On the Road to Winston-Salem, NC and a Recipe for Moravian Sugar Cake

Moravian Cook Winston Salem-2

We recently traveled to Winston-Salem in search of what they had to offer in the way of a unique food culture.  Located in north central North Carolina, Winston, as it is casually called, is home to traditional Southern ingredients and cooking techniques.  Similar to many other cities in the South, their cuisine is influenced by the foods of Africa, the Mediterranean, and Western Europe.  However, Winston-Salem is also influenced by Eastern Europe cuisine and the German-Protestant heritage of the Moravians.

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Traditional Moravian dress

This group of settlers, who originated from ancient Bohemia and Moravia (in what is the present-day Czech Republic), migrated to Germany and then to Pennsylvania.  Bringing their church and people to a 10,000 acre tract of land in this part of North Carolina in 1753 (known as the Wachovia Tract), they created the town of Salem.

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Walking through the streets in Old Salem

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Miksch House

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Traditional wood burning oven

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Sightseeing at Old Salem

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Dr. Samuel Benjamin Vierling at The Vierling House

The historic town of Salem is much like a small version of Williamsburg (in Virginia); its streets lined with the original colonial homes and interpreters dressed in period costumes.  Many of the homes are open for tours where you can learn about life in Salem in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  You can also tour the heirloom gardens, see a hearth cooking demonstration at Miksch House, and dine in the old tavern.  The menu at The Tavern includes a number of traditional Moravian dishes, such as Moravian Chicken Pie, which is a different version of what we know as traditional Chicken Pot Pie.  This pie is filled with meat only, no vegetables, and is served with the sauce or gravy on top.

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Tavern in Old Salem

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Moravian Chicken Pie

Interested in what other traditional foods the Moravians were known for, we headed down the street to the Winkler Bakery.  Things have not changed much at this bakery since it first opened its doors in 1800.  For over 200 years, the dome bake oven (which is fueled with wood) still produces some of the original baked goods, much as it has always done on Main Street in Salem.  One of these baked goods is their popular Moravian Sugar Cake, which is a yeast bread topped with a gooey, buttery cinnamon-sugar mixture that makes it perfect as a coffee cake or afternoon snack.  You can also purchase other Moravian specialties at the bakery, such as Moravian Sugar Cookies: thin and crisp wafer-like cookies that are similar in flavor to gingerbread.

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Winkler Bakery

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Henry Winkler

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Baking, cooking, and preserving were full-time activities for the Moravians

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Sampling Moravian Sugar Cake and freshly baked bread

One of the major projects at Old Salem is the work that is being done with the heirloom gardens department and their African and African American Seed Saving program.  During our visit, we met with Eric Jackson, who is in charge of the gardens and seed saving program.  This collection of seeds, known as the Homowo Harvest Collection, is from various heirloom vegetables, herbs, and flowers that were growing in America by 1900.  These seeds are available for purchase in Old Salem to grow at home in your own garden or farm.  Their vision is to bring these varieties back, that unfortunately, most of us have never heard of or have had access to in the past.

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Eric Jackson, Heritage Gardens & Outreach

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Single Brothers’ Garden

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Tending the gardens and curating the seed program is a full-time effort

For many of us, Winston-Salem is probably best known for its tobacco connections of the past.  Home to R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and manufacturing operations of Brown and Williamson Tobacco and others, Winston-Salem’s wealth grew along with the tobacco fields.  The city was later home to textiles and financial institutions.  However, each of these industries has undergone dramatic change and so has the city of Winston-Salem.

Today, Winston-Salem is known for its arts and innovation.  Art museums have replaced the mansions built with tobacco wealth. Tobacco farms are rapidly being replaced with organic farms and vineyards, and that original tract of land inhabited by the Moravians has been preserved as a living museum, called Old Salem Museum and Gardens.

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Visiting the gardens

We stayed at Graylyn International Conference Center at Wake Forest University during our time in Winston-Salem.  Once the home of Bowman Gray, a tobacco salesman who was the son of the founder of Wachovia Bank and Trust, Bowman ultimately became the Chairman of Wachovia.

The Butler and history guide at Graylyn

The Butler and history guide at Graylyn


Graylyn International Conference Center


One of the elegant rooms on the first floor of the manor house

This beautiful mansion is filled with incredible history and art and is used primarily for events hosted through Wake Forest University, however guests can stay on the property and dine in their two venues, the Manor House and the Grille Room.  Executive Chef of the property, Gregory Rollins, prepared a delightful special menu for us in one of the private dining rooms during our stay.  We were really impressed with his flavors and technique and we had a lovely evening with the dishes and wine pairings that were chosen for our small group.


Chef Gregory Rollins


Four of the courses from dinner at Graylyn

Another property we toured during our time in Winston-Salem was Reynolda House, the former country estate of Katherine and R.J. Reynolds, founder of the tobacco company.  This home has been converted to a museum of American Art along with its preservation of the historical gardens.  At one time, this property boasted a farm and barn and was basically self-sufficient.  Today, the converted home and museum houses one of the finest collections of art in the Southeast.


* Reynolda House


* The interior of the home and museum


Touring the gardens at Reynolda


Looking at the original garden plans with Greenhouse Manager David Bare

After a whirlwind tour of Winston-Salem and some of the surrounding area, we spent our last night enjoying dinner at Spring House Restaurant Kitchen and Bar with representatives of the city’s tourism board.  Chef Tim Grandinetti and his partner Lynette Matthews-Murphy operate one of the best restaurants in the city in this beautiful house located in downtown Winston.  Chef Grandinetti appeared on Chopped two years ago and hosts a number of special events and cooking classes at Spring House.  He prepared several of his specialty dishes for us to try during our dinner.

Spring House

Spring House Restaurant (Photo courtesy of Spring House)

Cocktails and housemade Charcuterie

Cocktails and housemade Charcuterie

We shared several of the desserts

We tried several of the desserts which were all excellent

Before leaving town, we visited the Cobblestone Farmers’ Market in Old Salem.  And of course, you can’t forget the growing North Carolina wine region, so we toured and tasted their wines at two wineries in the Winston-Salem area.  Mr. B will be writing an article about his thoughts on the wines of this region in the coming days.


Saturday morning at Cobblestone Farmers’ Market in Old Salem

We so enjoyed the small taste of Moravian Sugar Cake that we had at Winkler’s Bakery that I wanted to recreate this delightful sugary and yeasty coffee cake at home.  The recipe I used was very good and quite simple to make, however, I would use less brown sugar next time and add more butter to the topping.  We prefer our cakes a bit less sweet and I think a little more butter would create that gooey caramel texture that was more evident in the cake at Winkler’s Bakery.  I did not find theirs to be quite as sweet either.  If you are looking for a new twist from your same old coffee cake recipe, this is a perfect recipe to make ahead and serve to family and friends this Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Winston-Salem has an interesting mix of history, art, and culture.  Take a walk back in time and visit the village of Old Salem, Graylyn, and Reynolda House.

For more information on Winston-Salem, please refer to their website, Visit Winston-Salem.

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Moravian Sugar Cake

Moravian Sugar Cake

Moravian Sugar Cake

Yield: Serves 12

Prep Time: 1 1/2 hours

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes


3/4 cup milk, heated to 110 degrees
1 1/2 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup instant potato flakes (not granules)
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened; plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (I would use a bit more for the topping), cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1 large egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar (I would use less than this)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon


1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Keep the oven at this temperature for 10 minutes, then turn off oven. Grease a medium bowl and 13 by 9-inch Pyrex baking pan with oil or butter.

2. Stir milk and yeast together until yeast is dissolved. In the bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine the granulated sugar, potato flakes, salt, softened butter, egg, flour, and yeast mixture at medium speed until smooth and shiny, about 2 minutes. Transfer dough to the prepared bowl, cover with plastic, and place in warm oven. Let rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes (mine took about 45 minutes).

3. Press the dough into the prepared pan. Cover pan with plastic and place in warm oven. Let rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes (mine took about 45 minutes). Meanwhile, combine the chilled butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, with your hands, until it resembles coarse meal.

4. Remove pan from oven and heat oven to 375 degrees. Make shallow indentations in the dough at about 1-inch intervals and sprinkle with the brown sugar mixture. Once oven is fully heated, bake until topping is bubbling and deep brown, 18 to 22 minutes. Let cool 30 minutes and then serve. * The cooled cake can be wrapped with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days, but it's best used within a day.

5. To Make Ahead: After pressing dough into baking pan and covering, dough can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. When ready to bake, let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before proceeding with step 4.

How to Shape the Sugar Cake:
Creating the craters of crusted sugar characteristic of Moravian Sugar Cake require a bit of technique. Here's how to recreate that appearance and texture:
1. Press the dough into an even layer in a greased 13 by 9-inch baking pan and let is rise (as noted above).

2. Using your fingers, work the chilled butter into the brown sugar and cinnamon until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

3. Using floured fingertips, make shallow indentations over the entire surface of the risen dough, at about 1-inch intervals.

4. Evenly sprinkle the brown sugar mixture over the indented dough.

Reprinted from Cook's Country
December/January 2008

Disclosure – We were invited by the tourism board of Winston-Salem to visit their city.  I was not asked to write any articles about my stay and have in no way been compensated.  The opinions expressed regarding our experience are my own.

* The photos marked with an asterisk are the property of Reynolda House and have been used with their permission.




3 Responses to “On the Road to Winston-Salem, NC and a Recipe for Moravian Sugar Cake”

  1. 1

    Jamie — November 27, 2013 @ 6:35 am

    There are so many fabulous places I have never (yet) visited in the US and you seem to discover so many super cool ones… beautiful places with amazing food and drink. And I love seeing all the artisans that are producing great products. I never knew about the Moravians immigrating and settling in the South, that is so cool (as is this living museum!). That Moravian Chicken Pie looks stupendous and I would love the recipe for that but meanwhile I’ll be making this wonderful sugar cake. Scrumptious! I love yeasted cakes like this. Another great post, Gwen!

  2. 2

    Karla Mull — November 27, 2013 @ 8:17 am

    I also help prepare the Moravian Sugar Cake @ Winkler Bakery in Old Salem. I am one of three bakers there. I am proud of the Sugar Cake that I make and I always try to do my best for our Customers. And this time of year it will get busier and busier for the Holidays. Come by to see us and to purchase one of our Sugar Cakes that was baked in the wood fired oven!

  3. 3

    Dina — November 27, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

    i love it there as well. looks like you had a great time. the sugar cake looks great!

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