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A tasty tradition

Shortly after my parents got engaged, my father was sent to Vietnam. During his absence, my mother began another relationship. With Jesus. She had begun to attend classes about the Catholic faith, to read Scripture and attend Mass. She longed for the day she could receive the Eucharist. One month before my father returned, she did.
    My mother’s personal conversion affected our entire family. As part of celebrating our family’s faith, my parents began a few unique traditions when my sisters and I were really young. They were designed to make sure we were infused with the faith she had come to love so much.
    One in particular was a birthday party for Jesus every Christmas morning. Not one with party hats, balloons and the ubiquitous cake with too much frosting. Rather, we would celebrate with a special coffeecake and an heirloom, porcelain baby Jesus. It was my folks’ way of diverting our attention from materialism to what Christmas is really about – Jesus. Mom would swipe a taper candle from the Advent wreath and place it into the center of a coffeecake baked by my grandmother. My sisters and I lined up: one of us holding the cake, another holding the porcelain baby Jesus, and the third, the crèche. We then paraded toward the dining room singing Happy Birthday and placed the baby in the center of the Advent wreath on the dining room table. (I must admit that part was a little awkward and silly during my teen years.) While devouring our once-a-year coffeecake, we would each share what Jesus means to us. It has been interesting how our discussions have evolved over the years!
   We’re grown now, and this simple, yet meaningful tradition lives on and is shared with the new additions to our family. For my father, sisters and I, it would not be Christmas without it. For my mother, it has also been a way for her to remember and reflect on her joyful conversion. I invite you to try  – not just my grandmother’s absolutely incredible coffeecake – but also the entire tradition.

Happy Birthday Jesus coffeecake
• 1 packet of instant yeast
• 1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 4 cups sifted flour
• 1⁄2 cup of warm mashed potatoes (prepared instant will do)
• 1⁄2 cup warm water
• 1⁄2 cup butter (1 stick)
• 2 eggs (beaten)

Brown sugar and cinnamon mixture
• 1⁄4 cup melted butter
• 3⁄4 cup brown sugar
• 1 1⁄2 teaspoons cinnamon
• 1⁄2 cup raisins
• 1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts

• 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
• 1 1⁄2 tablespoons softened butter
• 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla
• 3 to 4 tablespoons milk
• pinch of salt

    Reserve 1 cup of flour from total amount and combine remaining flour with yeast, granulated sugar, salt and baking powder. Set aside. Combine and heat the mashed potatoes, water, and butter to 120 - 130 degrees (too hot will kill the yeast). Stir into the dry flour mixture. Add eggs and continue to stir. Add some of the reserve flour and knead dough until it’s no longer sticky. Roll into a ball, cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins and walnuts. Set aside and spray a pie pan with cooking spray. On a large, floured surface, roll out dough (1⁄4 inch thick). Spread melted butter all over and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon mixture. Roll the dough into a snake-like shape and pinch all open ends so mixture will not fall out. Lift the roll and gently stretch so it’s long enough to fit into pan. Place the roll into pan so it forms a circle. Cover with foil and let the prepared dough rise for about 45 minutes in a warm place. Unseal the foil, but keep coffeecake covered and bake at 325 degrees for 50 minutes to 1 hour depending on oven. Remove from oven and set aside. Mix ingredients for icing and spread all over top and sides while cake is still warm. For extra color, add sliced maraschino cherries on top. Enjoy!

By Michelle DiFranco  |  Photography by Phillip Shippert

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