Last week, my daughter Ruby came home with an assignment to create a “Heritage Shield” with our family’s own traditions, customs, culture and beliefs. After much hard work, conversation, and a bit of wrangling on our part, the poster will go back to school this week adorned with photos of our family, words like “respect” and “helping others”, and hand drawn pictures of campfires, menorahs, Christmas trees, Easter eggs and matzoh.
All of these conversations about our family traditions had me thinking about the traditions that we all have around this time of year. For this issue of The Spoonful, I wanted to share a story and a recipe about something that has been very special for my family.
Growing up, my family celebrated Christmas with a big tree that scraped the top of our 18 foot ceilings, evening carols in town, bagels and salmon for breakfast on Christmas morning and the most special once-a-year treat, a Danish Christmas Kringle, bought at the local Danish bakery in town.
This coffee cake, shaped like a pretzel and filled with delicious almond paste, was something we all looked forward to as the holiday season kicked into high gear. Bagels and smoked salmon were traditional for us too, but we ate these throughout the year, so the magic was not as imbued in them, as it was in the Kringle. We would get to start on the Kringle early while opening our stockings, as my father slowly woke up with his first cup of coffee, wondering why we had to get up so early in the morning!
Years passed, my parents sold our house and moved to the city and we all grew up and began making our own families and traditions. Christmas celebrations moved to my sisters’ homes
, to my in-laws’ homes in Cape Cod, and even to our house as we started a family of our own. The bagels and salmon remained
, and a strudel or stollen was added to the breakfast feast, but Christmas Kringle was lost to memories of those childhood Christmases on Greenacres Avenue years ago. The Danish pastry from our hometown bakery became nothing more than a fond memory.
Meanwhile, I became more involved in my husband’s family tradition of cookie baking. In their family, everyone brings cookies to Christmas every year and I started making gluten-free cookies from almond paste that were a huge hit. (Check out the recipe here!) There was something about these cookies that always reminded me of that childhood coffee cake and kept me thinking about our family’s Christmas morning breakfast tradition.
A few years ago, I got it in my head that I wanted to bring back our family’s Christmas breakfast tradition and I decided I would surprise my family with a Christmas Kringle. I started searching online to see if there were any bakeries that still made the traditional Danish treat. I looked up the bakery in our childhood hometown and even found an old website and email address. I wrote to them, but sadly, the store had closed and the owner passed away. Someone suggested a famous bakery in Racine, Wisconsin where you could order Kringle pastries online. Excitedly, I looked at their website and not only had the deadline for placing orders already passed, but their Kringle was made with walnuts! Our family tradition called for almonds! This wasn’t going to work at all.
So what does a food-loving, family-driven woman do? I needed to roll up my sleeves, find a recipe, and make it myself. At this point, I was determined to surprise my family with this traditional piece of our Christmas morning, but it wasn’t so easy to find the right recipe. Walnuts were in everything I could find and I looked and I looked. After what felt like ages, I finally found a blog with an old recipe, a lot of excited comments, and a picture that looked like what I remembered. I was ready!
What I didn’t realize, when I got started, was that this coffee cake is actually a yeast bread. And although I make a few cookies and some muffins once in awhile, I’m not really a baker, much less an experienced hand at yeast and proofing dough! But I went for it, and I worked hard, and I was finally rewarded in my quest by the most beautiful Danish Christmas Kringle imaginable – our family tradition was back! It looked just like the one I remember. Maybe, if I dare say it . . . better. When I brought it out on Christmas morning, my dad practically cried!
And once I made it for one Christmas, well . . . you know how traditions go. “Some stay in your heart. They go round and around. They get lost and they get found. Because the end, is just another place to start.” – The Okee Dokee Brothers
What traditions have you brought back to your family table? Share them with us via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!
Want to make a Christmas Kringle of your own? Check out this recipe. Depending on their age, children can help throughout the process with everything from shopping for the ingredients, to mixing, rolling, brushing the egg whites and sprinkling almonds.
Check out this month’s Literature Connection for Everyone Bakes Bread, a great story for kids about the different breads that families have baking in their kitchens on a rainy day. Bread is another food that reflects our different cultures and ties us together.
At Home with Spoons
Ali McDowell, Director of Programs and Partnerships