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.

moravian_starAlthough 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!


* * *

cinnamon_sugar_shakerMy Nan’s tin cinnamon sugar shaker. Older than I am!

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.


    • I have always been fond of that sugar shaker – perhaps why my Nan passed it down to me. It is made of tin and hand-painted in the Pennsylvania Dutch style – although I’ve seen similar style painting on objects here in Britain on what is called canalware (associated with canal narrowboats). I suspect it is also similar to Scandinavian and German rosemaling. From your posts, it looks like you are having a great time in Bali. i’m sure your sourdough starter is patiently waiting back home, so there is no rush. Enjoy your time away!


      • I have seen that style of painting on old French enamelware coffee pots that I used to own ( pre bushfire). Yes, I dried my sour dough starter following Celia’s method and hope that it works. As I leave 5 cows and assorted chickens for my children to come and tend in my absence, I decided not to leave them another chore feeding the starter.

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  1. I remember your comment back then, that it made you think of Moravian sugar cake! This looks fantastic and I will definitely be making this soon (with yeast however). Our weather has turned horrendous and this is just the warming sweet cinnamony thing to pop into our hungry tummies. Your Nan’s sugar shaker is gorgeous.

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    • Cursed or blessed with a long memory… I’m not sure which is better. I love cinnamon sugar flavoured baked goods. And, now that I’ve made the swirl buns, it has answered the question of how to reproduce not only Moravian sugar cake, but also those lovely Scandinavian pastries we enjoyed in Sweden. Definitely on the “make again” list.

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  2. Right at this moment there is someone sitting behind me on the train eating something with cinnamon in or on it. I can smell the cinnamon, and reading your post at the same time was just wonderful on this chilly autumn day. The recipe sounds delightful, even more so because of the history, and then as a bonus there is your grandmothers cinnamon shaker! A lovely post.

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    • There is nothing better than the scent of a cinnamon sugar pastry. I must admit that I like it anytime of the year, but it is usually autumn when I get the urge to push aside all those jams and marmalades and simply sprinkle cinnamon sugar on my freshly buttered breakfast toast! Naturally, shaken from my Nan’s tin shaker. The swirl buns also remind me of her. Chock full of cinnamon! Drove us crazy while they were baking.

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  3. This looks like a traditional Aussie Coffee Scroll, a total misnomer because there was no coffee in it. Totally delicious recipe Debi! I’ve been testing out eating a little wheat, all seems good, but I guess I blow out on a delicious sweet bun might be a bit too much!

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    • I was amazed at how different the cake was when the same ingredients were assembled in a different way. Yes, the swirl buns look just like American Cinnamon buns, which I think are similar to your Aussie coffee scroll. The texture of the dough is slightly different – a bit more cakey and not as bready, which put me more in mind of the Scandinavian pastries we enjoyed in Sweden. So frustrating not being able to eat wheat! I’m sure there are many more sweet cinnamon things you can tolerate – and you are brilliant at adapting recipes to suit your requirements.

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  4. As always, beautiful food, photos, history and personal connection. I learn so much from every one of your posts. This looks so so good. I think cinnamon and cardamom are a match made in heaven! Great addition. These look sooooooo good.


    • You are absolutely right, cinnamon + cardamom = heaven. Such a delicious equation. Can’t help myself – always looking deeper into the history of traditions. And, when that transects with personal experience, all the better!

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