Sailing Totem’s Sun Bread Recipe: Traditions Continue Over the Years

Family traditions can carry on, no matter where you are in the world.

solstice sun bread
Family traditions continue, regardless of where we are in the world. One of our favorites is baking solstice sun bread. Behan Gifford

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Last month’s winter solstice was the perfect reminder for our family that cruising the world doesn’t mean giving up the rituals that add to a family’s origin story. After 15 years aboard our Stevens 47 Totem, we rarely spend holidays in the same country twice, but we’ve grown family traditions while sailing around the world.

Snowball fight
Our snowbound activities included baking, watching movies and a snowball fight! Behan Gifford

It felt charming to be snowed in last month at my Aunt Heidi’s house in Washington state on the shortest day of the year. We were supposed to head south to Bainbridge Island, to meet up with my brother and his family flying in from Boston, and our son coming up from Portland, Oregon. Mother Nature had other plans. Thanks to freezing rain, we were housebound another day—with the distinct upsides of cheesy holiday movies, a snowball fight and cracking up in front of a crackling YouTube fire on the mega-screen TV.

We’ve been able to slow down and enjoy some time together. I try not to think about how fleeting it is to have a family quorum. The views out the windows of Aunt Heidi’s great room are of the Chuckanut Mountains and tidal flatlands in the basin of Chuckanut Bay. We were treated to deer walking through, and beautiful peekaboo views of Mount Baker in the distance. There was time to make ourselves useful.

Relaxing by the YouTube fireplace. Behan Gifford

There were culinary upsides, too: Aunt Heidi is an excellent cook, and her home has a well-equipped kitchen. We stocked up with groceries based purely on looking forward to cooking in the social space. And thank goodness we did, because we didn’t leave the house for five days! The cooking had to get a little creative, without an opportunity to run out for a missed ingredient or full knowledge of the kitchen’s contents. Like with our latkes: This year, we had to cheat a little, using hash browns because we couldn’t find a box grater (which, of course, turned up the next day). But who cares? Especially when the latkes are served with smoked salmon aioli or tarragon béarnaise.

Deer in Chuckanut Mountains
The views out the windows of Aunt Heidi’s great room are of the Chuckanut Mountains and tidal flatlands in the basin of Chuckanut Bay. We were treated to deer walking through, and beautiful peekaboo views of Mount Baker in the distance. Behan Gifford

On December 20, my daughter Siobhán reminded me that we should make our traditional solstice sun bread the next day. In one sentence, she warmed me with how, despite her highly nomadic childhood, we have created traditions for our family. Our children appreciate them, and seek to continue them, and share them with us. I didn’t have to look hard in our image archives to find reminders of the many examples of Totem’s solstice sun bread over the years.

Other traditions may be more constant: the decorations we bring out and activities we indulge in, like this Christmas in Thailand. Others are found along the way, like funny hats and a sunglass-clad Santa in Australia’s “silly season.”

Latkes and Brussel sprouts
Latkes and Brussel sprouts. The cooking had to get a little creative, as we were snowed in without an opportunity to run out for missing ingredients. Behan Gifford

So, Siobhán made our solstice bread while I fussed over email. A picture of the delicious outcome posted on social media brought a flurry of recipe requests, so here it is. This bread entered the Totem holiday corpus in 2011, our year in Australia. The idea that we were celebrating winter solstice in June felt odd. Looking for ways to share holiday joy and learning, I made the first batch of bread with help from the junior crew.

Siobhán adding butter to bread
Siobhán brushes butter on the solstice sun bread. Behan Gifford

Enjoy it from your own galley or kitchen.

Variously baked solstice sun breads
Variously baked solstice sun breads, including ones baked in Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, South Africa, Bahamas, Costa Rica and Mexico. Behan Gifford

Solstice Sun Bread


  • 1.5 Tbsp. yeast (about two packages)
  • 3 Tbsp. lukewarm milk (or water)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 8 Tbsp. salted butter, melted (or egg wash)


  • Proof yeast in milk (or water). Let stand until foamy.
  • Meanwhile, combine eggs and sugar.  Stir well
  • In a larger bowl, combine flour and butter. Add egg mixture and beat well. Add yeast mixture and stir.
  • Knead the dough. It will be very wet; I do the kneading on a silicone baking mat. It’s OK to add flour to work the dough.
  • Scrape the dough out of the bowl, oil it, and return the ball of kneaded dough to the bowl. Wait for the dough to double in size.
  • Punch down the dough, knead briefly, then divide in half. One half becomes the sun’s face, made by shaping a ball, pressing it down, and centering it on a baking sheet. The other half is divided (into six, eight or 10 parts) and turned into the sun’s rays.  
  • Save a bit of dough (I pinch bits off the rays) to make facial features on the sun. You can also add features by poking into the dough with your fingers or a spoon.
  • Let rise again on baking sheet. Brush the dough with melted butter (or egg wash) to create a gorgeous crust.
  • Bake in a pre-heated, 425-degree oven until crust is golden. This can take 10 to 30 minutes. 

Happy New Year, from our crew to yours! If you make your own sun bread, tag us Cruising World. We’d love to see it

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