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.
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
2 to 3cupsdried or candied fruit(raisins, candied fruit, chopped maraschino cherries)
1beaten eggfor brushing
For the icing
For the topping
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.
Storage tip: Store extras wrapped in plastic at room temperature. When the bread starts to dry out, do yourself a favor and toast it, then smear it with butter, letting the butter melt into the cracks. Add geitost, too, if you have it. This is one of my favorite treats.
Keyword baking, bread, Christmas
If you enjoyed this Norwegian julekake recipe, you’ll find this and even more sweet and savory treats in my cookbook Modern Scandinavian Baking!