[photopress:decorating_cookies_1210.jpg,thumb,pp_style] by Annette Lyon
Some of my happiest Christmas memories from childhood center around the kitchen, namely around making the traditional Finnish sweetbread pulla. The smell of cardamom spice always brings back images and feelings of making pulla with my father—rolling out the dough into long strips and then braiding them together; brushing on egg wash to create a beautiful golden brown top when the bread baked; and finally cutting fresh pulla and savoring every bite.
When I married, I naturally married into a new set of Christmas traditions, many of which also had to do with food. Our first Christmas, I attempted, with limited success, my mother-in-law’s sugar cookies.
A few years later, she gave me a set of miniature tart tins, so I made her recipe of Danish tarts, which my husband grew up on. That recipe is something that means “Christmas” to him as much as pulla does to me.
Each of us had other foods, activities, and other traditions we associated with Christmas, and as the years went on, we had to decide which ones to carry on from each side of the family—and then try to find some new ones for our own growing family.
Such decisions aren’t easy to make. I still miss my mother’s homemade, whole wheat orange rolls, and I imagine my husband would appreciate having his mother’s sugar cookies more often. But adhering to every single tradition every year would be stifling, suffocating the joy right out of the holiday and strangling family togetherness. We have a family of our own now, so we’ve compromised.
I make pulla with the kids each December. And I always bake Danish tarts.
Breakfast on Christmas morning follows what he grew up with, while dinner is what I was used to eating for the holiday. (His Grandma Jensen’s rolls are on the dinner menu. They’re so good, I don’t mind.)
And of course, we’ve developed some of our own traditions. Every December, we watch White Christmas. We always trim the tree while listening to Bing Crosby crooning out his famous carols. And we haven’t missed driving through a local light show in over a decade (followed by drinking hot cocoa).
I love how every family finds its own way to make the holiday special. Some years I try something new. Sometimes it becomes a new tradition, sometimes not. The point is to create happy memories and time when we have time together to bond as a family.
Below are my family’s two must-have recipes for Christmas: Finnish Pulla and Danish Mini Tarts. Try them for fun and make a new holiday memory.
1 TB dry yeast
1/2 c warm water
2 c hot milk
1/2 c butter
1 c sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom
4 eggs, beaten
9+ c white flour
Dissolve yeast in water and let sit for several minutes. Add milk, butter, sugar, salt, cardamom, and eggs. Add 2–3 cups of flour and beat until you have a batter. Add 3 more cups of flour. Beat until smooth and glossy. Stir in remaining flour until dough forms a stiff ball.
Let the dough rest for 15 minutes then knead until it’s smooth and elastic. (I let my trusty KitchenAide do the kneading.) Put in a greased bowl and let rise until double. Cut into 3 pieces. Cut each piece into 3 more. Roll out each piece, pinch the tops together, and braid. Let the braids rise for 20–30 minutes. Brush with egg wash. Bake at 400 degrees for 20–25 minutes until they are golden brown.
Danish Mini Tarts
1 cup butter
1 cup + 1 TB sugar
2 ½ – 2 ¾ cups flour
½ tsp almond extract
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly cover tart tins with cooking spray.
Cream together butter and sugar. Add egg and almond extract. Mix in flour as needed to make the dough moist but not sticky. It should be workable with your hands. Work small amounts of dough into individual tart tins. You’ll need less than you think; you don’t want thick bottoms. Prick each shell with a fork a couple of times, then bake for about 10 minutes, until the edges barely start to golden. Let cool, then remove from tins and fill.
Makes about 24 shells, depending on size.
Chocolate Tart Filling
1 cup milk chocolate chips
18 large marshmallows
½ cup milk
1 cup whipping cream
In a medium pan, melt together the chocolate, marshmallows, and milk. Allow the mixture to cool completely to room temperature. Whip the cream and then fold it into the chocolate mixture until fully incorporated, with no chocolate streaks. Fill tart shells. Chill filled tarts for about an hour before serving.
Garnish with a squirt of whipped cream.