The Christmas pièce de resistance when I was a child, the one that calls back so many memories, was Mom’s Christmas coffee cakes. Mom would bake early in the morning on Christmas Eve, and by the time my brother and I arrived in the kitchen—why was my father never a part of this?—ten or twelve tree-shaped cakes were ready to be decorated with gumdrops, red and green cherries, silver shot, red hots, red and green sugar, and whatever else entered our fancies.
Each finished cake was put on a square of cardboard—festively covered with aluminum foil—and covered with clear wrap. By late morning, we were off to deliver the cakes; I think my father became part of the tradition here, though as soon as my brother was old enough to drive, the delivering was left to the two of us.
We had a regular list of recipients, and at every house where we stopped, we were assured that Christmas morning would not be the same without one of Alice MacBain's coffee cakes. And we left the same warning, the one that every recipient already knew: don't put it in the oven to warm, because the icing will melt and the decorations will run off. Warm it on a cookie sheet on the stove or (should one be so elegant) a warming tray. And always we left with hearty Christmas wishes ringing in our ears.
Newly married and living in
Everlasting roll dough
2 pkg. granular yeast
½ c. warm water - be sure it's warm; try the wrist test you use for baby formula
Pinch of sugar
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk, plus enough water to make 4 cups (nowadays I use “light” milk)
1 scant c. vegetable oil
1 c. sugar
Dissolve yeast in water (add just a pinch of sugar to help the yeast work) and let it rise about five minutes. Mix milk and water, oil, and sugar. Add dissolved yeast--it should have bubbles. Stir in enough flour to make a thin batter, the consistency of cake batter. Let this rise in a warm place until bubbles appear on the surface (probably 1 hour—check it at 30 minutes).
1 c. flour
1 tsp. salt (or less)
1 heaping tsp. baking powder
1 level tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. cardamom (Optional, but this makes it really good—I keep my cardamom in the freezer from year to year.)
Sift seasoned flour into first mixture. Keep adding flour until it is too stiff to stir with a spoon. Knead well. Don't let the dough get stiff with too much flour or your coffee cakes will be heavy.
Also optional: coat 16 oz. candied citron with flour and mix into batter; if your family hates citron, you can substitute raisins. (Being a purist, I insist on citron over the howls of my now-grown children, who don't like raisins either—or cardamom, for that matter!)
This dough keeps in the refrigerator for a week or more, although it acquires a sourdough taste as it ages--not a bad thing. Just be sure to punch it down occasionall ybefore it takes over your entire refrigerator.