While looking for holiday recipes, I stumbled on this neglected favorite in a battered shoebox that holds my really old recipes. Each year I swear I'm going to transcribe and index them, but that just never seems to happen. As a result, a task that should take minutes can turn into hours of reverie as special recipes are found and the people associated with them emerge from memory. Lilah, George and Claire were a constant presence in my childhood. Lilah, whom I've written about before, was the mother of my best friend Claire. George, her husband, a professor at the University of Chicago, introduced Claire and me to the treasures of the Oriental Institute and the Field Museum, and, because neither of us were much into dolls, we became weekend explorers of the more exotic museum circuit. Back then museums charged no admission and a round trip ticket on the Illinois Central cost a quarter. If you were clever, you could ride from the south side of the city to the Loop and back again while stopping off to visit all the museums along the way. On a very good day, you might even catch a demonstration on the Midway at the University of Chicago. Claire and I really traveled. It was a different time and place and we were city kids, so no one worried about our museum treks from Mesopotamia to the coal mines of Appalachia. The holidays brought special exhibits to the Museum of Science and Industry and we learned that if you planned precisely you'd be able to see all the Christmas programs the museum offered. The blonde Claire, Cinderella to my Snow White, loved the re-creation of Christmas in Scandinavia and would embarrass me to death by singing "Santa Lucia" with abandon - at the top of her lungs, I might add - on the ride home from the museum. Claire loved this coffee cake and Lilah always made it for her on St. Lucia Day. It is very understated, but the unique meringue filling - a poor man's almond paste - makes it sweeter than a Viennese pastry. I hope you'll give it a try. It's not hard to do and if, as you make it, you hear the clear bell-like strands of "Santa Lucia" or see a blonde, haloed specter floating through the air, not to worry. It's probably Claire practicing for the Lucia Day procession. God Jul, Claire. No Lucia will ever hold a candle to you. Skol!
Cinnamon Meringue Coffee Ring
1 scant tablespoon active dry yeast
3-1/4 to 3-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2/3 cup + 2 tablespoons milk, divided use
6 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons butter, divided use
1/3 + 1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided use
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, divided use
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup + 1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds, divided use
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1) Combine yeast and 1-1/2 cups flour in bowl of an electric stand mixer. Set aside.
2) Combine 2/3 cup milk, 6 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Heat until butter is melted. Add to flour mixture with 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk. Beat on low speed until combined. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes longer. By hand, stir in enough remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough. Knead on a floured surface until smooth, about 5 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once. Cover and let rise until double. Punch down, turn onto a floured surface and let rest for 10 minutes. Roll dough into an 18 x 10-inch rectangle.
3) Beat reserved egg white until stiff. Fold in reserved 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon. Spread mixture over dough. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup almonds. Starting from long side, roll dough tightly in jelly roll fashion. Place seam side down on a greased baking sheet; bring ends together and seal. Let rise until doubled in size.
4) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for 25 minutes, covering with foil if bread browns too quickly. Set aside to cool slightly.
5) Meanwhile, heat reserved 2 tablespoons butter over low heat until browned. Cool. Gradually add confectioners' sugar, reserved 2 tablespoons milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla; mix well. Drizzle cake with icing. Sprinkle with reserved 1/4 cup almonds. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.