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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.


Christmas baking

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.

candied orange peel

Christmas cakes or Christmas breads?

With the exception of the English one, traditional Christmas cakes are of the bread type: yeast leavened, kneaded by hand or in standing mixers, baked in a hot oven. Why are they commonly called breads?

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.

You can’t even apply here the traditional explanation, that things baked in loaf tins are more likely to be called ‘breads’, i.e., banana or pumpkin bread. None of the above is loaf tin-shaped; in fact they all have their own, dedicated tins or cases.

But yeasted dough seems to be shunted into the ‘Bread’ drawer in England and France and even panettone gets to be called bread.

julekake, norwegian christmas bread

Scandinavian Christmas breads

Scandinavians bake with yeast for Christmas: the Swedes have their saffron buns, the Finnish – their festive (weird) bake, joululimppu and the Norwegians bake julekake.

What is julekake like?

In my view, it 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 for instance, 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.

It is wholly recommended for those who want to try their hands at Christmas baking but don’t have the courage to tackle panettone.

norwegian festive bread with fruit and citrus peel

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. If it wasn’t for those tiny turd-like seeds being so awfully awkward to grind, I’d make everything cardamom-flavoured every day.

It’s made over about three hours so within a very reasonable timescale – compared to panettone which takes almost a week, including all the preparations!

This process if fairly standard: make a starter with yeast, then mix up main dough which is a doddle if you have a standing mixer, and not so very tough by hand either.

Rising in bulk (which means prepared dough before shaping or dividing) takes an hour. The shaping is easy, like shaping an enormous bun, which then in turn needs to rise for just over half an hour.

Egg wash glaze and a sprinkle of pearl or coarse sugar is the final touch – optional but a shame not to!

norwegian julekake


I gather there is some discussion even among the Norwegians on whether it’s spelt julekake or julekaga 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!

norwegian christmas cake

More Norwegian recipes

Something for Christmas breakfast: cured salmon, homemade gravlax. It takes only three days to make and is more delicious than any shop-bought smoked salmon.

Boller, Norwegian buns with cardamom flavour are also worth a mention.

And they make this fantastic apple cake, eplekake, with lots of cinnamon and almond slivers.

More Christmas baking recipes

I could not mention panettone without pointing to the recipe: this one is for a slightly easier version, made with bakers’ yeast.

I bake my mother’s fruitcake every year, it’s lighter than the traditional English Christmas cake.

Or you can simply bake some mince pies – so much better than any bought in store.

Julekake - Norwegian Christmas bread

Servings: 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 (114 cups) milk
  • 18g (1 tbsp.) fresh yeast or 2 tsp instant
  • 500g (4 cups) strong bread flour
  • 65g (13 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.

julekake dough

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.

how to make julekake

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.

baked julekake loaf

8. Cool on a wire rack, serve warm or toasted and buttered.

Originally published: Sat, 10 December, 2016

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Your comments

Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Tami - pleased to hear it. You can make it with a sourdough levain instead of yeast, but it won't make much difference to taste or texture.
8 months ago
Tami Kruse
I look forward to making this. A beautiful reminder of that which my grandparents made year after year. I thought it was going to be made with a sourdough recipe for some reason.
8 months ago
Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Marge - absolutely yes, or even tripled :-)
8 months ago
This sounds tasty, I'd love to give it a try! Can the recipe be doubled so I can easily make one to eat and one to share?
8 months ago
Anna @ CuisineFiend
That's a lovely tradition!
2 years ago
Sounds exotic, doesn't it? :) Actually whatever cake or sweet bread or pie you use for the specific, emm, pie-cutting event on January 1st will be called vassilopita- in remembrance of a miracle of St Basil the Great whose feast day is on January 1st. For example, in some rural regions of Greece it was traditionally a meat pie. Cakes and breads a re used in urban centers.Just don't forget the coin!
2 years ago
Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Kat - thank you so much, I'm pleased you were impressed with julekake! I must admit I had to Google vassilopita and I realised I'd never made it so double thank you for inspiration!
2 years ago
Kat, Athens
I baked this yesterday and despite literally everything going wrong, the insides were like a dream- fluffy and moist, like a panettone. I have no experience with yeast breads but this was so amazing it will quite possibly be my 2023 vassilopita (I will just need to use a larger oven that won't burn the whole bottom??)- thank you for the recipe!
2 years ago
Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hey Synnøve - thank you for clarifying the spelling! I agree the pearl sugar isn't orthodox but it looks pretty. And I tend to soak raisins in liquor for all the Christmas bakes just because it's festive.
4 years ago
Synnøve Kristiansen Dyresen
In Norway, it’s spelled «kake». «Kage» would be Danish. I’ve never heard of it made with sherry or pearl sugar, but there’s almost as many recipes for this in Norway, as there are people baking them. Where I come from, we usually don’t soak the raisins at all, or just in boiling hot water. I’ve already made four big loaves, using my grandmothers old recipe. Can’t wait for Christmas!
4 years ago
Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Lynda - thank you!
4 years ago
Lynda Mercer
I have made this excellent and SUPER EASY recipe every year since 2018. I’m not an experienced bread maker and I’m super lazy and cut corners everywhere when I cook. Lynda Mercer
4 years ago

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