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Julekake: Norwegian Christmas Bread

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Julekake is a sweet Christmas bread spiced with cardamom and studded with raisins and candied citrus.

Julekake is popular in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark and can also be called julekaka, julekage, or julebrød. While normally spiced with cardamom, you can sometimes find it with cinnamon or nutmeg too.

Norwegian Christmas bread is made from an enriched yeast dough. Enriched doughs are sweetened with sugar and mixed with eggs, butter, and milk, which give breads a rich flavor and a very tender crumb.

Julekake is brilliant served warm from the oven with butter, but it can also be eaten jam, cheese, or smoked meats. It’s often part of a big Christmas spread with cookies, coffee or tea, and even gløgg.

Leftovers can be toasted the next day, and I have a sneaking suspicion that french toast made with julekake would be incredible.

slice of julekake on a rustic plate
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Tips for Baking Julekake

  • The dough for julekake is very wet and sticky. While I’ve included instructions for mixing it by hand, if you have a stand mixer, I’d recommend kneading the dough in a mixer.
  • If you do knead the dough by hand, don’t be discouraged when it sticks to everything. Just keep kneading the dough until it’s smooth and elastic and then use a dough scraper to scrape it off your work surface (and your hands and anywhere else it stuck to) and back into the bowl to rise.
  • The timing for rising is more of a guideline. It will depend on the temperature of your ingredients and your kitchen. Keep an eye on the dough to see when it’s roughly doubled in size. My kitchen was cold, but I left the dough to rise in my oven. Turn it on to the lowest setting for a couple minutes, then turn it off and place the covered dough inside and shut the oven door.
  • When shaping the dough, grease your work surface with a light coating of oil rather than using flour (assuming your work surface won’t be damaged or stained). I also oiled my hands and my dough scraper.
  • Plump the raisins before adding them to the dough. I like to soak them in a couple tablespoons of rum overnight for a rich flavor. To save time, you could also soak them in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Place the raisins in a heatproof bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let the raisins soak for 10-15 minutes, then drain.
  • I chose to scatter some flaked almonds over the top of the bread, but you could also use pearl sugar, or leave it plain.
several slices of julekake
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Yields one loaf.

85g raisins
85g candied peel
45ml dark rum

300ml whole milk, warmed to 46°C 
7g active dry yeast (1 packet)

420g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom

50g granulated sugar
1 large egg

60g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup candied peel
3 Tablespoons dark rum

1 1/4 cups whole milk, warmed to 46°C 
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 egg, for the egg wash
Milk, for the egg wash
Flaked almonds, for topping

1. Plump the raisins:

Place the raisins and candied peel in a small bowl and pour in the dark rum. Let them soak for 8 to 24 hours, or overnight.

Alternatively, you can plump just the raisins in boiling water. Let the raisins soak for 10-15 minutes, then drain.

bowl of rum-soaked raisins and candied citrus
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2. Proof the yeast:

Add the yeast to the warm milk in a medium mixing bowl and let it proof for 5 to 10 minutes, until it begins to foam.

3. Combine the dry ingredients:

Whisk together the flour, salt, and ground cardamom in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, or in a large mixing bowl.

4. Combine the wet ingredients:

Add the sugar and the egg to the milk mixture and whisk to combine.

5. Mix the dough:

Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture. Mix on medium speed until fully combined. If mixing by hand, use a rubber spatula.

6. Add the softened butter:

Add the softened butter and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Then let the dough rest for 15 minutes before adding the fruit.

If kneading by hand, either work the dough on a lightly floured work surface or directly in the bowl. The dough should be very wet and sticky, so don’t get disheartened when it sticks to everything. Resist the temptation to add more flour. Just keep kneading and working the dough until it begins to get smooth. Don’t worry about the dough sticking everywhere, you’ll gather it up with a dough scraper later.

mixing the dough for julekake
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7. Knead in the dried fruit:

Drain the raisins and candied peel and dry them on pieces of paper towel or a clean tea towel.

Add the fruit to the dough and knead until evenly distributed.

8. Let the dough rise:

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel or a sheet of plastic wrap.

If you mixed the dough by hand, use a dough scraper to gather up all the dough stuck on your work surface and hands.

Let the dough rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down the dough, then let it rise until doubled again, about 45 minutes.

julekake dough rising in a bowl
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9. Shape the loaf:

Grease your work surface with a light coating of oil. Carefully transfer the dough out of the bowl and onto the work surface. Shape the dough into a round loaf, or boule, and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Let the dough rise until doubled again, about 30 minutes.

10. Preheat the oven:

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).

11. Glaze with egg wash:

Beat an egg and a splash of milk in a small bowl. Use a pastry brush to glaze the top of the loaf with the egg wash. Scatter a generous handful of flaked almonds over the top of the bread.

topping julekake dough with flaked almonds
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12. Bake the bread:

Bake the loaf for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown.

Let the bread cool slightly before slicing.

Serve with butter, jam, or cheese.

The bread can be kept in a plastic bag at room temperature for up to two days, but it’s best the same day.

julekake loaf with coffee and flowers
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