(Revised December 2022; thanks to "Schoen" and "littskad" for feedback. I welcome comments here.)
My father, Francis Wall, was born in Mississippi, married in New Mexico, and did his PhD in Minnesota. For as long as I can remember, he made this kringle every Christmas. Family lore says he got the recipe in Minnesota, where Scandinavians live, but that as a Dixie/desert boy he substituted dates for the original raisins. The result is pure genius.
When Dad passed away in 2007, this kringle was mentioned at his funeral vastly more than any other aspect of his life. People just loved it. My sister Karen took up the mantle, making as many as 48 of them each Christmas. Karen succumbed to ALS in the summer of 2018, so there will be a lot fewer of Dad's kringles in the world going forward.
I usually make four or eight each year myself. They are really good. Because I am no baker, and kind of a doof, I have reorganized Dad's recipe (without changing it) to make it harder to forget some critical step, like adding the yeast. (Yes, I've done that.)
I hope Dad's kringle will still be around a hundred years from now.
Makes four kringles. (Each serves two to eight people. Yes, that's what I said.)
THE DAY BEFORE:
I say here to make the kringles over two days, because it's easier. But there's nothing about the process that requires it. The butter slabs in Step 3 do have to harden, but that doesn't take overnight.
Step 1. Take all the butter out of the refrigerator. If it's in the freezer, do this even earlier!
Step 2. Make the date filling as follows:
Warm in a medium sauce pan:
stirring constantly so it doesn't stick.
- 12 oz chopped dates
- 3/8 cups butter (3/4 of a stick)
- 1/2 tablespoon cardamom
When the mixture is a very thick goo, add:
- 3 c powdered sugar
- enough half&half or cream to make a spreading consistency when cool (might be as much as a cup)
I have made it with cartons of Sunkist chopped dates, and it seems to work, but traditionally I get fresh Medjool dates which I pit and chop by hand. They get very gooey on the cutting board. A very sharp knife helps a lot, as does putting them in the freezer for a few minutes. I have often been tempted to try running them in the Cuisinart with the butter and cardamom, but I've never tried this.
Mixing in the powdered sugar is a brute task. My process is to do it a bit at a time, adding half-and-half only when it becomes so very stiff that I can't imagine going further. The recipe calls for a pint of half-and-half but I rarely use that much. You want it spreadable but not runny, and you'll probably add a little more half-and-half the next day when you revive it.
Step 3. Make the butter slabs.
- 1 1/8 cups butter (2 1/4 sticks)
blending well. Divide this mixture into two equal parts.
- 3/4 cup flour
Put one of the halves in the center of an 18-inch sheet of wax paper. Cover with a similar sheet and gently press the mixture until it is flat and about 8x12 inches. Repeat this for the other half of the butter mixture. Put these in the refrigerator to cool and harden.Get some rest; you have a big day tomorrow!
Step 4. On BAKING DAY, take filling out of the refrigerator. Plan the rising area: about 80℉. I am pretty fussy about this; I set aside the guest room and bring in a space heater and a thermometer.
Step 5. Make the dough ball.
- 2 pkg active dry yeast (about 4 teaspoons)
- 3/8 cup warm water
until thick and piled softly. (Research suggests that this term is used for beating egg whites, not whole eggs. I beat it until I can lift the beater out of the eggs and what dribbles down leaves a visible shape on the surface for at least a few seconds, and then to be sure I beat it a while longer.)
- 2 large eggs
until the dry ingredients are dissolved. Transfer the contents to a food processor if you have one. Blend in
- 1 1/8 cup milk
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups flour
Next, stir in the yeast mixture. (This is very important!)
Keep adding flour until it forms a clean ball.
- 3 cups flour
Step 6. Knead the dough ball.
Place the dough ball on a lightly floured surface and knead it for a few minutes, adding flour if needed. Divide the dough ball into two equal parts.
Step 7. Roll and fold.
Roll out half of the dough ball to a rectangle at least 12x16 inches. The dough should be quite thin, perhaps 1/4 inch thick.
Peel the wax paper from one of the butter slabs and place it in the middle of the dough rectangle. Fold the edges of the dough to cover the butter slab. Save the wax paper, butter side up, to use in the rising (step 9).
Fold a third of the dough toward the middle and the other third on top of that. Turn and roll out to a rectangle about 8x16 inches. Then repeat the entire folding and turning and rolling process two or three more times. (This is what gives it a flaky crust.) Wrap the dough in the wax paper and set aside.
Repeat this process for the other half of the dough and the other butter slab.
If you compare the specified sizes of the first rollout and the butter slab, you will realize that you can't fold the edges over to cover the butter slab. Dad must have known this, but this is what he said. Don't worry about it. I fold over the inch or two on each side so that the edges of the butter are covered, and then I do the folding-in-thirds that encloses the butter anyway, and it works fine.
The dough will fight you like an animal when you try to roll it out, shrinking back to its former size when you lift the rolling pin. Keep at it, and after a while it will give up and accept the dimensions you seek.
Soon after you start rolling, it'll start squirting butter at you. Just accept this. Sprinkle with flour if it seems too messy.
Put both pieces of rolled-out dough in the refrigerator to cool for one hour.Don't just kick back for that hour: commence Step 8, and do some cleanup!
Step 8. Revive the date filling.
Make sure the date mixture is spreadable. Soften it by warming it slightly and adding more half&half or cream as needed. It should be a little warm to the touch but not hot, as this will kill the yeast. Likewise it shouldn't be too cold as this will impede the rising.
Don't just turn it on low and go away! It won't burn, but it will caramelize and harden, not nice for the filling.
Step 9. Final assembly.
and mix with
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds (2 ounces)
Grease the baking sheets.
- 1 cup sugar
Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and roll each half into a rectangle 24x12 inches. Each dough slab will make two kringles, so cut each rectangle lengthwise so you have four 24x6" canvases. Spread each of the four with the date mixture, leaving some room at the edges so you can seal them. Fold each of the four lengthwise to cover the date mixture and crimp the edges together so the filling doesn't escape.
Transfer the rolls to the greased baking sheets. They may be stretched slightly and formed into pretzels or moons or just left straight (if you have really big cookie sheets).
Gently flatten dough to 1/2 inch thickness. This is important, since you want to let it rise until it doubles (see Step 10), and it won't if you don't flatten it first.
and brush the tops of the four pastries. Sprinkle the tops with the almond-sugar mixture.
- 1 egg (or maybe 2)
Step 10. Let rise.
Cover with greased wax paper and a towel. Let rise in a warm place until double.
Step 11. Bake.
Bake at 325℉ until lightly browned, about 20 minutes.
Step 12+. You can eat it now. But you don't have to; they will keep in a fridge or other cool place. You can eat them cold, but they are nicer if you warm them up in a 225℉ oven for 10 or 20 minutes.
Variations. I have not tried these, and may be to hidebound ever to try, but inventive strangers have kindly shared them with me. They do sound yummy, but I'm afraid I can't stray too far from Dad's kringle.
Littskad's cream cheese: Soften 8 oz block of cream cheese, whip with an egg yolk, beat in a quarter cup of powdered sugar, and then the juice and zest of half a small lemon.
Littskad's apples: Peel, core, and chop two large Granny Smith apples. Cook over low heat in a small sauce pan with half a cup of sugar, a half tablespoon of corn starch, a pinch of salt, and a teaspoon of cinnamon until the apples have softened and juices have thickened a bit. (Or use berries: omit cinnamon and add juice and zest from half a lemon.)
Schoen's vegan version: Substitute coconut cream for the half-and-half, oat milk butter for the butter, oat milk for the milk, aquafaba for the eggs, and candied pecans for the almonds on top.
Gluten-free: Okay, I did invent this for my wife. Instead of making the flour dough, with the kneading, rolling, folding, and rising, just make your favorite gluten-free pie crust for a 9-inch pie. (I used the Cup4Cup mix.) Roll it out between two big pieces of plastic wrap to a quarter-inch or less. Peel off the top piece of plastic wrap and spread the dough with a quarter recipe of the date filling, fold it over and crimp the sides, and transfer it from the plastic wrap to a greased baking pan. Paint the top with beaten egg and sprinkle with a quarter of the mixture of sugar and chopped sliced almonds. Bake it at 400℉ for 30 or 40 minutes until it's a deep golden brown but not burnt. It's definitely more like a tart than a kringle, but if you're living gluten-free it's still a nice treat.