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Holidays at Anson Mills

December 2012

Over the past few years, we have offered our readers holiday fare abundant enough to induce a coma: cornbread and oyster dressing, cranberries with farro and chestnuts, creamed pearl onions, spätzle and cheese, Carolina shrimp bisque, raised biscuits, apple dumplings, Indian pudding, mulled Bartlett pear crisp, and squash pie.

Fine samplings all (a few, we’d venture, true exemplars of their type), these dishes require a degree of planning and some measure of expertise. But how about a holiday recipe that offers respite from the complex, the strategic, the craftsmanlike? How about a recipe that comports solidly with our most basic metric (spoon, pot, stir), yet is, nevertheless, uniquely delicious? A recipe easy enough for a child to make on Christmas morning—indeed on any morning, anywhere?

We present a traditional American sour cream coffee cake: no kneading, no proofing, no plaiting. Simple. Yet this cake is far from a charwoman’s daughter: so moist, so lush, so buttery under her fine crinkly glaze, so dizzy with vanilla, so bright on the palate from the sash of red preserves at her waist that you will scarcely be able restrain yourself when you pass this simple cake in a room.



Though her mother was a gifted natural cook, my own mother was more cautious than adaptive in the kitchen, and categorically not having any fun. The last thing she wanted was me in her way. As a result, my childhood culinary specialties numbered exactly two, and I prepared them in a hushed, empty kitchen—alone. The first: Jell-O pudding. Cooked over punishingly low heat while I stood on a chair at the stove, the transformation from sloshy milk to glossy bloop bloop was the opposite of instant, and demanded rather more of me than I was prepared to give. “My arm hurts!” I’d wail. When the pudding was finally done, impatience scorched my tongue every time.

The second: Sunday morning coffee cake. It was made from a mix that came as a boxed set. The set contained a plastic bag of dry ingredients, a packet of streusel, and a trembling little aluminum baking pan only about an inch high. I dumped milk and egg into the plastic bag and massaged the bag until its contents became batter. Then I squeeeeeezed the batter into the pan and dotted the streusel on top. Glimpsed through a foggy oven window, the cake was wondrous to behold, bursting forth from its flimsy pan like a superhero, slick batter giving way to a golden matte finish, and streusel blooming winsomely on the top.

That childhood baking experience provides the spectral inspiration for our Bundt de Noël.

Here's to fresh memories, y’all, and Good Food!