If there were ever an opportune time to make this bread, it is now. First of all – it’s Christmastime! And this bread was named for the season by our Scandinavian neighbors. I’ve been told that Norwegians cannot imagine a Christmas season without Julekage. (Is this true?) Second, at the end of the baking day you’ll have three gorgeous golden loaves, which means one to keep and two to give.
I’ve often said that making bread from scratch is like wrestling, and as I made this recipe that sentiment rang true once again. Even though I used my standing mixer and dough hook attachment do most of the kneading, I still had quite a bit of punching and working to get the dough ready for the oven. Not that I’m complaining! I enjoy traditional no-shortcut recipes like this. The work puts me in a zen-like state and the rest of the world disappears.
Julekage is lightly sweet, so the extra sweetness of pearl sugar and glaze on the outside is nice. I also really love the crunchy cap that pearl sugar gives to breads and pastries.
I added a bit more candied fruit on top which is optional, but the jewel-like appearance made me happy.
Lucky me! I found gjetost cheese locally, which is a caramelized goat cheese that is often enjoyed with Julekage. Wow, is it ever different! It’s mild and slightly sweet – definitely goat-cheesy with a hint of caramel flavor. If you’re able to find some at your local cheese shop, I highly recommend asking for a taste!
This bread is really lovely – and so fluffy! (Did I say that already?) If you’re looking to put your chef’s hat on and test your bread-making dexterity, this recipe is for you! It’s absolutely worth a day spent kneading, resting, punching, proofing, and proofing again, and everything else that comes with it (especially eating!).
One more little thing! I’d like to remind readers that I am an American baker that loves making recipes from other parts of the world. I try my best to procure authentic ingredients, but sometimes I am limited to what I can obtain locally (for example, I looked for dried currants which is a traditional ingredient for this bread, but I came up empty-handed). I am always happy to receive tips, tricks, hints, and suggestions from my international friends who are culturally tied to the recipes I make.
Norwegian Christmas Bread
Yields three 8-inch loaves
4 1/2 teaspoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
1/2 cup (120 ml) warm water, 105°F to 115°F
2 cups (480 ml) milk, lukewarm
1/2 cup (98g) sugar
1/2 cup (113g) butter, softened
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 eggs, beaten
7-8 cups (840-960g)all-purpose flour
1 cup (150g) golden raisins (sultanas)
1 cup (170g) mixed candied fruits
Eggs wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon water, beaten)
1/2 cup (75g) pearl sugar
2 cups (227g) confectioners’ sugar
3-4 tablespoons milk or cream
Candied fruit for garnish, optional
In the bowl of an electric mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand 5 minutes until foamy. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and blend in the milk, sugar, butter, salt, cardamom and eggs. Mix well. (Butter chunks will float to the surface here and it will look all kinds of wrong– just go with it). Stir in 3 1/2 cups of the flour and beat well. Stir in half of the flour and beat well. Add another 3 1/2 cups of flour, mixing to make soft dough. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes.
Fit the mixer with the dough hook attachment. Set a timer and for 10 minutes and knead the dough on low speed. Add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time intermittently until a smooth, satin, elastic dough forms. You may not have to use all of the flour. Stop the mixer and add the fruit. Knead again at medium speed until the fruit is well dispersed throughout the dough.
Lightly grease a large bowl (or wash, dry and grease the mixing bowl) and place the dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled. Punch down the dough and cover again. Let rise until doubled in bulk.
Grease three 8 or 9-inch round cake pans (I used two 8’s and a 7). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly (3-4 turns) until the dough is not sticky to touch. Cut the dough into three equal parts. Shape each piece into a rough ball. Using both hands, pick up a dough ball and using your fingertips, push the sides of the dough underneath the ball, tucking the ends underneath and rotating the ball as you work. Keep repeating the motion until the dough comes together in an even round shape (see video for technique). Place each dough piece in a prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand until doubled.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Cover cakes with egg wash using a pastry brush. Cover top with pearl sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and fragrant. Turn bread out onto wire racks. Let cool slightly before glazing.
For the glaze, place the confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl and whisk in just enough cream to make a very thick glaze. Whisk in vanilla. Generously glaze each loaf and top with additional candied fruit if desired.