Deck the halls with Sugar Cake

I saw it today at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh when I stopped to wave at Santa: The once-a year Dewey’s Bakery kiosk. Minutes later, two Moravian Sugar Cakes were in my hot hands.

I grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C., and made regular trips to Dewey’s for this health food of the soul. It’s made from a yeasted dough that includes mashed potatoes. The dimpled surface is abundantly topped with butter and sugar. “No coffee cake in the world – and there are hundreds of kinds – is better than Moravian Sugar Cake,” writes the late North Carolina food expert Beth Tartan in “North Carolina and Old Salem Cookery.”

The Moravians arrived in the Piedmont in the 1700s, after leaving their native Germany to pursue religious freedom, and built the settlement of Old Salem. They brought along German baking traditions that also include the famous paper-thin spice cookies. When I was a kid, the cookies were available only at Christmas. The sugar cake was baked year round at Dewey’s, which opened in the 1930s.

Until recent years, I had to make Dewey’s runs and stock my freezer (it freezes well for three to four months). I have made my own sugar cake, including one memorable effort in which the sugar and butter overflowed onto the bottom of my oven and caught fire. Now, Dewey’s sells the goodies at holiday kiosks, located in the Triangle this year at Cary Towne Center and Cameron Village in addition to the one at Crabtree. I told the salesperson how thrilled I was to get my sugar cake, and she informed me I can mail order it here. My hips may wish I had never heard that.

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