Dad Makes Breakfast – Tea Muffins
One of my most cherished childhood memories is waking up on Saturday morning to Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young or Bob Dylan blaring from the record player. The reason for the early morning awakening – cleaning the house – was definitely not the best part of my week. And while it might not have actually been that “early” in the morning at all, I was being awoken fairly regularly and with the explicit intent of doing chores. Yet despite what you might think, I always looked forward to these mornings.
In my house, music blaring from the record player generally meant “breakfast is served” and “dad’s cooking.”
Before I continue, I should clarify a few things about the last part of that statement. In reality, a more accurate statement is “dad’s in the kitchen.” This could mean a lot of things – from cooking on his own, to helping my mother cook us breakfast, to sitting next to a box of doughnuts. In reality, my dad cooking on his own was more likely to occur at dinner time and doughnuts were (and still are) his standby breakfast sweet. But as a special treat, my dad would joined my mom in the kitchen to make breakfast. In these instances there was inevitably a sticky mess and always a lot of happiness, love, and relaxation.
For the most special of special treats, we would wake up to my Grandma M’s Tea Muffins. Tea Muffins are famous in my household for their unearthly buttery sugary goodness, for the lengthy time they take to prepare, and for the exorbitant mess that they produced. While in theory (and based on the recipe) it is quite possible to make one dozen Tea Muffins, in reality I imagine that there were never fewer than 4 dozen Tea Muffins produced at any one given point in my house. And things could really get out of control when Mini-Tea Muffins were made.
My mom can correct me if I’m wrong, but I attribute the huge quantities produced to my father. “If we’re going to make them, why not make a lot of them?” Once large quantities became the norm, I also imagine that the rarity with which we were treated to Tea Muffins likely had to do with the enormous amount of work and time necessary to make a quadruple recipe. The mess was also likely a contributing characteristic (okay, and maybe their rarity was a result of the fact that well, they’re not so good for you). Tea Muffins consist of a basic muffin dough that is baked and then dipped in butter and rolled in cinnamon sugar. TheSmittenKitchen has a similar (although not identical) recipe called Cinnamon Brown Butter Breakfast Puffs, if you’re interested in trying to make these at home.
Much like small quantities, it is entirely possible to make Tea Muffins without making a giant mess. The best Tea Muffins, however, are those that are allowed to sit in the butter for just a few seconds longer than they really should. This allows them to absorb just a little too much butter, which in turn allows them to be more thickly coated in sugar. If soaked for too long, they will crumble and fall apart when rolled in the cinnamon sugar. Combine this with the inevitable sticky and buttery fingers, and you have a sweet mess on your hands.
I can only imagine what time my parents awoke to start this process. By the time we got out of bed we were greeted with a towering plate of Tea Muffins, some half crumbled and others barely recognizable, but all delicious. Because my father often told me these were the best ones (and since our shared sweet tooth allows me to easily put myself in his shoes), a big part of me attributes the messiest most highly caloric Tea Muffins to him. In my mind, I imagine him constantly walking the fine line between “just a little longer in the butter” and “that was too long to not require a fork.”
When I was a teenager a few years later, my family took a trip to visit my Grandma M. in New York. I remember being astounded when upon our awakening the first morning there, she pulled a dozen Tea Muffins from the freezer and within the course of no more than 10 minutes and with minimal mess, she prepared a plate for us to enjoy. While perfectly formed, dipped, and rolled with elegance and restraint, her Tea Muffins failed to compare to those prepared by my parents. As a child did my father, as I would later do, anxiously await the over saturated and too sweet failed muffin? When and how did he learn how to make them? Did my mother teach him based on my Grandmother’s recipe? Were those sweet mistakes actually mistakes?