Norwegian Julekake (Christmas Bread)
I took my kids to the local Scandinavian bakery the other day for an after-school treat. As we peeked in–making sure we weren’t exceeding the number of customers allowed into the shop at a time due to the pandemic–I thought ahead to the upcoming Christmas season. In a regular November and December, this particular bakery bustles with shoppers who crowd in for Norwegian julekake, Danish kringle, pies, and any number of other festive treats. It was hard to imagine how they might handle the upcoming season. It was good, however, to hear the man who helped me at the counter sound confident about their ability to handle it, that even though only a limited number of customers are allowed inside at a time, they could handle the added business with lines forming outside and customers calling in their orders in advance.
Shopping local or supporting small businesses has always been a good thing, and it’s something I’m thinking even more about as we had into a pandemic holiday season. At the same time, I don’t enjoy crowds and am already trying to get most of my Christmas shopping done early this year. So for me, shopping local during this season means increasing our visits to the bakery until their holiday business ramps up, and to finalize most of my gift-giving plans in the next few weeks so I can choose thoughtful products from some of my favorite retailers.
In addition, this year I’m creating the first Outside Oslo Scandinavian Christmas Gift Guide, which will feature a range of gift ideas with links to where you can easily order them and support small businesses in the process. That guide launches in just a few weeks; click here to sign up for my recipe-based email list, and you’ll get the guide delivered to your inbox as soon as it’s live.
In the meantime, if you’re not lucky enough to have a Scandinavian bakery nearby, I’m sharing my recipe for one of my favorite Scandi Christmas treats today. This Norwegian julekake–Christmas bread–smell richly of cardamom and is studded with raisins or any type of candied fruit you like.
As I wrote in my book Modern Scandinavian Baking: A Cookbook of Sweet Treats and Savory Bakes:
I’ve been savoring julekake for as long as I can remember, and the taste of it brings back a flood of memories and a sweet nostalgia for my childhood. I wish you could smell this buttery loaf that’s fragrant with cardamom and studded with dried and candied fruits. Better yet, I encourage you to bake a batch and taste for yourself how incredible and special this bread is!
I found a recipe for julekake amid Grandma Adeline’s extensive handwritten collection. She had written it out, in her neat, elegant script, between recipes for rømmegrøt (Norwegian sour cream porridge) and lefse followed by pumpkin chiffon pie (because she was American as well as Norwegian, after all). As I usually do, I’ve adapted the original to suit my tastes. It turned out just as I remembered it: warming, aromatic, festive, and just right for eating with thinly sliced geitost.
And now, here’s the recipe (and for more Scandinavian Christmas recipes, click here).
Julekake (Norwegian Christmas Bread with Raisins and Candied Fruit)Recipe by Daytona Strong, excerpted from my book Modern Scandinavian Baking
For the bread
- 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
- 2 cups scalded milk
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds crushed
- 2 packets active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
- 2/3 cup sugar divided
- 2 eggs beaten
- 2 tablespoons grated orange zest
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 6 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 to 3 cups dried or candied fruit (raisins, candied fruit, chopped maraschino cherries)
- 1 beaten egg for brushing
For the icing
- 2 cups confectioners' sugar
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 2 tablespoons butter melted
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
For the topping
- Sliced almonds
- To make the bread, in a small saucepan, melt the butter. Add the milk and scald. Remove from the heat and add the cardamom, letting the spice steep while the milk lowers in temperature to 110 degrees F.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the yeast with 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar and pour a little of the lukewarm milk over them. Let proof until it bubbles, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Stir in the remaining milk, along with the eggs, remaining sugar, the orange zest, salt, and cinnamon. Add 5 cups of flour and gently mix, adding additional small amounts until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. (You may not need to use the full 6 cups of flour.)
- Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes. Fold in the dried fruit and transfer to a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a clean tea towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
- Punch down the dough and separate into two equal portions. You can either place them in two greased 9-inch round cake pans, or form them into two braided loaves. Cover with clean tea towels and let rise again until doubled, about 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Brush the loaves with the beaten egg and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a wire rack.
- When cooled, to make the icing, sift the confectioners' sugar into a medium bowl, then add the milk, melted butter, and almond extract and whisk until smooth. Drizzle over the loaves, then scatter the sliced almonds on top. Let set before slicing.
If you enjoyed this Norwegian julekake recipe, you’ll find this and even more sweet and savory treats in my cookbook Modern Scandinavian Baking!
Excerpt from Modern Scandinavian Baking, by Daytona Strong, published by Rockridge Press. Copyright © 2020 by Callisto Media, Inc. All rights reserved.
I prefer to bake by weight, either in grams or ounces. Can you clarify how you are measuring your flour? Grams per cup? Thank you.
THANK YOU! Since moving away from Minnesota, (Lunds/Byerly’s) it is almost IMPOSSIBLE to find ANYTHING that even smacks of Scandinavian food, here in the South! And with stores in Minneapolis now in the war zone from BLM (i.e., Ingebretsens), and their future unsure, along with reading of a number of Scandic grocery/goods stores closing in places like Seattle & Portland, etc., it looks like we will have to keep alive our ethnic traditions, for ourselves, by ourselves.
This recipe is one tangible piece of history we can pass on to our descendants. Takk.
Please clarify the weight of flour in the recipes. Thank you in advance.
Ann Christine Orwiler
I made this bread today. It is a very soft dough, I added more flour than it called for and it was still very soft but I was able to make the braid and it turned out delicious. It is great plain, since there is so much butter in recipe nothing else is needed. The orange zest is a nice touch.
To everyone curious about flour weight, I just made this and used 750 grams of flour and got a nice sticky but workable dough. I added a little more as I was kneading just to keep it from sticking to the counters
My mother was from Bergen, Norway. She made this bread every Christmas. I just finished baking the loaves. The house smells like Christmas. Thanks for bringing all those memories back.
To everyone curious,
I made this with 750g of flour and it resulted in a sticky yet workable dough. I added a little more while kneading, just enough to keep it from excessively sticking to the counters.
Linda Carlsen Sperry
Looks delicious! But I can’t find cardamom seeds or pods here in Vermont, nor can I find how many seeds are in 1/4 tsp so I can convert to ground cardamom, which I do have. Can you help? Takk! And God Jul…
I have used the drier julekake and made French toast with it. Dry good!