moravian sugar cake

Coffee cake is something my sister and I have loved all our lives. Growing up, we were drawn to all different kinds, but so long as the cake had crumbs or layers of spiced streusel, we were sold.

Nowadays, I seek out delicious coffee cakes with nuts, spices and layers of that distinct sweetness wherever I go. It was while perusing “Mrs. Fryer’s Cook Book and Practical Home Economics,” first published in 1913, when I stumbled on Moravian Cake. Upon further research, I discovered that Moravian sugar cake is a yeasted coffee cake, upgraded by the unlikely addition of mashed potatoes. 

Before you scroll away, thinking potatoes do not belong in cake, please give me the opportunity to explain. Mrs. Fryer’s recipe is more of a basic yeasted dough which adds sugar and cinnamon and omits the potato. Below, I have devised a more traditional version of Moravian sugar cake which uses mashed potatoes. The potatoes are evenly incorporated into the dough and create a spongy texture that is lush and chewy, enhanced by brown sugar and cinnamon in every bite.

Moravian sugar cake is a gift from the Moravians, a Slavic group who traveled to America in the 1700s and settled largely in Pennsylvania and North Carolina (hence, Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA). It is typically served at Easter, but why wait until then to enjoy it?   


  • 2 medium russet potatoes
  • 7 tablespoons butter, divided
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil such as sunflower or grapeseed
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon


Peel and cut the potatoes into ½ inch pieces. Boil in well salted water for 22 minutes. 

While the potatoes boil, melt 6 tablespoons butter in a saucepan and let cool. Pour ½ cup of water into a measuring cup and add 2 ¼ teaspoons yeast to activate it. Mix and let sit until bubbly. 

Drain the potatoes and place in a bowl then mash with 1 tablespoon butter. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of water. Add the egg, sugar, yeast mixture, and salt. Mix in flour ½ cup at a time. Knead in the bowl for about 5 minutes. (I used a stand mixer with dough hook attachment for this)

Coat a large clean bowl with neutral oil and place the dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise for 2 hours until it has doubled in size.

In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the dough into a rectangular pan or baking dish greased and lined with parchment paper. Press and pinch into the dough with your fingers to create the indentation pattern on top. Sprinkle with brown sugar mixture and let sit for 10 minutes.

Bake for 30 minutes until golden on the edges.

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