Moravian Sugar Cake


Moravian sugar cake is a centuries-old culinary specialty of the Winston-Salem, North Carolina, region. Folklore holds that the original Moravian male settlers to the area sought women with big fingers because that meant that more buttery sweetness would make it into the nooks and crannies of the cake. This fluffy bread-like dessert is popular year-round, but it’s an essential item on the family table during the holidays.

Moravian Sugar Cake
Makes 1 (9-inch) cake
  • 1 small potato, peeled and chopped
  • 2 (0.25-ounce) packages active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup warm water (105° to 110°)
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup whole buttermilk
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 13 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and divided
  • ½ teaspoon plus ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 2¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. In a small saucepan, bring potato and water to cover by 1 inch to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat, and simmer until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well, and mash until smooth. Measure 1 tablespoon mashed potato; reserve remaining potato for another use.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together yeast and ¼ cup warm water. Let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 1 tablespoon mashed potato, yeast mixture, egg, buttermilk, granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons softened butter, and ½ teaspoon salt. Beat at low speed until combined, about 2 minutes.
  4. Switch to the dough hook attachment. Gradually add 2¼ cups flour, beating at medium-low speed until a smooth and elastic dough forms, 5 to 7 minutes. Beat in remaining 1 tablespoon flour if dough sticks to sides of bowl.
  5. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Place dough in bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place (75°) until doubled in size, 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  6. Grease a 9-inch square cast-iron skillet with 1 tablespoon softened butter.
  7. Place dough in prepared skillet. Punch down dough; gently stretch dough into a 10-inch square so it comes 1 inch up sides of skillet. Using your fingertips, make indentations all over dough, taking care not to poke all the way through dough.
  8. In a small saucepan, bring brown sugar, cinnamon, and remaining 10 tablespoons butter to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Slowly pour hot sugar mixture all over dough, gently spreading with a small spatula as needed to fully cover dough. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place (75°) until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
  9. Preheat oven to 375°.
  10. Bake until puffed and lightly browned, 15 to 17 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.