Sketch by Cheryl DeNae Burke
When my kids, Holly and Brian, were growing up in the early 70s we lived in an old country farmhouse that was truly a Norman Rockwell setting for the holiday season.
Our dining room had two windows that came to a V-shape in the corner, which served as the place of honor for our Christmas tree. The tree shimmered with kid-created hand-painted ornaments, and hanging between the strands of popcorn and cranberries were big candy canes that weighed-down the sprightly green branches, and twinkling red and white lights encircled its limbs.
The dining room was the ideal spot for the tree except for one technical problem – there was no electrical plug-in for the lights. To solve the problem, my husband and I threaded an extension cord from the dining room heat duct in through the kitchen heat duct to a plug-in. Apparently, the kids were off writing a letter to Santa when we devised this electrical nightmare and were unaware that the tree lights had to be turned on from the kitchen.
We’d often go out for the evening during the holidays and when we returned home one of us would go into the kitchen and plug in the tree lights. The first time we did this the kids were standing in front of the tree when the lights suddenly lit-up!
“Oh, Brian! Santa must know we just got home!” Holly cried from the dining room, and changing gears only as an excited child can do, she added, “Santa is magic you know!” We could only surmise that Brian was spellbound because he didn’t utter a word. Then, as if in a blink, Brian fully recovered and both kids were squealing with delight about their direct communication with the North Pole.
Thereafter, when it was time to turn on the tree lights, the kids would ceremoniously sit down on the floor in front of the tree, giggling, wiggling and grabbing each other’s arms with eager anticipation. Once they were still, presto, the dining room was filled with the brilliance of the season. Every evening Holly and Brian took a mesmerizing journey into the wondrous magic of Christmas.
I felt fortunate in never missing the kids’ joyous “oohs and ahs” when I turned on the tree lights every night; but often on Christmas morning I was craning my neck from the kitchen doorway asking, “What happened?” or “What did she say?”
Preparing Christmas breakfast for my family prevented me from capturing every special moment. I decided there must be a better way of doing things, so I began experimenting with make-ahead recipes, basically family (or Mom) friendly recipes that could be baking in the oven while I was joining in the family’s activities.
I’d like to share two of my experiments, which became traditional at our house on Christmas mornings. Magical Christmas Coffee Cake is a delicious cinnamon nut cake that goes well with hot chocolate, or steaming cups of coffee or tea. If your family wakes up hungry for a meaty hot dish, Magical Christmas Breakfast Casserole will fill even the bottomless pit of teen-age boys – at least through the morning’s festivities.
The farmhouse with its make-shift wiring is in the distant past, but the memories of those precious days will linger with me forever. Life changes but the need for preparing make-ahead breakfasts remains as there’s always friends gathering around my table eagerly anticipating the Yuletide magic!
Magical Christmas Coffee Cake
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup margarine
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute
1 cup buttermilk or sour cream
Sift together flour, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, soda, and baking powder; set aside. Cream sugars, margarine, applesauce and eggs together in a large mixing bowl. Add buttermilk and sifted ingredients; alternating layers. Spread batter into a buttered, 9” x 13” cake pan. Add topping.
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup red & green crispy rice breakfast cereal (optional)
Combine all topping ingredients together in a small bowl. Sprinkle over coffeecake batter. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. The next day, bake at 350° for 35 minutes. Serves 12
Magical Christmas Breakfast Casserole
2 cups milk
3 slices whole wheat bread, cubed
1 pound bulk sausage
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
Brown sausage; drain through a colander; set aside. Using a fork, beat eggs slightly, add milk, salt and mustard. Add bread cubes, cheese and sausage; stir until all ingredients are well coated with egg mixture. Place mixture in a greased 12” x 7.5” x 2” glass baking dish. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. In the morning, preheat oven to 350° and bake, uncovered, for 40-45 minutes, or until edges begin to brown. Serves 6
I’m reprinting my recipe for Christmas Chocolates as requested by friends, family and many of my new acquaintances. Every year before the holidays my husband, Ed, assists me in making a batch of Christmas Chocolates, which I give-out to friends and tuck into packages throughout the season. They are delightfully sweet surprises that many have started expecting from me each year…it’s a good expectation and I promise to keep the surprises coming.
Combine in a large mixing bowl:
1 cube unsalted butter, melted
1 can Sweetened Condensed milk
2-8 ounce cans Angel Flake Coconut
1-1/2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4 cups walnuts or pecans, chopped fine
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine filling ingredients in the order listed; mix well; cover and refrigerate overnight. When filling is chilled, roll into balls about the size of small walnuts. Place centers on baking sheets that have been covered with waxed paper. Cover centers with plastic wrap; return to refrigerator.
Melt in top of double boiler:
1-12 ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 pound paraffin
Paper candy cups
Remove centers from the refrigerator and place a toothpick in each ball. Dip them, one or two at a time, into the melted chocolate mixture. Place chocolates back onto the waxed-paper baking sheet as each are dipped. Return full sheets of chocolates, with the toothpicks, to the refrigerator. In the meantime, keep chocolate mixture warm.
When chocolates are completely cool (20-30 minutes), gently remove each toothpick. Take a small spoon full of warm chocolate and drizzle it over each chocolate to cover the toothpick hole. Allow to set-up. Place each chocolate in a candy paper; store in a tightly sealed container between layers of waxed paper. Keep in a cool location, but do not refrigerate. FYI: If there happens to be any of these luscious babies left after the holidays, keep in mind that they freeze nicely. Enjoy every marvelous bite!
Yield: Approximately 120-150 chocolates