January 16, 2017

Christ the King Moravian Sugar Cake

From Murphy to Manteo, our state is a ribbon-wrapped highway where almost all roads lead to a tasteful discovery. Sharing the stories behind both well-known and hidden treasures, our NCFood blog invites you along with us on a tasting journey. With the holiday season well upon us, we thought our sweetest gift to you would be to head west on I-40 and check in with just one of many destinations rich in mouthwatering tradition.

First up is one of Durham’s best-selling authors, Frances Dowell and her take on Moravian Sugar Cake. Frances also includes a recipe for this cinnamon-y, buttery cake, but you can also order it online. Look for all that information below and stay tuned for Part Two when GreenEats blogger Matthew Lardie takes a big bite out of paper-thin Moravian Cookies!

Enjoy and may your holidays be filled with all things sweet!
Deborah & Joy

Moravian Sugar Cake
by Frances Dowell

When my children were younger, our family attended a Moravian church. It was a kid-friendly, everyone-in-jeans kind of congregation that bore the Moravian motto with pride: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things love.” Like us, most of the parishioners were not natural-born Moravians, but those who were liked to point out that the Moravians were the first Protestants, their Central European ancestors having broken from the Catholic Church a hundred years before Luther.

12172012-1The Moravians landed in America in the 1700s, first in New York and then Pennsylvania, where they built a settlement and called it Bethlehem. In 1753 a small band wandered down to North Carolina, looking for souls to save. The initial group numbered fifteen, and story has it that their first abode was an abandoned cabin near present-day Winston-Salem. Soon after moving in, they prepared a Love Feast, a traditional meal of cake and coffee. Love Feasts are still held today, and while the menu may vary, if you’re lucky it might include a sticky slice of Sugar Cake.

I’d never eaten Moravian Sugar Cake, much less made one, before we started attending Christ the King, but the cakes were a main attraction of the church bazaar held every year the second Saturday of October. While the cake was traditionally an Easter treat, for many modern day Moravians it has become simply the cake of special occasions, especially Christmas, the time of year one most associates with sticky, sugary goodness.

A photocopied recipe was handed out in early September, and since I’d heard nothing but good—nay, ecstatic—reports about the melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness of Moravian Sugar Cake, I signed on to make sixteen (the recipe yields four cakes). Several surprises were in store for me, including the fact that the cake was a yeast cake, that mashed potatoes were among its ingredients, and that each cake contained enough sugar to plow under an army of diabetics.

Essentially, a Moravian Sugar Cake is a coffeecake with its outsides on the inside. After you make the dough and put it through two risings, the real fun begins as you poke holes all over the cake top and fill them in with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Lots of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon.

The cake, once baked, isn’t necessarily a pretty thing, but it smells divine, filling your kitchen with a lovely waft of cinnamon. The taste? When it comes this particular recipe, it depends on how rich you like your sugary treats. With an ingredient list that includes butter and half and half and a quarter pound of brown sugar per cake, we’re talking pretty rich. Searching the Internet, I found other recipes for Moravian Sugar Cake that definitely toned things down. But for a full-on sugar rush, it’s hard to beat Christ the King’s sugar cake, which freezes nicely and makes a great gift for friends and neighbors.

Christ the King Moravian Sugar Cake
from Christ the King Church in Durham, NC
(makes 4 cakes)

1 cup potato, boiled and mashed (save water)
2 packages yeast dissolved in 1 cup warm water with 1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
2 tsp salt
½ cup warm potato water
½ cup half and half
2 beaten eggs
6 cups flour

Ground cinnamon
1 lb. light brown sugar
1 stick butter, melted

Boil one medium-sized potato, drain, reserving the hot liquid, and mash. Set aside. Cream butter and sugar. Add potatoes and salt. Add the hot potato water, mixed with half and half, and beat. Add eggs. Add the yeast mixture. Add flour two cups at a time until the dough is the consistency of muffin batter.

Cover with damp warm cloth and let rise in bowl one hour or until doubled in size.

Scoop dough into four cake pans and let rise, covered with a damp cloth, for about an hour.

Poke the dough of each cake with index finger until the dough is completely perforated. Top each cake with a dash of cinnamon and about a quarter of the brown sugar. Then melt one stick of butter and pour it over the four cakes.

Bake in preheated 350 degree over for five minutes, then pour a little half and half over each cake and return to oven for thirty minutes.

The Shops at Old Salem <- click here to order!
Winston-Salem, NC 27101


  1. I am in the middle of Christ-the-King-Moravian-sugar cake recipe and the directions says:
    Top each cake with a dash of cinnamon and about a quarter of the brown sugar. Then melt one stick butter and pour over the four cakes. Bake 350 for 5 minutes, then pour a little half and half over each cake and return to oven for 30 minutes. When do you put the rest of the brown sugar over the cake?????

    • Frances Dowell says:

      Hi, Sandra–

      Sorry we didn’t catch your comment earlier–and sorry my directions weren’t clearer. I should have said to put a quarter pound of brown sugar on each cake, which would of course use up the entire pound listed in the ingredients. Hope you figured that out or were otherwise able to make do!


  2. susan james says:

    What size cake pans do I use?

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