In my family, Christmas breakfast is just as important a meal as is Christmas dinner. This could be because we aren't usually done unwrapping our gifts until just before it's time to eat dinner, so we rely on our morning meal to sustain us through the day (along with a healthy dose of snacking on my mom's Chex party mix, that is.)
Our gift opening marathon is not due to an abnormally large number of gifts piled under the tree and stacked up to the ceiling. We usually have what most people would consider to be a normal amount of gifts. We just have an abnormal way of opening them.
At some point during my teenage years my mom decided that having us tear down the stairs and tear through all of the gifts before 8 a.m. meant that the bulk of the day was spent with our new goodies as opposed to with our family. So, being the creative person that she is, she came up with a solution, which would become an annual tradition:
The Biederman Family Christmas Game
Every year the game would have a different theme, and we would always start playing it immediately after eating breakfast and opening stockings. One year the game was "Christmas Pictionary," when the winner of each round would get to choose a gift to open. My dad didn't like that one so much, as everything that he drew looked pretty much the same. I, on the other hand, loved it, maybe because I won most of the rounds. Other years the game was "Christmas Charades", "Christmas Trivial Pursuit", or "Christmas Jumble."
My mom made sure that the games were challenging, part of her scheme to keep us in the same room for as long as possible. When friends and family would start to call to say "Merry Christmas" at what they thought was a "safe" and polite hour, we were barely one-third of the way through our presents (this was also due to the fact that my dad and brother would have to get up to make iced tea or get a snack every 10 minutes.)
Winning the games was a double edged sword. If you won, you were allowed to select a present to open. Of course this also meant that you would go through your presents first. I would often throw the game and lose intentionally so that I would have presents left. That's the only reason why I ever lost a round.
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
The games always involve a ton of laughter, and they really do make Christmas morning extra special. I can't wait to find out what this year's game is going to be (although I think we all know who will win it....)
So, you can see why an extra hearty breakfast would come in handy in our family--sort of like a pre-game Christmas tailgate. Just indoors. And not held on the back of a vehicle. OK, so maybe "tailgate" wasn't the best descriptor. You know what I meant.
This kugelhopf recipe would be perfect to serve at your holiday breakfast or brunch, whether your day's activities involve a game of "Christmas Scattergories" or a walk with the family. It will keep on the counter, wrapped, for a few days, but there is no way that it will last that long.
Kugelhopf, also spelled Kugelhupf, gugelhupf or kugelhoph, is a classic brioche-like yeast cake, which supposedly originated in Austria or in the Alsace region of France. Variations of the cake are also popular in Germany (where I first tried it), Switzerland, Poland, Croatia, and Hungary. Instead of being a dessert cake, kugelhopf is traditionally served at breakfast or as an afternoon snack, much like the Italian panettone.
It also makes a mean french toast or bread pudding......just putting that out there.
Although there are pans made specifically for kugelhopf, you can use either a Bundt or a tube pan, as I have done here. Fillings range from booze-soaked fruit to nuts to chocolate, or a mixture of all three if you're feeling really wild.
Here are my extra tips for making this irresistible holiday sweet:
- To make the optional glaze, mix 3 cups confectioner's sugar with 3-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, enough to reach a consistency that is pourable but still thick. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled kugelhopf and allow to set for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
- For the two rising stages, if the dough has no doubled in size during the time indicated, just let it rest longer. Depending on the temperature of the dough and the yeast that you used, it might take a bit longer to rise.
- When I need to set dough aside to rise in a warm place, I always turn the oven on to preheat for a few minutes and then turn it off before placing the dough inside. This creates an ideally warm and draft-free area in which the dough can rise.
- Feel free to experiment when making the filling. Use different types of nuts or raisins in place of the cranberries. You could also "marinate" a mixture of dried fruit in some Kirsch or Grand Marnier and use that in place of the chocolate.
Chocolate Orange Pecan Kugelhopf
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living Magazine
1 cup whole milk
12 tablespoons butter, cubed
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoons orange zest
2 teaspons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
One 1/4-ounce package active dry yeast (2-1/4 teaspoons)
5 cups flour, divided
4 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
3/4 cup finely chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)
In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and butter to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the butter has almost melted. Remove saucepanfrom heat and stir in the sugar, orange zest, vanilla and salt. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and allow to cool a few minutes, until lukewarm.
Add the yeast and 2 cups of the flour, mixing on low speed until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in remaining 2-1/2 cups flour until combined.
With floured hands (because dough will be very sticky!) turn the dough out onto a generously floured work surface; gently knead until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a buttered bowl, turning to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling: In a medium bowl, mix together brown sugar, pecans, chocolate, orange zest and butter. Add cranberries, if using.
Punch down the dough and give it a quick knead. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a 14 X 22-inch rectangle. Sprinkle the filling over the top, leaving a 1-inch border.
Starting from a longer side, carefully roll up dough into a log. Cut the log crosswise into 12 even slices. Place the cut sides of 6 of the slices against the side of a buttered 10-inch tube pan. Place the remaining slices, cut sides pressed together, in a ring around the tube of the pan. Cover with plastic and let rise until doubled, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Bake kugelhoff until browned on top and a cake tester inserted into the center emerges clean, 35-40 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes, then carefully unmold and cool completely. Drizzle with an orange glaze (see tips, above), or dust with confectioners' sugar.