This is Norwegian “Christmas bread,” and it’s one of those traditions we could always count on when I was a kid. My grandparents often spent the holidays with us; and if they were in town, my grandmother would bake this bread. If not, my mother would add it to her long list of holiday must-do’s. Either way, we never went without it!
This bread is best served hot out of the oven on Christmas morning. In that version you’ll want to drizzle it with a simple powdered sugar frosting. It also makes excellent toast all during the cold winter months. If you plan to toast it, skip the frosting. It freezes extremely well, both baked and unbaked.
See the bottom of the recipe for a lot of baking notes.
2 pkg yeast
5 1/2 c milk
1 c sugar
2 t salt
1 c butter
14 c flour (not quite a full 5-lb bag)
1 c glazed fruit
1 c raisins
2 t cardamon
Powdered sugar icing (see below)
Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 c warm (not hot – comfortable to the touch) water and let it rest for a few minutes.
Heat milk, sugar, salt and butter over low heat just enough to melt the butter. Cool with the lid on the pan. When you can comfortably leave a finger in the mixture, it’s cool enough. Pour it into the bowl of your mixer.
Beat the eggs and add them to the milk mixture, along with the yeast.
Add cardamom and 2 – 3 c flour and beat well. Add fruit and raisins and then the rest of the flour, 1 c at a time.
Knead for at least 5 minutes, to get the yeast to start . You’re done when the dough becomes smooth and elastic, and no longer sticky.
Put in a heavy earthenware bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise until doubled, about 2 hours. Punch down, shape into 4 round loaves on cookie sheets, and let the loaves rise again, at least 30 minutes but up to 90 minutes.
Bake 35 – 40 minutes at 350 degrees. If desired, frost with powdered sugar icing. Do this by simply pouring the icing onto the top of the bread and allowing it to drizzle down the sides.
Powdered sugar icing: For icing 1 loaf, use about 1/2 c powdered sugar and stir in milk (or water) 1 t at a time. It takes a really small amount of liquid to get an icing of pourable consistency, and once you’re there it quickly turns into a watery mess.
What kind of a mixer to use: If you don’t have a stand mixer, prepare for a SERIOUS arm workout, stirring all the flour in by hand. You can start out with a hand mixer, but you’ll burn out its engine if you try to get it to knead dough.
The cardamom. Like all spices, cardamom loses its flavor sitting on your shelf. If it’s more than a couple years old, you really should be new. The jar I had still smelled good, so I decided to go for it (2018). However, the bread I got wasn’t very cardamommy. So … the next time I bake julekakke, the best bet would be to just buy fresh. A possible alternate solution would be to double up on the cardamom?
Dissolving the yeast in water: You’ll see bubbles starting to form, which is good. That shows it’s activating. (If bubbles don’t form, that means your yeast is dead and your bread won’t rise).
Adding flour to the dough: Eventually you won’t be able to get any more to fit in the bowl, so you have to turn the dough out onto your counter to knead the rest of the flour in. Don’t worry if it looks too soft to work by hand – just layer the counter with flour, spread the dough out and cover it with more flour. It won’t stick to the counter if you do it that way.
Rising: Temperature matters a lot. You want to keep the dough in a pretty warm place, to encourage the yeast to work. One big help is to put the dough in a heavy earthenware bowl to trap the heat. Next you want to set the bowl in a warm place. I didn’t do this – I just let it rise on my counter, in my apartment that I keep at about 66° – and it barely rose at all. Once I sucked it up and put it into a warm oven, it rose quite nicely.
Stopping the rise. If you can’t bake your bread right after it’s done rising, you can always refrigerate it for up to 12 hours. That will stop the yeast from continuing to eat the sugar and creating a sour dough; but if you let it sit much longer than that the yeast will die and all the good gluten and air bubbles will be lost.
What if you forget the yeast? Turns out you can add it at the end (Or, 2 hours later when your bread didn’t rise and you realize it’s because you forgot the yeast!) The risk with this method is that the yeast won’t distribute evenly through the dough and your bread won’t be as nice.