GHOSTS OF HOLIDAYS PAST
Hanukkah is swiftly rolling to a dazzlingly bright end and Christmas will rapidly be upon us. As the New Year approaches I think that it’s time to gather round the blazing fire, mug of steaming cocoa in hand, slice the Apple-Cranberry Coffee Cake and settle down for a little sentimental heart-to-heart. Let’s not burden ourselves with pondering over our New Year’s resolutions quite yet, there will be time for that later on; the night is young and we should be merry. Though it is chilly, icy white flakes dance outside the windowpane kissing the glass as they float by, maybe champagne is more appropriate. So break open the bubbly and clink crystal against crystal and let’s take a gentle stroll down memory lane.
Now I won’t bore you with more childhood memories, Saturdays at the swimming pool learning to swim or, later on, gossiping about boys with the girls, sno-cones in hand, or Monday evenings learning to play Mah Jong with my brothers the hour before the ladies showed up, sneaking handfuls of the snacks bought specially for company, or afternoons nestled in the branches of the tree in the front yard, book in one hand, sandwich in the other. We won’t bother with schoolday tales or adolescent woes, nor will I utter a word about Italian street fairs in New York or bounding up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art à la Rocky my first week living in the City of Brotherly Love. No, this is a time to look back over the years and think about all those Decembers lived, the Hanukkahs celebrated, the Christmases come and gone and share a bit of personal lore, those Ghosts of Holidays Past…
So play along and, while you sip your champagne, while you savor every mouthful of this luscious Apple-Cranberry Coffee Cake I’ve made just for you on this unforgettable night, as the fire crackles and glows throwing shadows across the wall, its luxurious warmth washing over you and its flames flickering brightly in your eyes, think about the joy, the wonder and the magic of those oh-so mystical, special holidays long gone, the festivities, the laughter, the old black & white films, the delicacies indulged in and the garlands of tinsel glittering in the glowing lights, the scent of fresh evergreen and the taste of that one perfect kiss under the mistletoe.
Special thoughts rush through my mind each year as the holidays come round again and I try, as we all do, to relive the happy moments, the parties and the meals or, more importantly, the holidays spent with family or close friends, turning memory into tradition. I try and recapture the wonder and magic of childhood or those first Hanukkahs or Christmases with JP and the boys, the Decembers spent curled up on the couch watching my old favorites on tv, the same old black & whites that come round and captivate me year after year, the trees decorated, the windows adorned, the candles lit and the gifts given and received. School Christmas parties and Sunday School Hanukkah plays, the carols most sung and the treats I love the best. And year after year I try and relive as much of these as I can, conjuring up the joy of the season through these little pleasures because no matter where I am or who I’m with these special things always transport me home.
My favorite Christmas movie:
Alone – Christmas in Connecticut
En famille – The Nightmare Before Christmas
My favorite Christmas songs:
Christmas Wrapping (from my college days)
Bruce Springsteen’s Santa Claus is Coming to Town (ah, blasted from the frat houses along Locust Walk at UPenn)
Winter Wonderland (only if we can sing, as we did when we were kids, “Later on, we’ll perspire, as we dream by the fire”)
Eine Muh, eine Mäh – totally silly song with all the animal noises which we sang in high school German class
My favorite holiday foods:
Latkes of course, crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside eaten with homemade applesauce
Roasted chestnuts eaten on a snowy street corner in Milan
Cranberry relish (cranberry almost anything)
Chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas and Marshmallow Peep Snowmen
My favorite Christmas memories:
Decorating the Merrit’s gorgeous tree when their kids had already left home
Getting the whole grade school administration in trouble when, one year, I refused to sing Christmas carols or participate in the Christmas play. Why only Christmas? The following year they added a Hanukkah play to the program.
O Bej O Bej Christmas market in Milan on a cold frosty night
The perfect 48 hours in Paris with JP, the night spent at Le Meurice in a room overlooking the frosty, fairytale white Tuileries Gardens, the days spent visiting our favorite museums and eating at our favorite restaurants
My favorite Hanukkah memories:
Playing dreidl with M & M’s with the family
Watching my boys as they drew and cut out the scene of the great battle between the Maccabees and the Assyrians
Receiving a gorgeous ring from JP totally unexpectedly. Actually that happened twice.
Our holiday traditions:
Lighting the Hanukkah candles in the old family Menorah
Chocolates from Debotté for each of us
Pandoro for Simon
A huge platter of oysters and samples of special dishes from the traiteurs at the market and an excellent bottle of bubbly
And now, let me serve you a slice of Coffee Cake and it’s your turn….
Once again, I would like to send this yeasted coffee cake to Cindystar who is the host of Bread Baking Day #25 with the theme Baking Under the Tree.
And, of course, this coffee cake flies off across the continents to Susan of Wild Yeast and her weekly event Yeastspotting.
APPLE-CRANBERRY COFFEE CAKE WREATH
Well, sort of a wreath
Adapted from a recipe I found on Ilva’s blog Lucullian Delights, originally from The Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook
2 ¼ tsps (8 g) active dry yeast
¾ cup (200 ml) milk
¼ cup (50 ml) water
¼ cup (50 g) sugar
¼ cup (60 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp salt
3 ¼ - 3 ½ cups (485 – 520 g) flour
Mix the water and milk together in a small saucepan and heat gently until warm, not hot. It should be the temperature of your hand when you test it.
Put the yeast in a large mixing bowl. Pour about ¼ cup (65 ml) of the warm liquid over the yeast and stir to dissolve. Add the rest of the warm liquid.
Add the sugar, softened butter and the egg and about 2 cups (300 g) of the flour. Stir to blend then beat with an electric mixer until smooth.
Gradually stir in the rest of the flour by hand until you have a smooth dough that’s easy to handle. I stirred in all except maybe the last ¼ cup (about 40 g) which I used to flour the work surface as I kneaded the dough, thus working in this last amount of flour.
Knead for about 5 minutes until smooth and elastic.
Place in a large lightly greased bowl, turning once to make sure the dough is greased. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm, dry place until doubled in bulk, 1 hour to 1 ½ hours.
Punch down the dough on scraping it out of the bowl onto a floured work surface. Roll the dough out into a rectangle of 15 x 9 inches (38 x 23 cm) * . Spread the filling evenly over the rectangle of dough up until about ½ (1 cm) on the top – wide side – and 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) on the other three sides. Roll up tightly jelly-roll style starting on the wide side which should be closest to you. Pinch edge of dough to seal, stretching the dough to even out the tube. Gently lift the roll to a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet placing seam-side down. Shape the roll into a ring, pushing one end slightly into the other open end then pinching closed to seal.
Using kitchen scissors snip slits into the deep into the dough being careful to evenly space the slits and creating an even number of sections (which, sadly, I didn’t do as I was working too quickly). To form a wreath, cut down 2/3 of the way through the ring then turn each section onto its side alternating the sections back and forth, towards and away from the center. Spray the dough with cooking spray or brush with an egg wash as I did (I egg beaten with 1 Tbs water).
Cover once again loosely with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise again until doubled, about 45 – 60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Bake the coffee cake until golden brown, 25 – 30 minutes, covering loosely with foil towards the end of the baking if you feel the cake is browning too quickly.
Once baked and cooled, you can sprinkle the coffee cake with powdered sugar or drizzle with white glaze.
4 pie apples, like Reine de Reinette or Golden, peeled, cored and cubed
1 cup fresh cranberries
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter
6 Tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp finely grated orange zest, optional
Melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the brown sugar and cook, stirring, until you have a thick, grainy sauce, about 1 minute. Add the apple slices, tossing until all the slices are pretty much coated with the sugar-butter. Cook the apples for about 4 minutes and then add the cranberries, stirring to coat them with the sugar/juice mixture. Continue cooking, stirring, until the apples are tender, the cranberries are popped and softened and the sauce has been reduced to a glaze, about 3 minutes more. Mix in the spices and the zest if using and toss until the apples are evenly coated. Remove from the heat and cool the filling at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours before using to fill the coffee cake.
Stir 1 cup powdered sugar with 1 ½ to 2 Tbs water or freshly-squeezed orange juice until well combined into a thick, smooth glaze that drizzles easily. Prepare the glaze just before using and drizzle on the cooled cake.
PERSONAL THOUGHTS ON THE MATTER:
Delicious coffee cake, tender, moist crumb like the perfect brioche only less sweet. But the quantity of dough was much too much for one wreath. Next time I will double the filling recipe and divide the dough in two pieces, forming a rectangle of about the same dimensions but thinner, divide the filling equally between the two rectangles of dough and form two wreaths instead of one. I may also simply cut the circles of filled coffee cake as I did the Chocolate Meringue Coffee Cake before baking only cutting deeper into the dough and filling. Beautiful coffee cake for the holidays. Kept in a metal cookie box, the cake stays moist for a few days.