Joululimppu - Finnish Christmas bread
Updated: Fri, 30 October, 2020
Twelve breads of Christmas, and joululimppu is one of the most interesting. Christmas bread from Finland, sweet and earthy, with candied peel and caraway is unusual and unusually tasty.
French president Jacques Chirac famously once opined that the world’s worst cuisines were the British and the Finnish. It was the year 2005 and admittedly back then UK was not leading the world in innovatory cooking. It has all changed over the years although perversely the French might argue that some of Britain’s most famous chefs are French.
What is Finnish cuisine like?
Of Finns I knew nothing apart from the popular perception of them as the reindeer and berry eating folks. I have since been to Finland and baked their Christmas bread, joululimppu. And I find, from what little I now know, that it is the country of ingenious flavour and texture combinations.
They eat reindeer indeed and it’s like quite tough venison. But they cook it for hours until it turns into pulled deer, tender and rich, served with the loveliest mashed potatoes.
They eat squeaky cheese with berries for dessert – leipäjuusto, cheese very much like halloumi and nothing like Norwegian brown cheese, brunost, which had put me off Scandinavian cheeses for years. Squeaky leipäjuusto is really wonderful with sweet confiture as dessert and I was delighted to discover another nation that shares my love of cheesy and sweet combo, apart from Greeks.
And their Christmas bread, since joululimppu means literally that, is another proof they know how to marry apparently mismatched flavours.
Joululimppu means Christmas bread
What a lovely bread joulolimppu is! Unusual in being earthy and sweet at the same time. I’ve seen it described as ‘buttermilk and rye bread’ but to call it ‘rye bread’ is a little misleading. There isn’t really much rye flour in it; only just enough to give it the earthy flavour.
The unusual taste comes rather from the other ingredients: buttermilk, treacle and the caraway and fennel seeds. It’s sweet, but not pudding-sweet, and perfectly suited for meat or fish sandwiches. The addition of rye flour and glycerine makes it last well, slice thinly and taste utterly delicious.
How to make joululimppu?
I have drawn inspiration from Bakery Bits blog but had to do some serious tweaking. The first time round the dough was impossible: so sticky, unmanageable and runny that it made me curse and swear while rolling the gloop around copiously floured surface, scraping it off and trying to stop it sticking to everything in sight.
It took handfuls and handfuls of flour to be able to finally shape it and plonk it into the proving basket, and still I prayed it would come out of it and not stick for ever.
The amounts below are tweaked so it is less impossible but still, prepare for Sticky Central. But the end product is so gorgeous it makes you forget the toil of making it – quite like childbirth.
You might think it’s only suited to be spread with jam or honey, but it’s marvellous with a slice of smoked salmon on Christmas morning.
joululimppu - Finnish Christmas breadServings: 1 large loafTime: 2 hours
- 5g instant yeast or 15g fresh
- 60ml warm water
- 10g sugar
- ½ tbsp fennel seeds
- ½ tbsp caraway seeds
- 250g buttermilk
- 15g glycerine
- 50g black treacle
- 30g mixed candied peel
- 5g sea salt
- 30g softened butter
- 130g rye flour
- 300g strong white flour
- wholemeal flour, for dusting
1. In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in the water, stir in the sugar. Leave for 10 minutes.
2. Toast the caraway and fennel seeds lightly in a dry pan for 2 minutes and then set to one side.
3. In a small pan warm the buttermilk, glycerine, and treacle to 33C. Stir the warmed buttermilk mix into the yeast, add the peel, spices, salt and butter.
4. Stir in the rye flour then add the strong white flour, stir everything well. Leave to stand for 10 minutes.
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, knead for 5 minutes then shape into a ball (or use a standing mixer with the dough hook attachment for the kneading).
6. Roll the dough thoroughly in wholemeal flour and place seam side up into a 1kg well-floured round proving basket or a bowl lined with a cloth and floured generously. Place it in a plastic bag inflated a bit so it doesn’t touch the dough (just blow into it and tie the end!) and leave for about 40 minutes.
7. Halfway through that time start preheating a cast iron casserole dish or Dutch oven in the middle of the oven set to 220C/425F/gas 7.
8. The dough should rise just about up to the rim of the proving basket. When ready, turn the dough out of the proving basket into the dish as swiftly as you can, slash a cross on top with a very sharp knife, put the lid on and into the oven. Bake with the lid on for 20 minutes, and for another 20 minutes with the lid off.
9. Cool completely on a wire rack.