Moravian Sugar Cake

Moravian Sugar Cake4

Realizing only now that this will be my last post before Thanksgiving. Holy smokes! Then it’s Christmastime! Which, in this house, means fancy at-home steak dinners with wine (our coziest tradition ever before the holidays), lots of Hallmark movies (don’t look at me, Alex is the one who really loves them), and oodles of homemade Chex Mix. Last year, between the two of us, we polished off two large batches in, like, two days. Can we beat that record this year? I believe in us.

In November of 1789, North Carolina became a state, but more than 30 years earlier, a religious group called the Moravians settled in the area that is now Forsyth County. The Moravians were one of the earliest Protestant sects, and some claim it is the earliest Protestant group, formed in the 1400s, in what is today the Czech Republic. They were held to be radical at the time because of beliefs we would consider today to be basic tenets of the Protestant church, such as allowing priests to marry and the disbelief in Purgatory. While the group flourished in the early years, they were forced to flee their country when the devoutly Catholic Hapsburg King Ferdinand II came to power. They first settled in what is the present-day Saxony region of Germany.

Eventually arriving in the new world, the group first attempted to settle in Savannah, Georgia, in 1735, but within five years, the group had broken apart, in part because they were looking for another location for a permanent settlement. One of the group’s main tenets was to proselytize and, after being invited by several Algonquin chiefs in the New York region, the group set up a mission there. However, by 1744, the group was expelled by the local powers. (Side literary/movie note: Chief Chingachgook, a fictional character in James Cooper Fennimore’s Last of the Mohicans, is a Moravian convert during this time, who ends up rejecting the faith at the end of his life.)

The first permanent settlement for the Moravians came on Christmas Eve of 1741, when the mission of Bethlehem was settled in Pennsylvania. A little more than a decade later, a group was sent south, to present-day North Carolina to establish a settlement there, which they did in what is modern-day Winston-Salem, in 1752.

Bethlehem, PA, in the north and Salem, NC, in the south were considered “homes” for the church. The northern and southern “homes” did frequently visit one another, though, and one thing they shared was old-fashioned sugar cake. Moravian sugar cake was similar to German kuchens, or cakes, that were made with a yeasted dough and topped with streusel. It is also a slightly simpler version of what we know as “coffee cake” in the United States today. The real difference to Moravian sugar cake is mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes are thought to have been used in the dough to help the yeast’s growth. This common-man’s ingredient is balanced against a cinnamon-sugar topping, so it’s sweet but not too sweet. The topping, applied after bakers made deep pockets in the dough with their thumbs, sinks in, making a dimpled and rumpled topping as the cake bakes. It is said that Moravians took their sugar cake so seriously that when a Moravian man went looking for a wife, he looked for one with large thumbs who would be able to make the best sugar cake. (Gross, yes.)

Recipes for Moravian sugar cake appear in the mid-1800s in both Pennsylvanian and North Carolinian newspapers. It is frequently mentioned in early newspapers being served along with coffee for church anniversaries and “love feasts.” Now commonly served for Easter celebrations, it has become a regional favorite, even for those outside of the church.

Moravian Sugar Cake

Moravian Sugar Cake2

Moravian Sugar Cake3

Moravian Sugar Cake
Makes one 8×2-inch round cake. Adapted from Garden & Gun’s recipe.

Ingredients:
For cake: 1 1/4 tsp dry-active yeast
1/4 cup sugar
6 tbsp milk, warm (about 115 degrees)
1/4 cup mashed potatoes
1 egg
2 tbsp butter, room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
For topping: 3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon

Instructions: 

In a large bowl, combine the warm milk, yeast, and a tablespoon of sugar. Whisk together and allow to sit and get frothy for about 10 minutes.

Stir in the remaining sugar, as well as the potato, egg, butter, salt. Then add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour streaks are gone and the dough begins to form a ball.

Pour the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place the ball of dough into clean, slightly greased bowl. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Grease a round 8×2-inch cake pan. Punch the dough down and press into the greased cake pan. Set aside as you prepare the topping.

Melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Using your thumbs, make deep indentations all over the top of the dough, making sure to not poke all the way through the dough. Pour the butter-brown sugar mixture over the dough and spread evenly over the top.

Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Moravian Sugar Cake6

I just love this kind of food history. Here is a perfectly innocent-looking cake, that actually serves as a reminder of pre-Revolutionary pioneering, radical European Protestantism, and entrenched US regionalism. Also, you know, it’s just great with coffee. 😉

The Shakers + Citrus Shaker Pie

Citrus Shaker Pie8

I’m somehow surprised every year when citrus season sneaks up on me. I can never wrap my head around the fact that it’s in winter, because my favorite citrus recipes seem so light and summery. Wishful thinking, I guess. In celebration of all the beautiful citrus fruit at our disposal this time of year, I made a Shaker pie, slightly altering the original recipe, which uses regular lemons. Instead, I used two of the yummiest members of the citrus family: blood oranges and Meyer lemons. And the recipe is inspired by a community that is almost extinct: the Shakers.

Folks today probably know the Shakers more for their simple, well-built furniture. I decided to write about them, because after one of their members passed away in 2017, there were only two Shakers left in the world. The reasons vary: Some Shakers who were adopted into the Community as children chose to leave as adults, others opposed the hard-work and celibate lifestyle, and finally, they just stopped accepting new members. At this point, you couldn’t become a Shaker if you wanted to. While their numbers have dwindled, the Shakers are still one of the longest-lasting Christian sects in the United States.

The first group of Shakers formed in Manchester, England. They were originally known as “Shaking Quakers” because their religion was an off-shoot of the Quaker religion, and because, during their sermons, Shakers often tremble and twitch. A short time before the American Revolutionary War, Mother (as she was called) Ann Lee led a small group of followers from England to the American colonies. As pacifists, Shakers refused to fight the British or swear an oath of allegiance (as it was against their religion), leading to jail time for some. In the years following the War, Shaker religious communities grew and spread through the United States. At their peak, as many as 6,000 members worshiped in communities across the country.

Shakers live piously and communally. Though men and women live as equals and serve equally in religious leadership, they live separately, since marriage and sex are forbidden. Members are acquired through adoption or recruitment. As an agrarian society, Shakers grow or raise most of their own food and live quite frugally, aiming to waste as little as possible.

Which leads us to this little pie, made in accordance with the Shaker lifestyle, simply and efficiently. A Shaker lemon pie is made of whole, thinly sliced lemons, allowed to sit in sugar for a day to allow the peels to break down. This mixture is then mixed with eggs and baked. Very simple and very delicious. Shakers would probably object to the use of non-local fruit.

Citrus Shaker Pie10

Citrus Shaker Pie

Citrus Shaker Pie2

Citrus Shaker Pie3

Citrus Shaker Pie

Citrus Pie Filling Ingredients:
Slightly adapted from NPR, and Smitten Kitchen.

Ingredients:
2 Meyer lemons
1 blood orange
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
4 eggs
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Dough for a double crust pie. I always use this recipe for my pie crusts.

Instructions:

Zest both the lemon and the blood orange.

Cut the ends off both the Meyer lemon and blood orange, discard.

As thinly as possible, slice the entire orange and lemon, including the peel, into rings, removing any seeds as you go.

In a container with a lid, combine the zest, sugar, salt, and citrus. Stir or shake the container to coat the fruit with the sugar mixture. Cover, and allow to sit for 24 hours at room temperature, stirring or shaking every hour or two. After the fruit has broken down, do not drain or remove fruit, but do remove any seeds that made it into the mixture.

Beat 4 eggs together well. Add to the blood orange and Meyer lemon mixture, along with flour, and melted butter.

Roll out the bottom portion of your pie crust and place in pie pan. Add the lemon-orange filling.

Roll out the top layer of the pie and carefully cover the mixture with it. Cut away any unnecessary dough. Sealing the top and bottom crusts together, create a decorative edge with your hands or a fork. Allow the pie to chill in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Beat one egg thoroughly with a bit of water, and lightly brush over the top crust and edges of the pie. Sprinkle top with sugar.

Slice a few holes into the top of the pie crust to allow steam to release while cooking.

Bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees. After 20 minutes, decrease the heat in the oven to 350 degrees and bake for another 45 minutes.

For clean slices, allow the pie to cool completely before cutting.

Citrus Shaker Pie4

Citrus Shaker Pie7

I really love the combination of blood orange and lemon here. You get the tartness from the lemon, but it’s not overly tart, and the orange not only mellows the flavor, but makes for a pretty and unexpected pie filling. Also, I love that you use almost the entire fruit in this recipe, and the preparation is so hands-off. Guess the Shakers know what’s up. Make yours soon, before citrus season disappears!