The idea for this post actually began over a year ago when I went searching for an elusive taste from my childhood. In fact, I can pinpoint the exact moment the search began – 26 March 2014, after reading Cheergerm’s post Cinnamon Tea Cake. Her simple cake topped with cinnamon sugar struck a chord in my memory, of a time when my sister and I would visit friends in the small town of Nazareth, Pennsylvania. (I bet you were wondering when I would get to the rationale for my post title.) Just down the street from our friends’ house was a corner shop that sold old fashioned licorice whips and horehound drops…and slices of dimpled Moravian sugar cake, more a yeasty sweet bread than a cake, with the dips liberally filled with buttery cinnamon sugar.
Although these distinctive multi-pointed Moravian stars are hung for Christmas, they remind me of the Moravian tradition. Plus, they are pretty!
Photo by Ulrich van Stipriaan, licenced under Creative Commons, from Wikipedia.
Finally, I’ve got around to making it. And, just in time, too, as it is traditionally considered an Easter breakfast “cake”. At last, something traditional and different from hot cross buns! The tag Moravian reflects the numerous missionary settlers from Moravia that came to live and establish their iconic protestant churches in colonial Pennsylvania, primarily in the town of Bethlehem, but also in nearby towns that include Nazareth. Although, the cake is generally considered to be part of a wider Pennsylvania Dutch (German) cuisine.
Actually, I made the cake twice – once in the traditional way as a “slab” cake indented with buttery cinnamon sugar dips as you can see in the image above. The taste and texture was exactly how I remembered it, but I felt that the concentration of cinnamon sugar in those dips was a bit too dense. So, another creation was born – same ingredients, different shape. My “Moravian” sugar swirl buns are like classic sticky buns with the cinnamon sugar rolled evenly in the dough. Also, given our love of Scandinavian baked goods (which these resemble), I added a little cardamom to the mix – an optional, but delicious addition to my twist on this traditional recipe.
Sourdough “Moravian” Cinnamon Sugar Swirl Buns
A traditional Moravian sugar cake is made with yeast and here I’ve substituted my sourdough starter for the dried yeast found in most recipes. Also, a lot of Pennsylvania Dutch breads and other baked goods include potatoes or potato water, which produces a softer dough.
- 100g mashed potato (approximately 1 small “floury” potato)
- 250g sourdough starter
- 60ml of reserved liquid from boiling the potato
- 110g caster sugar
- 113g butter
- 1 egg
- 375 to 400g plain (all-purpose) flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Feed your sourdough starter and measure off 250g. Put this in a bowl and cover with clingfilm while you store the remainder (usually in the refrigerator), ready for next time it is required. Let the starter in the bowl begin to bubble and grow in size for 4 to 6 hours. I did this in the morning and let it sit for most of the day.
Peel and cut the potato into cubes and put into a pot with cold water. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Continue boiling until the potatoes are soft (approximately 10 minutes, depending on the size of your cubes). Drain, reserving some of the cooking water – set aside to cool. Mash the potatoes or put through a potato ricer to get a smooth, non-lumpy texture. Weigh and also set the potatoes aside to cool.
In a large bowl, cream the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the egg and mix well, then add the mashed potatoes and the reserved cooking liquid. Combine this with the sourdough starter. Add in the flour, salt and optional cardamom. Combine to make a smooth soft dough. Form into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave it to rise overnight. If you are concerned with letting the dough (which contains an egg) sit at room temperature for a long time, use the cold rise method by placing your bowl in the refrigerator and let it rise for 12 to 24 hours – a much longer process.
Just before getting the risen dough out of the bowl, make the filling by melting the butter and then adding the sugar and cinnamon.
- 85g sugar (caster or light brown sugar)
- 113g very soft butter
- 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
Place the dough on a lightly floured board, being careful not to lose too many of the air pockets. Gently press the dough into a rectangle, approximately 40x25cm.
Pour the filling on the dough and smooth it out evenly with a pastry brush.
Let the butter cool and solidify into a softened state before taking one long side and rolling the dough into a log shape. The dough is soft and somewhat sticky, so you may need the aid of a pastry scraper to ease the “log” into shape. Seal the edges by pinching the dough together at the seam.
Carefully cut into 12 pieces with a serrated knife, each approximately 3cm thick. Place the pieces on their sides on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and press down on them slightly.
Cover with a tea towel and let them rest and rise a bit more – about 1 hour (or longer if placing it back in the refrigerator).
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (approximately 350 degrees F). Bake in the oven for about 18 to 20 minutes until golden. While the swirls are baking, make the glaze by combining the ingredients until you get a smooth paste.
- 100g confectioner’s sugar
- 3 Tablespoons milk
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Place the baked swirls on a rack and cool slightly. Drizzle over the glaze, allow them to completely cool and enjoy!
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Notes: From my internet searches, I’ve discovered that the corner shop is still going strong – Shubert’s Bakery on Broad Street in Nazareth, PA. So, next time you are shopping for a Martin Guitar (also made in Nazareth), stop by and sample some authentic Moravian sugar cake.