julekake - norwegian christmas bread
Updated: Tue, 29 September, 2020
Julekake means 'Christmas cake' and it's the traditional festive bread-cake in Norway at Yule(Jule)tide.
Come December, there’s a lot of baking going on around the world. The most wonderful preparations are being mixed everywhere, dried and candied fruit spills over it like jewels and mounds of billowing dough rise and swell in warm kitchens. There’s panettone and pandoro in Italy, Stollen in Germany, Three Kings Bread in Spanish-speaking countries and English Christmas cake.
Christmas cakes or Christmas breads?
The latter excluded, traditional Christmas cakes are of the bread type: yeast leavened, kneaded by hand or in bread machines, baked in hot oven. Yeasted dough seems to be shunted into the ‘Bread’ drawer in England and France and even panettone gets to be called bread.
They are all cakes in their right: take Stollen, bursting with fruit, sticky with marzipan and double-coated in sugar. How is it possibly ‘bread’? It’s a cake, through and through.
Scandinavian Christmas breads
Scandinavians side with the east of Rhine part of Europe: the Swedes have their saffron buns, the Finnish – their festive (weird) bake, joululimppu and the Norwegians bake julekake.
What is julekake like?
Now that is the best thing for Christmas Day breakfast and even better on Boxing Day, toasted and thickly buttered. Julekake is better than a brioche: firmer and more substantial, and not so rich. Arguably it is a little more like a bread than a cake, unlike panettone, as it cuts into neat slices.
It’s not messy with marzipan like Stollen and more of a crowd pleaser, lacking the Marmite factor of joululimppu.
Julekake is easy to make
The best things about it are a/ it’s silly easy to make, b/ it rises and doubles in volume obediently and c/ the cardamom fragrance. It’s a diversion from the ubiquitous clove/nutmeg/cinnamon aroma permeating Christmas kitchens, fresh and heady and if it wasn’t for those tiny turd-like seeds being awfully awkward to grind, I’d make everything cardamom-flavoured every day.
I gather there is some discussion on whether it’s spelt -kake or -kage but seeing as I’m not Norwegian I’ll leave it to natives. What it reminds me most of is a glorious giant hot cross bun without the cross or one of the English teacakes, only better. Vær så god og god jul!
julekake - norwegian christmas breadServings: 1 large round loafTime: 3 hours
Rating: (1 reviews)
- 160g (1 cup) raisins or sultanas
- 30g (2 tbsp.) sherry, port or Vin Santo
- 125g (1 stick plus 1 tbsp.) butter
- 300ml (1¼ cups) milk
- 18g (1 tbsp.) fresh yeast or 2 tsp instant
- 500g (4 cups) strong bread flour
- 65g (1/3 cup) caster sugar
- 2 tsp fine salt
- 2 tsp ground cardamom seeds
- 50g (2 tbsp.) orange peel, chopped
- 1 beaten egg, for glazing
- pearl sugar for sprinkling (optional)
1. Soak the raisins in the liquor heated up almost to the boiling point.
2. Melt the butter and add it to the milk. Crumble in the yeast and leave for about 15 minutes for the mixture to foam up slightly.
3. Add the flour, sugar, salt and the cardamom and knead by hand or in a standing mixer with a dough hook attachment. Continue kneading until it’s smooth, stretchy and bounces off the sides of the bowl or stops sticking to your hands.
4. Drain the raisins - there should be hardly any liquid left - and add them to the dough with the citrus peel. Mix them gently in – even if you’re using the mixer it’s still best to turn the dough out onto a work surface and fold the fruit in by hand to make sure it is evenly distributed.
5. Place the dough in a bowl covered with cling film and leave it somewhere warm to double in volume - it will take about an hour.
6. Turn it out onto a floured surface and shape into a round loaf - like an enormous bun. Place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment, place the sheet in a large inflated plastic bag (just blow into it and tie the ends!) and leave to prove for 40 minutes.
7. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Brush the risen loaf with the beaten egg, sprinkle with the pearl sugar, if using, and bake in the lower half of the oven for about 35-40 minutes until deep golden brown.
8. Cool on a wire rack, serve warm or toasted and buttered.