For me, no food says Christmas more than thin, crisp, gingerbread-flavored Moravian cookies. My mother found the recipe in a magazine years ago (I still have it) and made them every year. The intoxicating aroma— redolent of ginger, molasses and cloves—wafting from the oven as these cookies bake evokes some of my happiest holiday memories.
The Moravians—German-speaking Protestants who came to America from Eastern Europe to escape religious persecution in the mid-eighteenth century—brought their treasured recipes with them when they occupied the settlement of Salem, North Carolina, in 1772.
The original Moravian cookies—called tea cakes—were made with allspice from the Caribbean, ginger from the Far East, cinnamon from Ceylon, and vanilla from Madagascar. Rolled impossibly thin and cut into whimsical shapes, the cookies kept well (they contained no dairy products) and the flavor of the spices intensified over time.
Traditionally made only at the Christmas holidays, Moravian cookies are now available year-round in a rainbow of updated flavors: lemon, chocolate, butterscotch, black walnut. At the Hanes’s family facility in the Winston-Salem suburb of Clemmons, sixth-generation baker Eva Hanes oversees the only commercial bakery that still makes Moravian cookies completely by hand, from mixing the dough to packaging the fragile finished product.
Hanes, who learned to make the cookies from her grandmother, never tires of the treats. “This is the most enjoyable business anyone could be in,” claims the woman who, with her husband, Travis, turns out 115,000 pounds of Moravian cookies each year.
Mrs. Hanes’s place is an essential stop on the Moravian Cookie Trail, which Visit Winston- Salem has designed to showcase the city’s signature sweet. Another is the Winkler Bakery at Old Salem Museums and Gardens, where bakers still use the 200-year-old wood-burning oven to turn out breads, ceremonial Lovefeast buns, and Moravian sugar cakes (a fortified yeast bread topped with brown sugar). They no longer bake Moravian cookies here, but you can chat with the baker about the process and purchase cookies (made off-site) in the gift shop.
Breaking out of the cookie-cutter mold, area restaurants now incorporate Moravian cookies into contemporary dishes. Milner’s American Southern serves a signature Moravian cookie and pecan-crusted salmon, while The Tavern at Old Salem features a Moravian cookie-crusted rack of lamb. Purists in Winston-Salem, however, don’t mind these modern twists on their time- honored tea cakes. Around here, that’s just how the cookie crumbles.
Trail of Crumbs // The city of Winston- Salem, NC, is the center of Moravian cookie production.
Find out more about about the Moravian Cookie Trail at: visitwinstonsalem.com/moravianculinarytrail