Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" and an Outstanding Coffee Cake!

Don't ask me why, but every time I make this "Cranberry Pear Coffee Cake," it always makes me think of "a partridge in a pear tree," from "The Twelve Days of Christmas." I read an interesting article by a man simply known as Chuck, who apparently did a lot of research regarding the origins and meaning of the song. I'll try to simplify what I read: "The Twelve Days of Christmas" evolved out of the popular culture of the Middle Ages and Tudor England, and is believed to be of French origin. It was sung and altered for over two centuries before finally being published to the version we know now. There is some belief that the song is littered with Christian symbolism (e.g., the partridge in a pear tree symbolic to Christ on the cross) to secretly teach children the faith when Catholicism was illegal in England. However, during the holiday season, beginning on Christmas Day, elaborate feasts, dancing, music, and partying were a big part of the holiday. Birds in particular were the preferred entree at that time, explaining why the first seven stanzas of the song involve different types of birds. I'll break down the song now:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree. - partridges and pears common in England during the holidays, popular main course;
On the second day...., two turtle doves, - symbol for love and peace, given to be pets and show admiration;
On the third day...., three French hens, - reference to three main varieties of French chickens at the time (remember French origin), the Crevecoeur, Houdans, and the La Fleche, I'm sure all quite tasty;
On the fourth day...., four calling birds, - reference to "colly" or "collie" birds, (aka., blackbirds) which were plentiful and common food at the time;
On the fifth day...., five golden rings, - reference to ring-necked pheasants, (aka., golden birds) usually served to nobility at that time;
On the sixth day...., six geese a-laying, - common barnyard fowl at the time, kept to slaughter or collect eggs, and is still a traditional Christmas entree;
On the seventh day...., seven swans a-swimming, - associated with royalty and even eaten by royalty, in fact, by law (The Act of Swans, passed in 1482) any unmarked swans (nicks in the bill) were automatically property of the crown;
On the eighth day...., eight maids a-milking, - basically, code for "a roll in the hay" with an unmarried  maiden. They had to find a husband somehow!;
On the ninth day...., nine ladies dancing, - reference to noble ladies tearing up the dance floor;
On the tenth day...., ten lords a-leaping, - reference to leaping dancers (called morris dancers) who performed leaping dances between courses;
On the eleventh day...., eleven pipers piping, - common professional musicians at the time, not only in Scotland, but in England and France as well; and finally,
On the twelfth day...., twelve drummers drumming, - on the last day of the Christmas celebrations, known as the Twelfth Night, drummers were used in combination with trumpets, to announce the serving of the next course, especially the final dessert of "Kings' Cake," still made for Mardi Gras in the US.

So, now you can sing the song and actually know what it means while you make this exceptional coffee cake, loaded with tangy cranberries, sweet pear, and finished with a brown sugar topping! Perfect for early holiday mornings (kids!!!) along a nice strong cup of coffee!

Cranberry Pear Coffee Cake

Serves 6-8, *You will need a food processor for this recipe!

For the topping
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter
1 firm ripe pear, cored

For the cake
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a 8 or 9" round cake pan.

For the topping
Process the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and butter in a food processor until crumbly, about 10 seconds. Set aside. Using a slicing disc, slice the pear (may have to cut to fit in the feed tube, don't worry, it won't matter what the slices look like!). Set aside.

For the cake
Remove the slicing disc and insert the multipurpose blade. Add the sour cream, butter, sugar, and egg. Process to mix well, about 20 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl after 10 seconds, if necessary. Add four, baking powder and soda. Process until just combined, about 10 seconds. Add the cranberries. Pulse 10 times, about 1 second each time, until coarsely chopped.

Spread the batter in the baking pan. Arrange the pear slices over the batter. Sprinkle the topping over the pears. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

*You can make this coffee cake the night before, cover, refrigerate, and rewarm, uncovered, in a warm oven the next morning!

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