Melva Bonis’ Christmas cake and more

Culinary Capers with Evelyn Cairns

A Christmas tradition that began nearly 50 years ago will continue  December 25 with an early-morning breakfast buffet at the Grosse Ile home of  Melva and  Ron Bonis. 

Melva doesn’t remember the  exact year of the first gathering,  but the purpose, she said, was to allow family members to enjoy watching their daughter open gifts from Santa while the adults  enjoyed breakfast.   

The centerpiece on the table has always been — by demand —  Melva’s delectable streusel-filled and -topped Christmas Cake, made from a recipe she’s been using since the first get-together. Melva said she makes two at a time and freezes one for future guests.      

A new addition this year will be  a plate of delicious orange-flavored  cranberry  shortbread cookies that Melva will bake using  a recipe shared  by  her sister-in-law, Loree Sims, of Grosse Ile.  The cookies are appropriate for the holiday, because  shortbread, which originated in Scotland circa 1736, was always served at Christmas and New Year’s. 

I’ve baked both the cake and the cookies and can vouch for their addictiveness! 


Topping and filling:

6 tablespoons butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar, packed

2½ teaspoons cinnamon 

1 cup chopped walnuts


½ cup shortening

¾ cup granulated sugar 

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 eggs

2 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ pint sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For topping and filling, with a mixer,  cream together the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Add the nuts and stir well. Set aside. 

For batter: Cream together the shortening,  granulated sugar and vanilla thoroughly. Add the eggs,  one at a time,  beating well  after each addition. Sift the flour with the baking soda and baking powder. Add to the creamed mixture, alternately with the sour cream, blending well after each addition. Spread half of  batter in a greased-and-floured 10-inch tube pan.

 Dot the batter with half of  the nut mixture, being sure to keep the filling away from the sides of the pan so it doesn’t stick to it. Cover with the remaining batter, then cover with the remaining nut mixture. Bake  42 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan 10 minutes, then run a thin knife along the edge of cake before turning it out on a plate. Immediately turn right side up onto a rack  to finish cooling. Transfer to a plate to serve.  


2¼ cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 sticks  butter  

1/3 cup granulated sugar

½ cup confectioner’s sugar

1 tablespoon orange zest

2 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon orange extract

½ cup dried cranberries (chopped into about ¼-inch pieces)

Whisk the flour and salt and set aside. In a food processor, chop  the cranberries with 2 tablespoons of the flour called for in the recipe. Cream together the butter, granulated and confectioner’s sugars and orange zest 1½ minutes. Add the egg yolks, vanilla and almond and orange extracts. Add the flour and cranberries. Form the dough into 2 8×1¾-inch logs, wrap the logs in waxed paper and refrigerate 2 hours. Cut the logs into 1/3-inch circles. Place on parchment-covered baking sheets and bake 13  minutes or until a light golden brown on the bottom. Don’t overbake. Cool on pan 3 minutes then   sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.     


Too busy to make a holiday treat from scratch? Melva suggests baking a box of Krusteaz Cranberry Orange Muffin Mix instead (zest and cranberries are included). The muffins are so delicious, you may never make muffins from scratch again, she says. 


(Contact me at 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *