December is a time for traditions. Growing up, I don’t remember having any year in and year out traditions. Most years, I opened one gift Christmas Eve, a new church dress to wear to Christmas Eve service. But that’s about where the traditions met their end. We were always with family Christmas morning, but not always the same relatives. The meals were dependent on which family hosted the holiday meals.
My Dad’s mom had an anise cookie recipe. My sister lovingly shared the recipe with us all the year after my grandmother passed away. The recipe is still in my cookbook, but I’ve never made the recipe, Kevin doesn’t love anise so it never makes the cut when we are choosing recipes. Another grandmother would make raisin filled cookies. I have that recipe too, in fact my mom made them just last week, but to my knowledge I’ve not once tasted those cookies (I don’t like cooked raisins), and certainly have never made them. So I guess we did have cookie traditions, I just didn’t keep them.
Kevin’s family however, had many traditions. And if not specific traditions, certainly things that made the holidays ‘official’ to them. One of their traditions was Kevin’s Gram’s coffee cake on Christmas morning. This ‘coffee cake’ is familiarly famous – his Gram was even interviewed by a local TV station years ago for her special bread machine and recipe. By the time I was being included in holiday events the baking torch of the bread had been passed onto my eventual mother-in-law. The yeast bread has 3 rises and takes the better part of a day to make due to its hurry-up-and-wait nature. Once baked, the bread freezes well and can be thawed and reheated on Christmas morning in a very specific manner (it includes fractions).
Over the years Kevin and I began to create our own traditions (frantically wrapping Christmas Eve is a tradition, right?). We had children and used the best of both our memories to create new traditions for our children. But as far as I was concerned we would just keep letting his mom bake the Christmas morning coffee cake!
Unfortunately, a sick baby in 2012 meant we did not travel for the holiday. That was Kevin’s first year with no coffee cake! In 2013 Kevin’s mom visited and brought the recipe and ingredients to show me how to make this delicious family bread. I laugh now because when we measured the flour, I didn’t know if 1 cup was to the mouth or the top of the measuring cups we owned. It had never mattered for any recipe I was making. She was very patient and we did make 2 loaves that year at my house, but I was not about to take this tradition into my own hands, it was too special.
Last year, we hosted Christmas at our home in New York. I made over 100 loaves of various bread in 2022. So in December Kevin encouraged me to revisit the coffee cake recipe. Surely, if I could make sourdough, challah, sandwich bread, hot dog buns, hamburger buns, and sub rolls – this once a year holiday coffee cake wouldn’t be too hard, right? Nervously, I texted my mother-in-law not to bring the coffee cake, I would be baking them. Kevin was right. I made the recipe all by myself. I went on to make more than 20 coffee cakes last year. It’s not exactly Great-Grandma’s recipe… my house is a little shy on Oleo, but we have plenty of butter and I don’t scald my milk, I have an espresso machine in my kitchen to steam milk. This year I only made a few – shared on Solstice with close friends. But I will continue to make coffee cake, for my husband, for my children, and I will teach my children how to make them. Because this is the season for traditions, and for us that means coffee cake on Christmas morning.