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A Holiday Tradition:  Cinnamon Spiced Yeast Bread Called Pawmaw’s Coffee Cake

There are a number of traditions in my family, but one is close to sacred. That tradition involves a special yeast bread or coffee cake made originally by my grandmother and now made by my mother. This coffee cake is served at our casual family Christmas Eve supper. Then, the leftovers are served the next morning for Christmas breakfast. The only name we have ever used for this special pull-apart type bread is Pawmaw’s Coffee Cake.

“Pawmaw,” who or what in the world is that? Let me explain. When my sister, Cindy, was a very young child and just learning to talk my dad would say, “Let’s go over to Pa and Ma’s.” Those were his names for his mom and dad (yes, I come from Southern roots). My sister heard those words often since my grandparents lived near by and we visited them often. So, she soon started calling our grandmother, Pawmaw. Get it? Pa and Ma turned into Pawmaw. As each additional grandchild joined the family we all used this loving name for our grandmother.

Pawmaw was an expert baker. She made this cinnamon yeast bread every Christmas Eve for all of us to enjoy. My boys were blessed to know my grandmother and they too grew up eating her delicious coffee cake every Christmas. Now that she is no longer with us my mom has carried on the tradition. It just wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without this special bread.

Some of you might call this a pull-apart or monkey bread but to me it will always be Pawmaw’s Coffee Cake.

When making this recipe plan ahead for time for the dough to rise. It is after all a yeast bread. To begin, place the milk in a 1-quart saucepan and heat until the milk almost comes to a boil. Stir in the butter until melted.


Set the milk mixture aside and let it cool to lukewarm. Lukewarm is somewhere in the neighborhood of 105º to 115ºF. If you have a thermometer you can check to make sure the temperature is correct. You don’t want the milk mixture to be too warm or it will “kill” the yeast and the bread won’t rise properly.


Now place the warm water (temperature should be the same 105º to 115ºF) and yeast in a large bowl. Stir to dissolve the yeast.


Add the lukewarm milk mixture, 2 cups flour, ¼ cup sugar, an egg and the salt.


Beat at medium speed, scraping the bowl often, until the mixture is smooth.


By hand stir in enough of the remaining flour to make the dough easy to handle. It should be soft and kneadable.


Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.



… until smooth and elastic. This will take about 10 minutes.


Place the dough into a greased bowl. Then flip or turn the ball of dough over so the greased-side is up (the dough will become greased when it is in contact with the greased bowl).


Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size. Here’s where you need to build in some time because this will take about 1 ½ hours. You will know the dough is ready if an indentation made by your finger remains in the dough when poked.


Punch down the dough – yes this means to punch it with your fist.


Cover and let it rise in a warm place until double in size. This time it will only take about 45 minutes. This second rising will make the bread have a finer crumb or structure which results in more tenderness, but if you are in a really big hurry you can skip the second rising. (Pawmaw would not be very happy with this piece of advice since she firmly believed in two risings.) Again, you will know the dough is ready when an indentation remains when touched.


Punch down the dough.


Divide the dough in half.


With floured hands, shape each half into 24 balls. You will have 48 balls. You don’t need to line them up neatly in rows like in the photo – I was just trying to help illustrate all 48 balls.


To make the topping, in a bowl mix together 1 cup sugar, the pecans and cinnamon.


Have the melted butter in another bowl. Dip each ball first into the melted butter …


… and then into the sugar pecan mixture.


Place 24 balls into the bottom of a greased 10-inch tube pan (angel food cake pan) or Bundt pan. (If the bottom of the tube pan is removable, line the pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil.)


Sprinkle the first layer of dough balls with the golden raisins. If you don’t have golden raisins use regular raisins (again, Pawmaw wouldn’t be too happy with me right now because I am breaking away from tradition if I use regular raisins). FYI - golden raisins are treated to prevent their color from darkening.


Top with the remaining 24 balls of dough. If there is any of the butter and sugar mixture left I usually drizzle/sprinkle it over the top of the last layer of balls. I certainly wouldn’t want to waste any of those yummy ingredients.


Cover and let rise one more time until double in size or about 45 minutes. Don’t poke the dough this time; just use your best judgment as to when it is ready.


Heat the oven to 375ºF. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the coffee cake sounds hollow when tapped. If the coffee cake is browning too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.

Immediately invert pan onto a heatproof serving plate. Let stand 1 minute to allow the sugar mixture to drizzle over the coffee cake.


Remove the pan and serve warm.


My wonderful mother makes two coffee cakes every year just so we have enough for Christmas morning, too. I’d love to hear about your family holiday food traditions. Leave me a comment and please, if you make Pawmaw’s Coffee Cake, I’d appreciate it if you rate and review the recipe.

Not sure what to serve to your New Years guests? In a few days Liz will be sharing a delicious appetizer that everyone will love.

Becky Wahlund is the Director of the Test Kitchens for Land O'Lakes and writes for our Recipe Buzz® Blog.


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    Hi, I'm Becky. I'm eager to share my best ideas and favorite recipes from my 20+ years in the Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen. I'm also excited to help with any questions you have about cooking and baking with Land O Lakes® products. Some of the questions and answers will be published in our newsletter, The Measuring Cup®. Please use the short form below to ask your questions, or share your tip or memory.

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