Sunday, December 20, 2009



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…

original illustration from Charles Dickens Bleak House

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.

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
1 egg
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.

Optional glaze:
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.


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.


bethany (Dirty Kitchen Secrets) said...

Beautifully written as always! This is one of my more favourite posts. Cake sounds and looks delish!

Chef E said...

I have had fun making similar filled breads, and your right way to much dough, and not enough filling on my end too! I wanted a white chocolate feast with my last batch, but you could barely taste it!

Yours is pretty, so I am trying this form for hubbys family!

Jamie said...

@Beth - Thanks, doll! But you didn't give me your holiday faves!

@Chef E - White chocolate? Wow! And I've been eating slices of this morning, noon and night for 3 days now and still luscious!

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

This looks fantastic, I like these round ring shaped bakes that you've done recently. And I really like the depth of field in the photo, it's nice and sharp all over the food but just soft focussed enough in the background.

I like your list of Christmas memories and songs etc, I might need to "steal" that for a little run down of my own - with credit of course.

Sigh... I reminded my husband of the two occasions he bought me jewellery.... both over ten years ago now...

My Carolina Kitchen said...

Gorgeous wreath Jamie. Are you sure you aren't a pastry chef disguised as a blogger? That's a very professional presentation.

Is that Lucy decorating the tree when they lived in Conneticut with Desi playing the piano? I remember watching that whole series.

I enjoyed reading your favorite holiday faves. Funny you should ask. The Pink Saturday Bloggers have been posting our favorite holiday traditions, decorations and rememberances this month and I've had such fun with mine.

Joyeux Noel & bonne annee,

Jamie said...

@My Carolina Kitchen - Thanks, Sam, you do flatter (and I lap it up!). The still is from Christmas in Connecticut with Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan. My holiday fave! Happy Holiday to you!

gastroanthropologist said...

Oh wow - that coffee cake looks amazing with the fruit peeping out.

It's bit of a holiday traditions transformation these past years as I was married barely two years ago. We had the bright idea months ago to fly his entire family to be with my entire family in California this Christmas. As the meeting happens in a few days the bright idea is a huge 'what the heck were we thinking?' realization!

Merry times to be had. My favorite memories include visiting the grandparents every christmas in florida and getting very cool gifts and they would take us on excursion to disney world or to see the manatees. It was also when I believed in Santa Claus that we made the florida trek and there was one winter I could still swear on my life that I saw santa's sleigh flying above the golf course.

It's a wonderful life and national lampoons were my favorite christmas movies as a kid. Still are.

My other favorite part is the long dinners when my sister and I dig up the old embarrassing photos of family members (perms, terrible fashion choices galore) and pass them around the table.

Happy holidays to you!

♥♥♥Ria♥♥♥ said...

Jamie, your coffee cake looks delicious! I have never eaten cranberries,so I am going to have a jolly good time imagining how it would taste like :)Love the way you write! Beautiful!Mwaah!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

That cake must be exquisite! A wonderful festive treat!



Kitchen Butterfly said...

So, I told you I loved the apple version...and now you've gone and made it all Christmassy and perfect for the season. I need to make this, this holiday - no jokes Jamie. Looks and tastes (yes I can taste it) delish

Mowie @ said...

That looks so festive Jamie, and such an interesting combination of coffee and cranberries. Must give it a try! Lovely writing as always x

Half Baked said...

Yummm that cake looks fantastic! We make a similar one for Christmas morning filled with apricots. I must make this one this year!!

Daily Spud said...

Ah, Nightmare Before Christmas is also one of my favourite Christmas movies. Latkes, however, are not traditional for me but, potato fiend that I am, I think perhaps that they're a tradition I should adopt! Hope you have a wonderful holiday season filled with many new and happy memories...

Barbara Bakes said...

I make a similar bread each year for Christmas. But I haven't tried it with an apple cranberry filling. That sounds perfect for Christmas! Thanks! Happy Holidays!

Elra said...

The cake look really wonderful, it makes me want to make it too.

MeetaK said...

oh jamie i wish i had a slice of the cake so i could sink into the sofa and read this post over and over. coffee and cranberry what a combo! hugs!

George@CulinaryTravels said...

Oh Jamie, a slice of that cake is just what I need this morning. I love sweet yeast breads like this.

As always a beautifully written and constructed post.

Katy ~ said...

Wonderful flavors and colors, so perfect for the season. And LUV the wreath. Festive, looks elegant, and makes it all special.

Favorite song: Little Drummer Boy (makes me cry every time I hear it)

Favorite movie: White Christmas

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Aww you really know how to conjure up beautiful images don't you!? :D

Chez Us said...

Beautiful post, I love the memories you have had over the years, simply lovely!! Happy Holidays to you! xxoo

Natashya Kitchen Puppies said...

Wonderful, I love it! Maybe I can get it together to make it for Xmas morning..

Deeba PAB said...

Oh Jamie...I absolutely love this. Do you think dried cranberries would work too? It's beautiful!!!

Junglefrog said...

This is lovely Jamie! I have never seen those two christmas movies you mentioned and being the christmas lover that I am... I am gonna try and find them here! Loved all those little details about you and christmas!

5 Star Foodie said...

The cake wreath looks absolutely delicious and just gorgeous! Thanks you for sharing your holiday favorites!

Sarah said...

Beautiful dessert, perfect for christmas day!

Muneeba said...

Happy holidays Jamie! You got room for one more by that fire? So cozy and cuddly, especially with this cranberry bread in my hand ... am off to find a warm spot in my apartment right now!

Chef Jeena said...

Fabulous and delicious Jamie.

Merry Christmas. :-)

Jeanne said...

Wonderful memories - and a gorgeous wreath! My Christmas memories are all summery - the smell of the roast gammon permeating the house on the 24th December (had to be cooked the day before so it could be chilled overnight), Christmas pictures of me with a sunburn, the new Christmas outfit Santa would mysteriously leave on my bedroom chair when I was a child, and having a swim between courses of the Christmas lunch. Bliss!

Lien said...

that looks wonderful, I love your pictures too. Apples and cranberries are a great combo!

Joanne said...

This looks amazing! I love the apple/cranberry combination. I am definitely bookmarking this to bring to a party next week!

asiangrrl said...

The coffee cake looks fabulous, but the post made me a bit sad. I don't have the fond memories you do of holidays and childhood. One Christmas carol I love, though, is "O Holy Night".


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