Swedish Tea Ring [and practicing remembrance]

Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser

Of the six kids in my family, three of us live in the Chicago area and three live in New Jersey where we grew up. Every year, a few weeks before Christmas, the girls who live nearby in the Chicago suburbs get together to bake. We make couple batches of family-favorite cookies—like chocolate mint cookies and krumkake, a Norwegian waffle-like cookie. Most importantly, though, we make my mom’s Swedish tea ring. Truth be told, it’s actually Betty Crocker’s recipe, but it’s the version we ate on Christmas morning every year as kids.

Swedish tea ring (at least the one we grew up with) is a pastry filled with cinnamon, brown sugar, and raisins and topped with a simple glaze. As kids, we always ate it with cheesy eggs—the two recipes yielding the perfect sweet and savory combination.

Now, the meal reminds me of my mom. It reminds me of our family. And it reminds me of so many Christmases over the years—like the one when we didn’t have money for gifts so we regifted our own things to each other (which still remains the best Christmas ever). Or when we attempted to buy the “tallest of allest” Christmas tree. It turned out to be way too big for our family room, and we chopped off the top to make it fit. Or the first Christmas my husband and I had as a married couple—the same one spent unexpectedly in the hospital with my mom as doctors performed surgery for pancreatic cancer, cancer which took her life just over two years later.

After my mom died, it seemed all the more important to me that we make Swedish tea ring. When life changes, sometimes traditions change with it. This needed to remain. I wanted to practice folding the dough perfectly and shaping it like she did. I wanted to savor those Christmas morning moments with my own kids the way I did years ago.

I have a few more Christmases to go before reaching her level of baking expertise. One year, I forgot that the dough recipe yields two tea rings. My husband and I went to church with his family on Christmas Eve, and I mixed the flour, sugar, and yeast before we left so the dough could rise while we were gone. When we came home, I noticed much to my horror it had risen so big and wide that it seeped over the sides of the pan, looking like Swedish tea blob. (Thankfully it still tasted good.)

But for as long as I can manage, Swedish tea ring will grace our table on Christmas morning. The tradition of making it with the women in my family is one I pray will continue. The pastry and the hands who make it serve as a tangible reminder of my mom, our family’s story, and all that God has done in our lives. It reminds me who we are and what we love. It reminds me that in both good times and hard times, God remains faithful. He was good when we ate this as a family decades ago, and he was good the first Christmas I ate it after my mom died. And he’s good now.

A couple weeks ago, my kids joined our annual tradition, alongside my sister, sister-in-law, and three of my nieces. My twins are just three years old, but they carefully rolled out dough and sprinkled it with brown sugar and raisins. They may not remember this Christmas, but the act of baking with them and others in my family flooded my mind with memories of how far God brought us. He’s brought us through seasons of grief and joy, weariness and flourishing. All along, he’s been faithful and good. May that be a truth I never forget.

Merry Christmas.

(Scroll down for the recipe.)

Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser
Swedish Tea Ring | Sarah J. Hauser

Before you bake, I want to give you a few notes on the recipe. This version yields two tea rings. If you don’t need both, this makes a great gift for a neighbor! You could cut the dough recipe in half, but I haven’t actually ever done that myself, so I wrote the recipe as I’ve always made it. Yeast doughs can be finicky, so I didn’t want to mess with what I’ve always done. Common toppings for this include maraschino cherries and nuts, but I usually leave off the cherries and just serve it with a simple glaze and plenty of butter.


Swedish Tea Ring
Yields 2 Tea Rings
Slightly Adapted from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, 1972

Traditional Sweet Roll Dough (Dough recipe yields 2 tea rings)*

2 packages active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
½ cup lukewarm milk
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
4 ½ - 5 cups all-purpose flour
Cooking spray or butter for greasing

Add the yeast to a large bowl. Pour in the water and stir until the yeast dissolves. Add the milk, sugar, salt, eggs, butter, and 2 cups of flour. Mix until smooth. Add in the remaining flour until the dough is easy enough to handle.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board or countertop. Knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. (You can also use a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.) Grease a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl, then turn it so the greased side is up.

Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm place for about an hour and a half, or until double in size. (In the winter in my house, I usually turn the oven on about 300 and then place the dough near the oven. Otherwise, my cold house makes it take forever to rise.)

Punch down the dough and divide it evenly in half.

* If you don’t want to make two tea rings, you can also use the other half of the dough to make cinnamon rolls or other breakfast treats!

For the tea ring (these amounts are for 1 tea ring)

½ recipe of Traditional Sweet Roll Dough
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ cup raisins
½ cup walnuts (optional)

On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a large rectangle, about 15x9 inches. Spread the butter all over and sprinkle on the brown sugar and cinnamon. Then add the raisins and walnuts (if using).

Roll the dough lengthwise, and pinch the edges of the dough together to seal it. You can also use a little butter to glue the edges together.

Grease a baking sheet or cover with parchment paper. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet. Shape it into a circle, stretching it to make it even and then pressing the ends together to seal (glue with butter if needed).

With a scissors, make cuts ⅔ of the way through the dough, about 1-inch apart. Gently turn each section on its side. Cover and and let rise until double, about 30-45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the tea rings for about 20 minutes.** Drizzle with vanilla glaze (recipe below) and serve warm with butter.

**We usually make the tea rings a few weeks in advance and then underbake them slightly (baking time is about 16-18 minutes). Then we defrost the tea rings in the fridge the night before and reheat in a low temp oven until warmed through.

Vanilla Glaze (this is enough for 1 tea ring)

1 cup powdered sugar
1-2 Tablespoons of whole milk (depending on how thick you like the glaze)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

In a bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla until smooth. Drizzle on the warm tea ring.


Cranberry Sauce Muffins

Cranberry Sauce Muffins | Sarah J. Hauser

I meant to post these muffins around Thanksgiving when, if you’re like me, you’re swimming in leftovers. But as maybe you can relate, the holiday craziness seemed to appear out of nowhere and suddenly trips to the post office, last minute errands, and making cookies for my kids’ preschool party became both urgent and important tasks. Freshly baked muffins don’t usually qualify as urgent—but hey, still important, right?

Thankfully, cranberry sauce is simple to make even when leftovers are long gone. I’ve also made this muffin recipe using the good ‘ol store bought stuff from the can, although I recommend buying the “whole berry” cranberry sauce instead of the jellied version. (Did anyone else’s grandmother serve the jellied version on a serving dish in the exact shape of the can? I usually buy a can every year and serve it like that in her memory. It’s funny how the random quirks can make such an impression.)

Anyway, here you go: freshly baked muffins with warm spices and festive cranberry sauce. I also highly recommend a generous pat of butter for serving, for obvious reasons.

What are you baking this time of year?

Cranberry Sauce Muffins | Sarah J. Hauser
Cranberry Sauce Muffins | Sarah J. Hauser
Cranberry Sauce Muffins | Sarah J. Hauser
Cranberry Sauce Muffins | Sarah J. Hauser
Cranberry Sauce Muffins | Sarah J. Hauser
Cranberry Sauce Muffins | Sarah J. Hauser

Cranberry Sauce Muffins
Yields 12 regular-sized muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup whole milk
1 egg
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
¾ cup prepared cranberry sauce*
1 Tablespoons turbinado (raw) sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a regular sized muffin tin, or use paper muffin cups.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, and butter.

Slowly mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, being careful not to over mix. It’s okay if there are lumps. (If you overmix, the muffins get tough.)

Spoon about half the batter into the prepared muffin tin. Add a spoonful of cranberry sauce on top, distributing the sauce evenly between all the muffins. Top with the remaining batter and a sprinkle of turbinado sugar.

Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Serve warm with butter and enjoy!

*Note: I have also made these using jam, but in my opinion they turned out too sweet. I like the tartness the cranberry sauce brings. If you do use jam, I suggest decreasing the amount and skipping the turbinado sugar.


Double Chocolate Christmas Cookies [two ways!]

Double Chocolate + Sea Salt Christmas Cookies | Sarah J. Hauser
Andes Chocolate Mint Christmas Cookies | Sarah J. Hauser

When I first made these cookies, I intended only to bake the mint chocolate version I grew up eating every Christmas. Maybe you’ve seen similar recipes before. Basically, you make a simple chocolate dough and then melt an Andes mint on top. They’re a family favorite (except with family members who dislike mint in their desserts). I happen to love mint in most desserts, and these cookies are no exception.

I shared the classic Mint Chocolate Cookies below. But as is typical when I cook, I didn’t have enough ingredients on hand to finish the whole batch. Necessity is the mother of invention, right? What I lacked in mint chocolate I had in dark chocolate, so I popped a few pieces of dark chocolate on top of a dozen of the cookies, and then sprinkled on a pinch of flaky sea salt.

You guys. This sea salt version may be my favorite cookie ever (or at least in the top three). The key is the salt. Not all salt is created equal, and it’s worth finding really good flaky sea salt for this recipe. I originally tried it with fleur de sel I had on hand, but what I had was finer than I wanted (however, it will work if that’s what you have easy access to. The fleur de sel I have is from Trader Joe’s). Thanks to a pantry filled with random items including several different kinds of salt, I had a bag of Alaska Pure Sea Salt. You want big, flaky pieces of sea salt here. Sea salt dissolves easily in your mouth and complements the dark chocolate so well. Plus, the large pieces look amazing against the deep chocolate color of the cookies—like little flecks of snow.

If you don’t love the combination of salt and sweet, though, have no fear. Stick with the mint version, or create your own! The main cookie is a basic chocolate cookie, so you can use whatever you want on top—like peanut butter chips or white chocolate! You can also do like I did, and make a dozen or two of one version, and the rest a different version.

(Scroll to the bottom of this post for the recipe.)

Double Chocolate Christmas Cookies [two ways!] | Sarah J. Hauser
Double Chocolate Christmas Cookies [two ways!] | Sarah J. Hauser
Andes Chocolate Mint Christmas Cookies | Sarah J. Hauser
Andes Chocolate Mint Christmas Cookies | Sarah J. Hauser
Andes Chocolate Mint Christmas Cookies | Sarah J. Hauser
Double Chocolate + Sea Salt Christmas Cookies | Sarah J. Hauser
Double Chocolate + Sea Salt Christmas Cookies | Sarah J. Hauser
Andes Chocolate Mint Christmas Cookies | Sarah J. Hauser
Double Chocolate + Sea Salt Christmas Cookies | Sarah J. Hauser
Double Chocolate + Sea Salt Christmas Cookies | Sarah J. Hauser
Andes Chocolate Mint Christmas Cookies | Sarah J. Hauser
Double Chocolate + Sea Salt Christmas Cookies | Sarah J. Hauser
Double Chocolate + Sea Salt Christmas Cookies | Sarah J. Hauser

Double Chocolate Christmas Cookies [two ways!]
Makes about 3-4 dozen cookies

Cookie Dough
¾ cup butter (1 ½ sticks)
2 Tablespoons water
1 ½ cups packed brown sugar
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Mint Chocolate or Chocolate + Sea Salt Topping
2 (4.67 oz) packages Andes mint candy, each candy unwrapped
OR
About 8-9 ounces of dark chocolate, broken into chunks (you need 1 chunk for each cookie)
Flaky sea salt such as Alaska Pure Sea Salt

In a medium saucepan over low heat, add the butter, water, and sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, until the butter and sugar melt. Add the chocolate chips and stir until everything is melted and mixed together. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Let it cool for 10-20 minutes.

Turn the mixer on high speed and add the eggs one at a time. Reduce the mixer to low speed. Add flour, baking soda, and salt, mixing just until blended. (Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula if needed.) Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1-2 hours.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll the chilled dough into 1 to 1 ½-inch balls and place about 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for 9-11 minutes. Immediately after taking the cookies out of the oven, place an Andes mint or a dark chocolate chunk on each cookie. Let the chocolate melt a bit, then spread the melted chocolate over the cookie with a spoon. If you’re making the Chocolate + Sea Salt version, sprinkle a pinch of sea salt onto the melted dark chocolate.

Cool completely until the chocolate on top hardens. Store in the fridge or freezer, or serve. Enjoy!

Did you try these? Post a picture on Instagram and make sure to tag me (@sarah.j.hauser)! I’d love to see what’s happening in your kitchen!

Note: Want to know the difference between various salts? Check out this article from Real Simple.


Ham, Apple + Parmesan Panini

Ham, Apple + Parmesan Panini | Sarah J. Hauser

It’s a weird season for cooking, in my opinion. I’m all cooked out after Thanksgiving but not quite ready to gear up for Christmas recipes. Okay, I may have already made my first batch of Christmas cookies—and it’s not even December. But apparently I can’t live off that batch of Double Chocolate Sea Salt cookies for the next few weeks (recipe coming soon!).

In these weeks in between feasts, I’m trying to keep it simple. We’re eating leftovers, soups I made a while back and stored in the freezer, and sandwiches. It’s so easy for me to go overboard in the kitchen during the holidays, and that only adds to the stress and overwhelm this time of year. But I’m learning to be realistic, simplify, and still eat food that’s really good.

Paninis are a perfect weeknight dinner. We’ve done panini nights in the past with friends and family, too. We provide an array or ingredients, or people bring something to share. Then everyone assembles their own and savors their creations alongside soup, salad, or a good glass of wine. (If you do this, I suggest borrowing multiple panini presses from others to make the cooking process go faster. We learned that the hard way!) It’s a great way to get a meal on the table, gather with others, and enjoy good food without spending a ton of time prepping. And to make things even easier? Go ahead and pull out those paper plates. You can use the good dishes at Christmas.

What are you cooking this week? Are you ready for the next big holiday meal, or craving something a little more simple?

Ham, Apple + Parmesan Panini | Sarah J. Hauser
Ham, Apple + Parmesan Panini | Sarah J. Hauser

Ham, Apple + Parmesan Panini
Yields 1 sandwich

2 slices bread (I prefer a crusty white bread)
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
A few slices of deli ham (I used Oscar Mayer Deli Fresh ham)
Thinly sliced Parmesan cheese
Thinly sliced apples
Fresh thyme leaves

Preheat a panini press or grill pan. Brush both sides of the two pieces of bread generously with olive oil. Season both sides with black pepper. 

Layer the ham, Parmesan cheese, sliced apples, and fresh thyme leaves in between the slices of bread. Warm it all in a panini press and enjoy! It also taste great alongside your favorite soup (like this Butternut Squash Soup)!

Note: I didn’t give exact ingredient amounts because you can layer on the ingredients as you like! You can also try changing up the recipe to fit what you have on hand. Try using Asiago instead of Parmesan or sage instead of thyme. Enjoy!


This recipe was created in partnership with Oscar Mayer. All opinions are 100% my own.