salem, uses instant mashed potatoes…can’t imagine that either.

    I totally agree with you about the manna from heaven part …and the stretchy pants…so I try to bake it and get it to church to share ASAP. I don’t see the finger holes in yours…you should try them. If you have children or grandchildren, let them poke the holes, they can put in the little pieces of butter, cinnamon and brown sugar before it all goes in the oven. It is a heavenly Easter treat.

    With Moravian Sugar Cake and Hot Cross Buns to bake at Easter, it’s always a strict diet of rabbit food after Easter.

    • says

      I’m jealous that you’re from the home of MSC and Krispy Kreme! I did dimple the dough much like making focaccia, but I didn’t poke holes all the way through. Is that what you usually do? Because I am a fan of poking holes in things!

      I’m almost sorry you told me that you guys have MSC at Easter, too. I was hoping to not have to whip out my stretchy pants until December, Tajar! lol

      So glad you dropped by–now get that stuff out of your house and to the church, stat!

  15. Kate says

    My kids came down from New Jersey to visit this Easter and we took them to Old Salem. Needless to say we stopped at the bakery and stocked up on multiple goodies, two of which were MSCs. This was at the request of my Husband who tagged one whole cake for himself. The other cake was for sharing with the family but having caught the MSC fever, I hid it. Now it will be our Saturday morning treat for me and the hubby but this time I get some too. I will try the reheating method in the pan with butter and am also going to try your recipe. I can always take it to work as long as I don’t eat it in the car!

    • says

      Kate, I laughed out loud when I read that you hid the second one! We’d get along famously, as long as there was enough MSC to go around! Next time I make this, I am totally trying the butter in the pan trick too! This recipe is pretty darned good, if I do say so myself. Enjoy!

  16. Sherry says

    Omgoodness, I want some so bad. I dont want to wait to bake it (too lazy too) I might have to drive to Dewey’s. Glad I live in W-S. To go along with your calorie philosophies and pizza technique, I’ve added something. Do you think perhaps you get a “fat/calorie discount” if your ancestors were Moravians? (Thats what I”M believing ; )

  17. Kathy Maroney says

    I ate a whole MSC from Winston -Salem today… Nobody else had any. 1/4 at breakfast, 1/4 at lunch, 1/4 snack, and 1/4 dinner. Yikes!!! Your story makes me feel better! I probably shouldn’t try your recipe…

  18. says

    I grew up eating MSC in Lancaster County, PA. I have a handwritten recipe from the lady who made them in her house (and pies and other goodies) to sell. Lititz was another Moravian community in PA, and has a lovely walking tour of so many of the original buildings from 1700s, Check us out, and come visit the Candy Museum and the first Pretzel Bakery in America, as well. OK, I’ll stop, but the Moravians and other PA Dutch were great cooks, like my mom and grandma who passed it on to me! Just started the PA Dutch Cooking FB page where I have the original MSC recipe and the updated version, too.

  19. labradors says

    Two questions:
    1) Pre-cooking weight of potatoes? (Can’t measure 1C mashed until after they’re cooked.)
    2) Dimensions of the jelly-roll pans you use? (I have quarter- and half-sheet pans that I got from a restaurant-supply store since they tend to work better for me than the flimsy things sold in department stores, etc.)

    Can’t wait to try this. I know about MSC from the Lancaster, PA area and haven’t had it in about 30 years!

    Thank you!

    • says

      Great questions. I didn’t weigh them because I knew I’d be making more than I needed and using the leftovers for something else. I think you’d be safe boiling 2 medium potatoes to get a cup of mashed, although you might have a bit leftover too. Hello, potato pancakes! I use half-sheets as well. I call them jelly roll pans because more home bakers own them, so you’ll he fine with your half-sheets. Enjoy!

      • labradors says

        Thank you so much for your quick reply – especially on a new comment to a five-year-old post. I definitely must try this – probably tomorrow. You (or anyone who has ever had MSC) can certainly understand, I’m sure. 🙂

          • labradors says

            Results: Delicious!

            A one-pound potato was way more than enough and once that was boiled and mashed, one cup of it was 210 grams (7.4 ounces). (For consistent results and ease of measurement, I weigh all ingredients in grams.)

            No problems using the half-sheet pans.

            Thanks again!

  20. says

    I’m so glad you’ve posted this recipe. I grew up in the Winston-Salem area, living part of my childhood in Winston-Salem and part of it in Thomasville. I remember taking field trips to Old Salem with my schools every year. I LOVE Old Salem. They taught us how to make corn cakes one year. Since I was a member of a Moravian church, sugar cakes and cookies were always around.

    I live in Oklahoma now and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss those cakes and cookies, the smell of Winkler’s Bakery, and the feel of the environment within Old Salem. I even miss the eerie feeling that you get when walking through God’s Acre. Now that I have this recipe, I can make it here at home and share it with my husband and children. Thank you so, so much.

    Now, if only I could replicate Lexington barbecue..

    • says

      Wow, Oklahoma is a long way from NC! I hope when you make this is brings back all of your good memories of Christmas in Old Salem! Enjoy, enjoy, Quinn, and have a wonderful holiday! Wish I could help you out with the bbq! 🙂


Speak Your Mind

Rate this recipe: