Dark and spicy ginger crisps are the calling card of North Carolina’s Moravian culture. These thin, can’t-eat-just-one cookies with a hearty dose of dark molasses, ginger, and clove evoke memories of childhood Christmases celebrating dinner with extended family, close friends, and welcome neighbors. In fact, they are a modification of a Christmas cookie recipe the Moravians brought with them when they settled in North Carolina.
As you traverse North Carolina’s Culinary Trail in search of the best and thinnest Moravian cookie, you will also encounter the history of these early settlers and the mark they imprinted on the landscape of the Winston-Salem area and beyond. Originally from a region located in present-day Czechia with a Germanic background, the settlers went about making their new country comfortably reminiscent of their beloved homeland.
The center of Moravian culinary and religious history is the Old Salem Museums & Gardens, where visitors can experience old-world traditions, and, of course, delicious cookies.
Note: Some information in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.
A stroll down Main Street in Old Salem Museums & Gardens showcases the living history of the Moravian people. Deeply religious and industrious, the Moravians left Eastern Europe to start a new colony in North Carolina in the mid-1700s. Originally settling in Bethabara and Bethania, they eventually relocated to Old Salem. The Moravians quickly established the area as a regional commercial trade center providing surrounding settlements with fine pottery, ironworks, cabinetry, and fabric.
These thin, ginger-based cookies were a sweet treat staple for the Moravians. The dough kept well when chilled, allowing the cookies to be freshly baked as desired.
The spices ginger and clove were readily available as was the sweetener molasses. Ginger root and dried clove traveled well, making them excellent candidates for cooking. These ingredients have long shelf lives while still keeping their sharp and pungent flavor, making them a great choice for baked goods.
The Moravian cookies are so beloved by North Carolinians that a group of fourth-graders has spent two years diligently working to have the Moravian cookie officially listed as the State Cookie of North Carolina. The Moravian Cookie Bill is currently working its way through the legislature.
The thin and crispy cookies are a challenge to roll and delicate once cut out of the dough. If you have a hankering to make a batch of these beauties, we have tempted you with a traditional Moravian cookie recipe outlined below. For cookie lovers who choose not to bake, there are several mail-order options offered by bakeries along the cookie trail.
Moravian Sugar Cake
Moravian sugar cake is another North Carolina holiday favorite. This yeast-risen coffee cake is a delicate white cake drenched in butter, cinnamon, and sugar and baked to a gorgeous golden brown. You will find the cake sitting side-by-side at many of the Moravian bakeries. The Pastry Chef offers a delectable home-baked recipe version of this tempting sweet cake.
Moravian Cookie Trail Stops
Mrs. Hanes Hand-Made Moravian Cookies
The most important stop on your search for the best Moravian Cookies is Mrs. Hanes Hand-Made Moravian Cookies in Clemmens, North Carolina. This is the only bakery that makes these sweet treats by hand. Each day, a group of skilled bakers take up their rolling pins and flatten the dough into super-thin sheets. Using a handheld cookie cutter, the bakers carve out about 10 million cookies per year. That is a lot of sweet, yummy goodness.
If you take the half-hour drive out to the farmlands from Winston-Salem, you will find the bakery where you can enjoy any one of their six flavors: ginger crisps, sugar crisps, chocolate crisps, lemon crisps, butterscotch, and black walnut. Through the bakery window, you can watch as skilled artisans hand roll the cookies to their thinnest measure on canvas-like racks. The bakers then deftly cut hundreds of cookies each day as the spicy aromas permeate every corner of the bakery.
C. Winkler Bakery
When you visit the Old Salem Museums and Gardens, you are welcome back to a time when traditions and colonial methods ruled the community. Main Street is filled with period homes and businesses, many are open and docent actors portray Moravian colonists.
One such establishment is C. Winkler Bakery, an operating bakery where you can learn about the Winkler family and purchase traditional treats. The antique wood-fired dome oven at Winkler Bakery is on display for your consideration of baking techniques circa 1800. Costumed historians regale visitors with colonial baking methods and stories of years gone by. They are a wonderful source of baking tips and techniques used during the village’s hay-day.
The sweet aroma as you enter the bakery makes your tummy rumble. Racks of sweet Moravian sugar cakes neatly wrapped in brown paper tempt even the strongest resistance, insisting you must sample the unctuous cake.
Since 1930, Dewey’s Bakery has been serving up delicious baked goods to the Winston-Salem population. Their Moravian cookies and sugar cakes are legendary. Deweys’ offers the classic flavors of ginger and sugar cookies. Additionally, they have lots of creative flavors including Meyer lemon, Key lime, triple ginger, salted caramel, toasted coconut, pumpkin spice, and apple cider cookie options.
Wilkerson Moravian Bakery
Another awesome Winston-Salem bakery on the Cookie Trail is Wilkerson Moravian Bakery. A family-owned business since 1925, they have dedicated generations of family members and staff baking up dozens of the thin Moravian crisps.
Wilkerson has a few unique flavors on their cookie menu – spiced butter rum and orange brandy – sit alongside the classic spice, lemon, ginger, and sugar cookies.
If you can’t make it out to Mrs. Hanes in Clemmons, stop by Salem Kitchen in Winston-Salem for your hand-rolled and cut goodies. Salem Kitchen carries Mrs. Hanes Moravian cookies for your in-town convenience. You can stock up on these delicate beauties while you shop for beautiful souvenirs and collectables at the same time.
Make Your Own Moravian Cookies
When you want to bravely attempt rolling out the thinnest cookie in the world, Visit Winston-Salem offers a classic recipe you can make at home. Your own batch of these crispy and flavorful cookies will require a dough rolling workout to rival any gym routine.
The recipe they recommend is from a 1955 cookbook, North Carolina and Old Salem Cookery. It is strongly recommended to cut the recipe in half, unless you have an army of “cookie monsters” to feed.
- 3/4 cup butter and lard or shortening
- 4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons ground ginger
- 1 pint black molasses
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 7 1/2 cups sifted flour
- 1 tablespoon soda
- 4 tablespoons ground cloves
- 1/4 cup boiling water
To Make Cookies:
Cream butter and lard with sugar. Add molasses. Sift flour with spices and salt. Add soda to boiling water. Add flour mixture and soda water to the creamed mixture. Work well with your hands; call in the man of the house (surely this step is optional) and let him work the dough if your hands are weak (the times have certainly changed). “That’s what Grandma used to do.” Cover and store in a cold place overnight, preferably longer. Roll to infinite thinness on board. Bake on greased cookie sheets in a moderate oven, 375 degrees, for a very few minutes or just until they begin to brown.
More Than Just A Sweet Treat
Cookies are paired with more than milk. Sweet, spicy crisps topped with a silky goat cheese and topped with honey make for an interesting foil to a crisp Chardonnay. If sweet heat is your culinary choice, try the ginger cookie topped with a sheep cheese and pepper jam served with a bold pinot noir. The fun is in the experimentation; you get to keep trying until you find your favorite combination. To get started on your sweet and savory cookie journey, Visit Winston-Salem offers great recipe ideas incorporating the Moravian cookie in your culinary repertoire.
Whether you visit the Winston-Salem area for an onsite purchase, peruse and order the flavorful treats online, or whip them up in your own kitchen, you will be enchanted by the thinnest cookies in the world.
If these cookies have piqued your curiosity about Czech cuisine, you can read about my favorite Czech restaurants in Prague as a tasty sidebar.
When planning your east coast road trip or getaway, add Winston-Salem to your itinerary. Stop for a day or two and savor the sweet side of town. You don’t want to miss this beautiful North Carolina destination with the charming Old Salem Museums and Gardens and a delicious cookie trail where you can snack on the thinnest, spiciest, and culturally reminiscent cookie in the world.
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