Being Scandinavian, the holidays are a great time to get in the kitchen and bake. I make a wide variety of cookies, and just one type of holiday bread: Julekake. Sometimes viewed as the Scandihoovian version of fruitcake, I can assure you that it is both much tastier, easier to digest, and fun to make. It is also free of any type of alcoholic under- or overtone, thereby suitable for the whole family!
Strictly translated, Julekake means Yule Cake or Christmas Cake. Every Scandinavian family has their favorite version of this holiday tradition, and ours is no different. As a small child, I first learned to make Julekake at the knee of a lovely Swedish woman that worked with several generations of our family. When I got a little older, I started cooking with my Mor Mor both during the holidays and sometimes just for the fun of spending time together.
With regard to Julekake in specific, I have strong memories of cutting citron into chunks in her minuscule kitchen, and watching carefully as the mass of flour, cardamom, fruits, butter, eggs, yeast and sugar conjoined to make what can only be described as my own version of heaven on earth. At the faintest whiff of cardamom, I am still taken back to that annual scene and replay it in my minds eye with deep fondness.
As mentioned elsewhere, my daughter's baking skills have advanced to the point where she's developed a very sensitive palate. In addition to being an excellent judge of taste and texture, she's also free of any emotional attachment to most recipes, unlike me. This year, her critical tongue determined that the sacred family Julekake is too dry. After getting over my shaken sense of tradition, we aspired to find the perfect Julekake recipe; moist, tender, but with enough body to support a piece of gjetost as well as a hefty pat of butter.
Twelve loaves later, we've found the perfect recipe, not only in terms of the perfectly browned, well risen loaves that result, but also with regard to the relative ease of preparation that this recipe provides.
Things you'll need: a big Pyrex measuring cup (4 cup), and a large (2 gallon or so) bowl in which to mix it up. I am using my mother's 52-year old wooden salad bowl, given to her as a wedding gift. It's shallow and deep, and is actually wide enough that I can knead the dough right in the bowl. In addition, you'll also need a somewhat deeper bowl for the rising portion of the process that can hold a couple of loaves worth of dough.
Turn on the oven for 10 minutes at 150 degrees, then shut it off but keep the door closed. This makes a nice, safe and protected haven in which the dough can rise.
To make the bread, start by using the large, flat mixing bowl. In this bowl, put:
5 c. white flour
1 T. cardamom
2 c. candied fruit and citrus
1 - 1 1/2 c. raisins.
Mix these dry ingredients until blended. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Set aside.
In the Pyrex measuring cup, combine the following:
2 c. milk, scalded (can be done on the stove or in the microwave)
1 c. sugar, dissolved in the scalded milk
1 c. butter (whatever type you prefer), melted in the scalded milk
Let the mixture cool to lukewarm. Pour a little over:
1 T. active dry yeast
Stir to dissolve. It may begin to bubble a bit; that's OK. When smooth, add the dissolved yeast mixture into the main milk/sugar/butter mixture. Then add the whole kit and caboodle into the flour mixture, and begin to combine all to make a soft dough. You'll probably add another cup or so of flour, but your goal is to knead this all together to create a soft, pliable dough that doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl. If your bowl is too small, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead further.
When well but not over-kneaded, place in the buttered bowl, turn it over once so the oiled side is up. Place a cotton dish towel over the top, and place the bowl in the pre-heated oven. It shouldn't be too hot; just warm enough for a good, protected rise. Let it do its work for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes. Punch down and knead again. This time, you can separate the dough however you like; 2 loaves, 2 rounds, or 4 smaller loaves and 1 small round. Do whatever blows your hair back. Cover with a dish towel again and let it rise once more for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes. You may have to do a brief second pre-heat on the oven for rise #2 to keep it nicely warm.
Once risen, bake in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. I generally put a piece of foil over the tops after about 25 minutes as otherwise I feel it gets too dark.
Julekake is excellent all by itself, but even better slightly toasted with butter. My Mor Mor used to like it with sweet Norwegian goat cheese (gjetost), which can be procured at a Scandinavian grocer and sometimes even in larger grocery stores that have a good cheese selection.
In any case, this fruit-studded bread holds center court throughout our holiday, and I am happy to have finally found the perfect recipe! Enjoy!