Every Christmas Eve as far back as I can remember, we would gather at Mom and Dad’s house sometime in the evening. For many years it was at their house on Gram Lane in Bellmead; and then for a few, it was at their duplex near Woodgate Intermediate School in Woodway or Hewitt or Waco. (I’m still not sure where that boundary exactly is.) My folks were pretty chill on where their kids and their families would spend Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. But Mom and Dad laid claim to Christmas Eve. They wanted us at their house. And we complied.
We were even there on the last Christmas Eve they lived in their house on Bellmead — the house where I grew up. It was one of the only Christmas Eves, as far as I can remember, that it snowed. It had started snowing before we left our house in Woodway, and I did not want to make that drive across town. The weather reminded me of a Valentine’s Day dinner Abby and I celebrated once in Little Rock, Arkansas.
We were having dinner at Fantastic China in a neighborhood not far from where we lived. While we were eating, snow began falling. It didn’t feel too cold that evening, so I figured driving home wouldn’t be a problem. But in the short time we were inside dining, the snow quickly turned to ice. My pickup truck had difficulty getting up one hill, and as we came down the other side, we slid off the street and into a pole. We were thankful the pole was there. Otherwise, we would have ended up in somebody’s living room. Nobody was hurt, and we were even more thankful for that since Abby was pregnant with Sophie at the time.
Those were the memories that were swirling as we headed to Bellmead for the last Christmas Eve on Gram Lane — well, along with the memories of previous Christmas celebrations. We made it safely though and celebrated another holiday with all the traditions that had built over time. Everyone opened their stockings that Santa had already left for them, and then we began on presents. As usual, the youngest member of the family opened a gift first, and we went from there.
Food was a big part of that Christmas Eve tradition. Mom tried to make sure everyone had their favorite dishes to snack on as we opened presents, which made for an odd holiday spread.
I grew up eating Pillsbury cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and she would pop open one or two cans of those. I also loved sausage balls, and those were present as well. We also had sandwiches on croissants that were bought at Sam’s Club; Chex mix that had been cooked a little too long (every year!); Fritos with a pineapple-cream cheese dip; and Dad’s hot chocolate. He usually would make the hot chocolate from scratch, but I think he used a mix the last few years.
For the recipes below, we wanted to remain true to the Tankersley traditions but just up the game a bit. At our house now, we tend to eat breakfast as we open presents Christmas morning. We never make all of these things on any one Christmas. But they’re a sampling of things we’ve made over the years.
Giant Cinnamon Roll Coffee Cake
- 2 cups milk, warm
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 6-7 cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon cinnamon
For the glaze:
- 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Milk, for thinning, if needed
Heat oven to 400 F. Grease a cast iron skillet or springform pan with 2-4 tablespoons butter and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the warm milk and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let sit until it becomes frothy, for about 5-10 minutes. Add the salt, sugar, room temperature butter and 4 cups of flour. Mix on low until the dough comes together, then increase the speed until the dough forms into a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You may need to add more flour but do so just a little at a time. Continue to mix until the dough is soft and smooth.
Lightly spray a mixing bowl with nonstick spray and place the dough in the bowl to rest for 30 minutes.
Once rested, lightly sprinkle some flour on a clean work surface and roll out the dough into a large rectangle, so it is even and about 1/2-inch thick. Spread the butter over the surface of the dough then sprinkle with the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Lightly press the sugar mixture into the surface of the dough.
Use a ruler or tape measure to measure an even rectangle, then cut any excess dough. Make sure the dough is an even length and an even width. Use the ruler or tape measure again and score the dough every 1 inch on the top and bottom. Use those markings to cut the dough into strips.
Working with one strip at a time, roll up the strip and place in the center of the cast iron skillet or springform pan. Take the next strip and add on to the end of the first strip. Keep going until the strips have all been used or the pan is filled up. If the strips are too long, cut them in half and then continue to add strips to your roll until the pan is full. Any leftover strips can be rolled up and placed in a muffin pan.
Dot the tops of the rolls with softened butter and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
To make the glaze, place the cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter and vanilla in a bowl and whip until smooth. If you desire a pourable glaze, add milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, and whip until it’s the desired consistency.
Remove the coffee cake from the oven and cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes. Remove from the pan and drizzle the glaze over the top. Slice and serve while still warm. Makes 1 large cinnamon roll, about 8 servings, plus about 6 individual cinnamon rolls.
- 1 1/4 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 cups grated cheddar (about 1/2 pound)
- 1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, if desired, and diced (optional)
- 1 pound bulk sausage
- 1/2 large yellow onion, grated
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Heat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, pepper and baking powder. Add cheddar and toss to coat. Add sausage, jalapeno, onion and butter. With your hands, mix until well-combined and roll into 1-inch balls.
Place sausage balls 1/2 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until balls are golden and cooked through, for about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. If the sausage balls are a bit greasy, place on a paper-lined plate for a few minutes. Then place them in a bowl and drizzle with Bourbon Maple Glaze (recipe follows). Makes about 45 sausage balls.
Bourbon Maple Glaze
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
Place all ingredients in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Allow the butter to melt, and continue to cook until the glaze is smooth and heated through. Makes about 1/2 cup.
Baked French Toast
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 3/4 cup half-and-half
- 1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar, divided
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 4 slices thick French bread
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup chopped pecans
In a small bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar and vanilla. Pour half the mixture into a baking dish. Place the bread in the dish and top with the other half of the egg mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to cook the French toast, heat oven to 350 F. In a baking dish, melt the butter, then stir in 1/4 cup of brown sugar along with the honey, syrup and pecans. Place the bread on top of this mixture and bake for 30-35 minutes until puffed and golden brown. Serve while hot. Makes 2-4 servings.
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon butter, cut into small pieces
- Salt and pepper
- Fresh or dried herbs, such as tarragon
- Grated cheese, optional
Heat oven to 325 F. Break the eggs into a small baking dish or ramekin. Top with the butter. Bake until the whites are set and the yolks are thickened for 15-18 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with tarragon or other herbs. Top with grated cheese, if desired. Serve while hot. Makes 1 serving.
Autumn Fruit Salad
- 2 apples
- 2 pears
- 1 cup grapes
- 1 container (5 ounces) Greek yogurt, plain or vanilla
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
- Pomegranate seeds (optional)
- Sugared pecans, chopped (optional)
Cut the apples and pears into large pieces. If the grapes are large, cut them in half. Place all the fruit in a mixing bowl. In another bowl, whisk together yogurt, honey, cinnamon and cardamom until combined. Pour over the fruit and toss well. Top with pomegranate seeds and pecans, if desired. Makes about 6 servings.
Pineapple Cream Cheese Dip
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 medium can crushed pineapple, drained (DO NOT drain the pineapple juice into the sink; drain it into a glass and drink it. That’s a Tankersley tradition.)
Combine the cream cheese and pineapple in a mixing bowl. Use a fork to mix together. Chill (or not). Serve with Fritos. (We’ve tried this dip with other kinds of chips and various types of crackers. It doesn’t work. Use Fritos.)
Hot White Chocolate
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup white chocolate chips
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cardamom, or to taste
- Splash of brandy (optional)
Place all ingredients, except brandy, in a saucepan set over medium-low heat. Allow to heat slowly until chocolate is melted, stirring occasionally. Once the chocolate is melted and everything is well-combined, remove from the heat and let sit for 30 minutes to allow to steep. When ready to serve, reheat over medium-low heat, stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Pour into cups and add a splash (or more!) of brandy, if desired. Makes about 4 cups.