It was a chilly winter day. Certain Man and I lived in a basement home on M.V. High Road in Plain City, Ohio. I have always needed a sense of community wherever I have lived, and I would sometimes visit neighbors, walking to their houses and dropping by. Down the road and around two corners lived Earl and Alice Yutzy, and on this particular day, close to Christmas in 1974, I stopped by their house and found Alice in the middle of baking the most fascinating little pastries in her cozy kitchen. I watched the process and wondered if I could do that.
I do not know what Alice thought. Or if she wished I would go away. However, when I asked her for the recipe, she was willing to give it. I copied it off on a piece of paper ripped from an old phone book and carried it home. After some time I copied the recipe over onto a blank cookbook that someone had given me and that’s the page that you see on the picture. I don’t know when I made the first ones, but I tried often during those first couple of years and what a mess it was! They usually tasted okay, but they looked a sight! But I kept practicing and practicing and eventually, I got a fairly good method and feel for the process. (The only thing I didn’t do that I’m pretty sure that I remember Alice doing — at least on some of them– was decorate the tops with red and green maraschino cherries, cut to look like Christmas poinsettias with their leaves. It was so pretty, and I would still do it in a minute, but just doesn’t work with the genes in my family.)
I always think about Alice Yutzy when I’m making Swedish Tea Rings. I think about a young woman, interrupting her holiday baking, asking for a recipe that may have been a family secret, and how she was so gracious to me. She was not elderly or lonely or looking for something to do. She was a farmer’s wife with four of her seven children still at home. She was busy in her church as well as her family, but I saw her that day, surrounded by Swedish Tea Rings that she was making to give away, and the picture was stamped indelibly on my heart. I could make things for my neighbors and friends for special occasions that would tell them that they were important to me. And so, the fire in my soul was kindled.
The years have passed as they somehow do. I don’t make Swedish Tea Rings to give away at Christmas. I have a cinnamon roll recipe that I also got from a friend in Plain City, (Catherine Good Miller) which I adapted over the years and it’s a little less labor intensive. But our children remember the special times when I made Swedish Tea Rings when they were young, and sometimes I will make some for them and the ones they’ve brought into my heart when we all gather in the old farmhouse at Shady Acres.
When our family was all together two weeks ago, something was said (a bit wistfully) about Swedish Tea Rings, and on impulse, I mixed up what I thought was a double batch. It was a quadruple batch and I ended up with a dozen rings! (It had really been a while since I had made them, don’t you know?!?!?) Anyhow, after the offspringin’s and their families had departed, there was still some leftover dough in the fridge and I found homes for the few extra in the days following when Certain Man felt something was needed and I hadn’t gotten to Christmas Eve Day Cinnamon Roll Marathon. I was surprised at how easy they were once I got back into the routine.
Then late on Christmas Eve, I got a text from Youngest Daughter, back home in Washington DC. “Can you send me your Swedish Tea Ring Recipe? I might try to make a few for my work holiday party.”
Oh, dear! I thought about my sparsely written recipe, and how difficult it was those first few years when I made these tricky pastries. I thought about how the process of putting them together wasn’t on the written paper and how many times I struggled with that part. I remembered the lopsided tea rings that people had cheerfully eaten in spite of how they looked and I texted her back.
“When is the party?“
When she replied that it wasn’t until the 5th and that there was no rush for the recipe, I talked Certain Man into making a trip to Washington, DC, yesterday to “help” with her first attempt at these Swedish Tea Rings. Our chickens went out on New Year’s Day, and Middle Daughter said that she would watch Cecilia, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity.
What a good day we had together! I made a double batch of dough before I left since the dough needs to be refrigerated, then took along most of the ingredients for another batch. Youngest Daughter proved to be a ready student and even Beloved Son In Law #2 got his hands into the melee. We made the six that had come along from Shady Acres, and mixed up another three – and before we came home, all nine were done. One was already eaten (we had to make sure it was good). One was being sliced off, slice by covert slice and also on its way out. One came home to Delaware with us, and there were dibs on five of the six remaining.
It was a most satisfactory day.
My heart gives grateful praise.
And now this recipe in a more legible form with some additional instructions.
Alice Yutzy’s Swedish Tea Rings
1 Tablespoon (or package) yeast (I use Fleischmann’s instant or rapid rise)
1/4 cup warm water
2-1/2 cups flour (I use King Arthur’s unbleached bread flour)
2 Tablespoons Sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened (I use Parkay for the dough, butter for the filling and glaze)
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 egg unbeaten (I use extra large or jumbo)
1/4 cup Butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
Soften yeast in water. Mix flour, salt and sugar together. Cut in softened butter until crumbly. (I use my Kitchen Aid for all of this) Dump the yeast mixture, evaporated milk and unbeaten egg into the mixture, and mix thoroughly. (I put my dough hook on and let it go! It does a great job. When the dough is all satiny and smooth, I weigh it out into three equal parts and put each part into a sandwich bag that I’ve sprayed with Pam and put it into the fridge (or freezer). When it is thoroughly cooled (at least two hours in the fridge), roll out to a rectangle of about 8″ x 10″ and spread 1/3 of the filling on it, (this is a little less than 1/4 cup) trying to get it out to the edges where the ring will be joined. It is a sparse spread. Then roll it like a jelly roll. Then put the “log” on a square of tin foil that has been either buttered or sprayed with Pam. Form a circle with the log of dough, trying to seal the ends together (this is where I had a struggle when I first started and still don’t always have it look the way I would like for it to). Once it is in a circle (and it is not a big circle at all. Maybe 6 inches across before it’s cut) take a kitchen shears and make cuts all the way around the circle every 3/4 inch or so, cutting almost to the middle of the circle. When you have cut all around the circle, slip a finger under one of the cuts and hold the top of it gently with another finger and flip that 3/4 slice of dough over on its side so that the coiled filling shows. Continue all the way around until all the slices are lying on their sides. Let it rise in a warm place until it is a little bit puffy (at least 30-45 minutes). The recipe says to bake for 20-25 minutes, but I’ve found that 15-17 minutes @350 is about right. Once they are slightly browned, they are ready to come out. Transfer the tea ring, tin foil and all, to a heavy 8″ paper plate.
Glaze them when hot with a glaze made from 4 tablespoons melted butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2-3 tablespoons milk. I always mix this up, then put in the microwave to make it more easy to glaze the ring. And I know that this is a double recipe of the glaze for 3 tea rings, but I find that it takes a double batch to adequately glaze 3 rings. But people can suit themselves.
And that’s how it’s done. And labor intensive? Yes, at first, but it does get a lot easier with practice. I promise.