Yulekake, Norwegian Holiday Bread

2013-11-17 15.47.55Yulekake. This word instantly creates two feelings in me: hunger and fulfillment. Hunger because even the thought of the aroma of this bread makes me happy, and ready to smear some salted butter on one of these perfect rolls. Fulfillment because everyone that eats this bread feels loved. That’s just the way it is. A gift of yulekake is a gift of love, devotion, and it means that you are special enough to make someone put their kneading muscles on and bake a loaf, braid, or pan of rolls for you.

My mother’s side is Norwegian, Polish, French in heritage, and my mom, Maureen Plourd Sandoval, related the story of her mother, Marie Knudsen Plourd, getting her Norwegian grandmother, Borghild Gudmunsen Knudsen, to describe how she made yulekake, and then my grandmother made the conversions to cups, tsp, etc. What she created from memory is the exact replica of what everyone on that side of my family makes today. Growing up in Colorado where there was always chile on every plate, including the Christmas plate, we can now never have a Thanksgiving or Christmas without yulekake playing the support role of sandwich bread for leftover turkey, ham or beef from the holiday meal; a little meat plus some green chiles makes a great leftover sandwich, with the slightly sweet cardamom-y bread completing the package. 

I decided to attempt making yulekake for the first time this Thanksgiving, and with the support crew of my mom and sister texting back and forth in times of uncertainty, I succeeded in making my first batch of my favorite family bread, and had the joy of sharing it with many people that could feel the love. Make this the bread that graces your holiday table, and you will definitely want it there for every feast holiday – if it’s not on your table, you will feel like something’s missing. Enjoy, and God Jul (Merry Christmas)!

makes one 9×13 pan of rolls or 2 large braids

  • 2 cups scalded milk
  • ½ c. butter
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 3 c. all-purpose flour to start
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1 pkg. yeast

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Find your copy of the recipe. This is my sister’s. I had her email me a picture of it!

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Scald your milk and butter. Scalding means heat it to just before boiling. Set aside and let cool to a little warmer than room temperature. Do this first so that you let it get cool enough. You don’t want to add this hot to your yeast mixture or you’ll kill your yeast.

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Either use ground cardamom, or grind your own. I urge you to grind your own. Aroma heaven.

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Mortar and pestle is tough. Don’t be a hero. I ended up using my coffee grinder.

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Place all your dry ingredients in a bowl. This is the 3 c. flour, cardamom, yeast, salt.

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Add your beaten egg to the flour mixture.

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Add your cooled scalded milk mixture. Stir with a fork, then a wooden spoon.
This is when it starts to smell awesome!

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It’ll be gloopy like this. Add flour until it is work-able. Dump out on your working surface and keep adding flour and kneading until it looks like…

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…this. It was the most enjoyable bread to knead! My sister swears by her huge Kitchen-Aid mixer for this job, but I absolutely LOVED kneading it until it looked perfectly silky.

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Coat a bowl with some butter, coat the ball in a little butter. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap, put in a warmish place to rise for as long as it takes to double. Mine took around 2 hours. I was shocked how long it took, but it is a really dense dough… the ticket here is that it needs to be doubled – this may be dependent on your region – high or low altitude, cold or warm kitchen. Let it take as long as it takes to double.

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Punch down and form into balls or braids.

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Cover with towel or plastic wrap and let rise one more time to double again. This took almost 2 hours this time as well, perhaps a little less.

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Preheat oven to 350°F, and bake for 30 minutes, then baste with melted butter. Rotate pan. Bake for 30 minutes more. Baste with more butter. Keep doing this process until desired level of brown is achieved. Err on the side of honey-brown,
as any less done will yield a gummy bread.

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Serve warm, or reheat in slices in a toaster, or wrap in foil and toss in oven to reheat. This bread keeps exceptionally well in the freezer – I’ve had re-heated frozen yulekake 1-2 years old that was in incredibly good condition. Bake a lot of it and give as a hostess gift, or hoard it all for yourself for yulekake french toast, or top toasted slices with gjetost…
the possibilities are endless! Enjoy!

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