Julekake / Julekaga ~ Norwegian Cardamom Scented Christmas Bread

My first post of this year is also the last post of the Christmas season that officially ends today, the 6th of January which is also called as the Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings. Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas (although some Orthodox churches celebrate it on the 19th of January as they celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January) and is the time when Christians remember the Three Wise Men (also called as the three kings) who visited Jesus after He was born.

The Eve of Epiphany (the 5th of Jan) is also called as the Twelfth Night and is also the tradition behind the Christmas song 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' (if you thought that the 12 days are a countdown to Christmas, you are mistaken - the first day of Christmas is Christmas Day itself - 25th Dec and hence the 12th Day would be the 5th of Jan). From what I gathered from my various searches on the internet, during the medieval and Tudor times the Twelfth Night was a big time celebration with people holding large parties during which something called the Twelfth Night cake was eaten. It was a rich cake made with eggs, butter, fruit, nuts and spices and perhaps the modern Italian Panettone is the one that closely resembles it. I guess the Julekake (the bread chosen for the month of December by Aparna for the monthly bread project - We Knead to Bake# 23) has some similar history behind it and is hence prepared and eaten during Christmas. When I learnt about this bread I felt that the timing couldn't have been any better. It was an easy bread perfect for the season!

Julekake which means 'Yule Bread' in Norwegian is a rich and aromatic bread that is traditionally prepared during the Christmas season in many Scandinavian countries especially Norway. This bread is more like a cake than a bread as it is so rich with dried /candied fruit and so some people frost/ dust it with icing/sugar glaze and garnish it with chopped almonds or crushed sugar candy or more candied fruit on top. With a crumb that is pretty dense and delicious bits of candied fruit included in it, it is a perfect festive bread.

Julekake involves candied fruit, nuts and cardamom to spice it up. However some recipes call for nutmeg or cinnamon. When left plain (without sugar glaze) it is usually served warm with butter or a kind of Norwegian caramelised brown goat milk cheese called Gjeitost / Brunost. Whether plain or glazed the two ingredients that are a must in this bread are raisins and cardamom. I used candied fruit (tutti-frutti) and wished I had added some citrus peel to it too but maybe next time. 

This lovely bread needn't wait for the next Christmas season. You can make it anytime with or without the candied fruit and enjoy it warm with some butter for your breakfast. Leftovers if any can be transformed into a delicious french toast and enjoyed with a cup of hot tea! It tastes wonderful, trust me!

I wish all my readers a wonderful, fulfilling and joyful New Year 2015! May you and your family be blessed with happiness, peace, good health and success!

Julekake / Julekaga ~ Norwegian Cardamom Scented Christmas Bread

For the dough:

For the glaze:

For the icing:

1. First, activate the yeast by placing it in a small bowl. To it, add the lukewarm water, lukewarm milk and 1 teaspoon sugar (from the 1/4 cup sugar) and mix everything together and keep aside for 10-15 mins or until the mixture turns frothy. * see notes
2. In a large mixing bowl add the egg, butter, sugar, salt and the yeast mixture and mix well. Add the flour and the cardamom powder to it and knead until you get a soft, pliable and elastic dough. If the dough is too sticky add a little extra flour or if it feels too hard dab your fingers in water and continue kneading till you get a soft dough.
3. Take the dough out and flatten it into a largish round. Sprinkle the candied fruit and raisins evenly and then roll it up, swiss roll style, knead the dough lightly and roll it up into a ball.
4. Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and cover the bowl loosely with a tea towel. Keep in a warm place to rise until double in volume, about an hour or so.
5. When done, lightly knead the dough and shape it again into a ball. Place it on a baking tray lined with parchment (or you can also use a cake or loaf tin). Keep it to rise for another 45 minutes.
6. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and lightly brush the surface of the dough with the egg wash (beaten egg) or with milk if you want to skip the egg. If you are not going to use the icing sprinkle crushed sugar cubes or slivered almonds on top and bake for about 30 minutes till the bread is golden brown on top. Cover the bread with foil after 15 minutes into the baking time if you feel that it is browning too fast on the surface.
7. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
8. For the icing, mix the ingredients together until you get a thick pouring consistency and pour in the centre of the bread - the mixture will dribble along the sides forming a pretty design. Place a tray under the rack to collect the excess icing mixture. Sprinkle chopped almonds or candied peel over it. Let the icing set before serving

1. If the yeast does not turn frothy discard the mixture and try again with a new package of yeast. If the yeast is old or beyond expiry it is pointless using it as the bread won't rise very well or rise at all.
2. If you plan to use the icing, use just about 1/4 cup sugar (as per recipe above). If you won't be using icing then you can increase the sugar to upto 1/2 cup (in total)
3. I used Amul salted butter so skipped the salt. Use the salt if you are using unsalted butter

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