Christmas morning is the stuff of magic and memories. I can still recall racing downstairs with my sisters to try to catch a glimpse of the tree and piles of presents underneath, the overflowing stockings, or the crumb-scattered plate of Santa’s cookies. Our frenzy was always halted in the kitchen by two words: “Breakfast first.” Quietly yet somehow effectively, our parents enforced this rule, and we would (not so quietly, I’m sure) put up a fuss and take our seats at the table. And then as we devoured plates of fluffy eggs, buttered cinnamon toast, and fresh oranges sent straight from the Florida groves, our attitudes shifted. The anticipation of opening our presents was still there, palpable, but in those moments we began to savor it, as though when held in suspension our excitement was magnified. The presents would still be there; this family feast came first. All these years later, it’s those moments of suspended joy over Christmas breakfast that I cherish and miss more than the gift-opening that followed.
It’s now my turn to create the stuff of memories, and I want my little one’s Christmas memories to be magical for many, many years to come. This is not a mission I take lightly or confidently, as I am convinced that a 3-year-old’s brain is wired to register, recall, and re-enact every instant witnessed by those little eyes and ears. The other day I saw our little one glance over at me during dinner, adjust her fingers around her fork, look back at me, readjust the fingers, and resume eating with a sly look of accomplishment. I recently overheard her tell her bath animals, “Don’t do that! It’s dangerous,” in a convincingly stern voice that had a familiar ring to it. She picks up on and remembers all the words ever uttered in her presence that cause a reaction among adults, and she’ll try them out herself and then bust out with them three days later. [Based on a conversation my husband and I had about spicy food, she now likes to belt out, “FA-YAH!” whenever anything is remotely hot, and then insists on repeating it 10 times until everyone has laughed and joined in to her satisfaction.] My point is: She. Remembers. Everything.
And “everything” seems like an impossibly huge responsibility as someone in charge of — at least in part — creating memories to last a lifetime. But this Christmas, there’s one thing I know for sure: We’ll do breakfast first, and this will be the stuff of happy memories.
Our breakfast this Christmas will be infused with cardamom, scented with cinnamon, and stuffed with cherries. It’s my first Swedish tea ring (or coffee bread, or Christmas wreath, as some call them) and I love the festive wreath shape. With my apologies to sticklers for Swedish tradition, I’m not going with the authentic almond paste and raisin filling, because I could not get out of my head how delicious cherries would be with a cardamom dough [and oh, they are! It’s a little harder to roll the dough with those pudgy little cherries in there, but so worth it.] So think of this as Swedish Tea Ring Meets Cherry Danish. A Scandinavian love fest, if you will.
Notes: I followed Elise Bauer’s recipe on her food blog Simply Recipes (it makes two wreaths), except I substituted a cherry filling where she suggests using raisins, almond slivers and almond paste. I recommend looking at Elise’s beautiful and clear step-by-step photos on forming the wreaths. I made a whole batch of cherry pie filling from this recipe although I only needed a tiny bit of it for my wreaths. But there are worse things than being left with a bowl of cherry pie filling, right? Also, I’m hoping that these freeze and re-heat well (so say commenters on Elise’s post), though I haven’t tried it yet myself – it’s in the freezer now for Christmas morning magic. Enjoy!
Swedish Tea Ring with Cardamom & Cherries
(Adapted from Elise Bauer’s recipe on her food blog Simply Recipes; makes TWO wreaths – one for now, one for later :))
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup butter (about 113 g.)
- 2-pkg active yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water (Note: 1 pkg yeast = 1/4 oz. or 7 g., so it’s 1/2 oz. or 14 g. total yeast)
- About 4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom (Seeds gently scooped out of about 10 cardamom pods and ground with a mortar & pestle. Less preferred alternative is to use bought ground cardamom)
- 2 Tbsp melted butter
- 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 Tbsp white sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- Cherry filling (see recipe below)*
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 1/2 Tbsp cream
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 Tbsp water
- Warm the milk in a small saucepan on medium heat until steamy (but not boiling), remove from heat. Stir in the butter and sugar until the butter has melted and the sugar is dissolved. Pour into a mixing bowl and mix in the yeast mixture and egg.
- Mix in the salt and cardamom. Slowly add in 2 cups of the flour. After the first two cups of flour, gradually add more flour until a soft dough starts to form a ball and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead dough for 7 to 10 minutes until smooth. Note that the dough should remain soft, so take care not to add too much flour.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap. Let it rise for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Press the dough down to deflate it a bit. Divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Take one part (saving the other for wreath number 2) and use your fingers to spread it into an 8-inch by 16-inch rectangle on a lightly floured, clean, flat surface. If you are having difficulty getting the dough to keep its shape, just do what you can and let it sit for 5 minutes before trying again. Like pizza dough, the dough needs time to relax while you are forming it. Brush the dough with melted butter, leaving at least a half-inch border on the edges so the dough will stick together when rolled. Mix together the brown and white sugar and the cinnamon and sprinkle the dough with half of the mixture (saving the other half for the second batch of dough). Spoon a light layer of the cherry filling on top (the more cherries, the harder to roll).
- Carefully roll the dough up lengthwise, with the seam on the bottom. Carefully transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Form a circle with the dough on the baking sheet, connecting the ends together.
- Using scissors, cut most of the way through the dough, cutting on a slant. Work your way around the dough circle. After each cut, pull out the dough segment either to the right or to the left, alternating as you go around the circle. The dough circle will look like a wreath when you are done. Repeat steps 5, 6, and 7 with the rest of the dough, to form a second wreath.
- Cover lightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm area for a second rise. Let rise for about 40 minutes to an hour; the dough should again puff up in size.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Whisk together the egg yolk and cream. Use a pastry brush to brush over the dough. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. After the first 15 minutes of baking, if the top is getting well browned, tent with some aluminum foil.
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Whisk together the powdered sugar and water to create a final glaze (optional; hold off on glazing if you plan to freeze and re-heat — do the glazing just before serving). Add more water if the glaze is too thick to drizzle, add more powdered sugar if the glaze is too runny. Drizzle the glaze in a back and forth motion over the pastry.
(Adapted from the Food Network’s recipe for Cherry Pie Filling, this makes WAY more than you’ll need)
- 4 cups fresh or frozen tart cherries
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/8 tablespoon almond extract
Place cherries in medium saucepan, bring to a simmer, and cover. After the cherries lose considerable juice, which may take a few minutes, remove from heat. In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cornstarch together. Pour this mixture into the hot cherries and mix well. Add the almond extract, if desired, and mix. Return the mixture to the stove and cook over low heat until thickened, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and let cool. If the filling is too thick, add a little water, too thin, add a little more cornstarch.