The Christmas season always brings with it a flood of memories and emotions for me (all of which, mind you, are grossly exaggerated right now thanks to my physical status. Pretty sure I teared up after watching a life insurance commercial the other day). It reminds me of gatherings with old friends; glittering, nostalgic memories of waiting for Santa to come deliver our presents on Christmas Eve; spending my first Christmas with my husband when he surprised me by decorating our entire place (indoors) with Christmas lights.
It also reminds me of the ones I’ve loved and lost — my sweet grandfathers who never ceased to make me laugh and whom I miss terribly with an aching, gutting feeling every year as the snow begins to fall; and my loving aunt, whose two young boys will be without their mother for the first time this holiday.
Most of all, it reminds of how ridiculously blessed we are in this life. I say this humbly, because I know there are so many hurting and alone this season. Sometimes I feel that pain in my own life, too. And sometimes I feel it for others so much that I become paralyzed with indecision on how to help them. Do I send cookies? A card? Do I just offer a hug? A sympathetic tweet or Facebook message? Will I sound selfish? Aloof? Sometimes I feel like a drop of a few coins in a red bucket outside of the mall just isn’t helpful, so I don’t even do it. Sometimes I clean out our cupboards and completely forget to set aside a few pantry items for the local food shelf. We send money to a child in India, but sometimes I forget we even divvy out that payment every month. Is that enough? Why do I become so overwhelmed by the needs of others that I neglect them?
Oy. I know this is heavy stuff and I don’t mean to be such a downer right when we should be thinking about Christmas cookies and decking the halls and baking eggnog cinnamon swirl bread. It’s just that sometimes, I need to get this out. I need to chat with you and let you know where I am right now, in this life. And right now I’m feeling like I need to be doing more, giving more, loving more. Christmas always reminds me of that.
And yet, I know there is something so gracious and generous in offering a hug, or a plate of cookies to a neighbor. I know there is something loving and wonderful in letting someone know you thought about him or her that day, even if it came through a message online. I know that if I was hurting, and someone invited me over for a cup of hot cocoa and a slice of fresh, warm cinnamon swirl bread, it would help. It might not solve the problem — just as the drop of a few coins into a red bucket won’t give every single person food and shelter and warm clothing this season — but it would certainly help.
I baked this eggnog-spiced cinnamon swirl bread in a moment of recognition that I am so dang lucky to be looking forward to the holidays. I mean yes, there will still be family drama aplenty and we’re traveling by airplane, which always gives me the slight willies — but overall, I have no complaints, no apprehensions. I’m going from one warm, cookie and joy-filled home to another. I get to celebrate the season with the people on this earth I love the most. I get to bake homemade bread and eat it, too.
I hope so much that wherever you are this season, you are able to count your blessings. I hope you, too, are going from one warm, cookie-filled home to another (or staying put in your own, away from the cold). I hope that the joy and peace of the season overwhelms you more than the bitterness and sadness. And I hope you bake this bread and share it with someone you love or who is in need, or both. It might not be much, but it’s something. And something is always better than nothing.
P.S. On a completely unrelated (exciting!) note, I’m now a partner with ZipList! That means you can save recipes to your Recipe Box (by clicking on the “save” button in the recipe below) and access your Recipe Box by clicking on the link on the main navigation bar at the top of the page.
- 2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2¼ teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast
- 1¼ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
- 1 cup warm eggnog (about 120 degrees F)
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water (egg wash)
- ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- 1 to 1½ teaspoons eggnog
- In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and cinnamon. Add butter and warm eggnog. Stir until combined.
- Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead 10 minutes, adding more flour as needed until a smooth, elastic and only slightly sticky dough forms OR using dough hook attachment, knead dough in stand mixer on medium speed 5 minutes, adding more flour as needed until a smooth, elastic and only slightly sticky dough forms.
- Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place 1½ to 2 hours until nearly doubled.
- Punch down dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into a 16-by-8-inch rectangle. Brush with egg wash, then reserve egg wash for later. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, flour and cinnamon; sprinkle evenly over dough.
- Starting from one short end, tightly roll up the dough into a log. Pinch seam to seal. Place dough seam-side down in a lightly greased 8½-by-4½-inch loaf pan (a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan also works). Cover with lightly greased plastic wrap and let rise 1 hour in a warm place until the dough comes about 1 inch over the top of the pan.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine flour, sugar and cinnamon. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or your fingers until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Brush top of loaf with reserved egg wash. Carefully sprinkle and pat streusel mixture on top of dough, being careful not to deflate dough.
- Bake loaf 45 to 50 minutes until golden brown. Tent with foil halfway through if top of loaf gets brown too quickly. Cool loaf 5 minutes in pan, then carefully remove and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar and eggnog to make a glaze. Drizzle glaze over fully cooled bread. Let set before slicing.