Colonial American culinary traditions often are mixed with molasses, allspice and ginger. These were popular ingredients found throughout the 18th century that made their way into a multitude of dishes from stews to gingerbread. These spices that defined a time also became signatures of the yuletide season, which in turn helped preserve and popularize a centuries old recipe and cookie style known as Moravian cookies.
A kin to German Lebkuchen, Moravian spice cookies were created by the confection’s namesake, the Moravians, a European Protestant sect whose home included Saxony, Bohemia and Moravia (areas today in the Czech Republic and Germany). Their settlements flourished in Bethlehem, PA, and Winston-Salem, N.C., where these wonderful wafer cookies are still baked year-round.
Along the Cookie Trail
Traditionally, Moravian cookies are hand-rolled to paper thinness before being cut into rounds with or without scallop edges. More well-to-do Moravians used more fanciful cutters, including those in the shape of farm animals related the Nativity or hearts, stars and the classic “hand and heart” symbol found among heirloom cookie cutters in museums and personal collections passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter.
During the holidays, Winston-Salem’s cookie ovens never cool. They’re working overtime producing more than a million cookies to supply the demand sold at bakeshops along The Moravian Cookie Trail. Bakers make the original ginger spiced molasses flavor, along with a variety of flavors, including black walnut, Meyer lemon, chocolate or espresso. All these flavors and more can be sampled along The Trail.
The Cookie Trial, which launched in 2014, has proved to be a cookie monster’s delight, connecting visitors to bakeries, shops and eateries featuring the world’s thinnest cookie.
To begin your cookie quest, make your first stop the 200-year-old Winkler Bakery at Old Salem Museums & Gardens (www.oldsalem.org/winkler-bakery), whose original wood-fired dome oven has baked breads, cakes and cookies since it was built in 1800. Living history interpreters dressed in period costumes offer cookie samples, as well as samples of another Moravian confection specialty, the Sugar Cake.
Follow the Trail guide (available free throughout Winston-Salem) to Dewey’s Bakery (www.deweys.com). Dewey’s dates to 1930 and has several storefront locations, including pop-up shops during the yuletide season. You’ll find the traditional spice and sugar flavors along with unique flavors reflecting current foodie trends such as Pumpkin Spice, Espresso, Blood Orange and Caramel Sea Salt.
Mrs. Hanes Hand-Made Moravian Cookies (www.hanescookies.com) sprang from a family in-home business that Evva Hanes’ mother began to help supplement the family’s income. Hanes took over the business in 1960, followed her mother’s recipes and, with husband Travis, grew the business. They still hand roll and cut each and every batch of dough, an old-fashioned method the Hanes will never change. Perhaps it’s the hand rolled TLC given to each batch that make Mrs. Hanes Moravian Cookies one of Oprah Winfrey’s favorite things. Mrs. Hanes is one of the few bakeries along the Trail that offers tours where you can get a close-up look at the rolling technique that produces each crisp cookie.
With the holidays in full swing, a trip this Yuletide season to Winston-Salem may have to wait until next year. However, you can start planning now by exploring the Moravian Cookie Trail at www.visitwinstonsalem.com.
The good news is it’s never too late to order a cache of cookies from one of Winston-Salem’s bakeries along the Moravian Cookie Trail. Or, bake your own by following this recipe from the 1955 edition of North Carolina and Old Salem Cookery. – Story by Suzanne Corbett, RFT Food History Editor
¾ cup EACH butter and lard
¾ cup brown sugar
2 cups dark molasses
7 ½ cups flour
4 tablespoons cloves
4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
¼ cup boiling water
1: In a large mixing bowl cream butter and lard with sugar until fluffy.
2: Mix in molasses. Combine flour with spices and salt and mix into molasses mixture.
3: Mix together baking soda with water; then add to batter. Mix dough together with hand. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
4: Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface until it reaches “infinite” thinness.
5: Cut into shapes, place on a greased baking sheet.
6: Bake at 375 degrees until “just” brown – about five minutes.