I got it fixed in my young head that this recipe was handed down from the Danish side of our family. In a day already steeped in tradition, the notion that I could be eating the same bread that my great-great-great grandma ate when she was little felt like just one more bit of magic.
When I saw the actual recipe, my confusion doubled. This sweet bread bore no resemblance to my memory. It was more of a roll than a braid. And it was filled with, of all things, maraschino cherries. Surely, my young self would have made particular note of a breakfast featuring maraschino cherries. In the face of my doubts, my mother insisted that this was without question the recipe she made.
I brooded and fussed, and ultimately decided that it didn't matter. Maybe my ancestors didn't eat this bread for Christmas breakfast, but they did eat something. It was likely sweet and felt special, and they ate it together as a family. That's the Christmas tradition that really counts.
Note: This bread is prepared almost entirely the night before. In the morning, all that's needed is to put it in the oven to bake. Inspired by Rich Cherry Walnut Coffeecake in the "Fleischmann's Bake-It-Easy Yeast Book."
1/4 cup (2 ounces) water
1 teaspoon yeast
1/2 cup (4 ounces) whole milk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups flour