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.