Julekake (Norwegian Christmas Bread)

Julekake (Norwegian Christmas Bread)

This morning I woke up to the sight of freshly-fallen snow. I snapped a quick photo through the window in the blue-tinted light just to capture the moment for myself. As I excitedly looked from one window to the next, I took in the images of the smooth white surfaces covering my neighbors’ roofs as perfectly as the icing on a gingerbread house and of the snow on the driveway untouched except for a row of dainty little paw prints.

As is usual in Seattle, the snow didn’t last and by mid-afternoon, when the setting sun had turned the gauzy sky a light dusty rose, the snow was gone. But it was enough to call for a snow day. Appointments canceled, my son and I cuddled fireside to read books while warming up from a brief time outside. As he continued to play I savored the still, quiet morning hours–such a rarity–and settled in, knowing we had absolutely nowhere to go.

Julekake (Norwegian Christmas Bread)

That reminds me of a recent cozy day when I baked this julekake, cardamom-scented Norwegian Christmas bread studded with raisins and candied citron. There’s something about the process of baking bread that creates a steady, still rhythm to the day. Mixing the dough in the morning, I let it undergo multiple rises throughout the day, monitoring the temperature as I went along.

The scent of woody cardamom and yeasty bread is one of the quintessential marks of Christmas time in my memories. Mom would butter slices of julekake and top them with slices of geitost for snacks during this time of year and I loved the sweet-savory elements of both the bread and the brown goat cheese.

Our julekake tended to be dotted with an assortment of candied fruits in black, green, yellow, and red. This year however I decided to bake a batch of my own and follow a Norwegian tradition of including only raisins and citron, candying the latter myself.

Candied Citron


The bread, though shaped differently than the julekake of my youth, was just as I remembered it: warming, aromatic, festive, and just right for eating with thinly sliced geitost. 

The sky has darkened and night is almost here. The tree is lit and a fire flickering in the fireplace. The snow may be gone–just like the julekake–but that little bit of snow this morning was the perfect way to usher in the last weekend before Christmas, full of holiday parties and just the tiniest bit of last-minute shopping. However you are spending the days leading up to Christmas, I wish you the coziest, merriest, and blessed time possible. God Jul!

Julekake (Norwegian Christmas Bread)

Julekake (Norwegian Christmas Bread)
Adapted from Ekte Norsk Jul Vol. 2 and Ekte Norsk Mat, both by Astrid Karlsen Scott. Be sure to use freshly-ground cardamom. Next time I’ll increase the amount of candied citron.

3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup salted butter, cut into dice
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (75-80 degrees F)
3 eggs, divided
5 cups flour, sifted, divided
1-2 teaspoons freshly-ground cardamom
1 1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup candied citron (see David Lebovitz’s recipe, or use store-bought)

Warm milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. When bubbles begin to form around the edge, remove from heat and stir in sugar, butter, and salt, stirring to melt the butter. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water and stir until dissolved. Add the lukewarm milk, then stir in two beaten eggs. Add 2 cups of the flour and the cardamom and beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth. Stir in raisins and citron. At this point you’ll want to stir in just enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough–I used about 2 1/2 cups. Let rest, covered with a towel, about ten minutes.

For the first rise: Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes, then transfer to a large, lightly-greased bowl. Turn it so that the oil coats the entire ball of dough. Cover with a towel and set in a warm place, about 85 degrees F, to rise until it’s doubled in bulk. (In the conditions in my home, this took about 90 minutes.)

For the second rise: Punch down the dough and divide in half, forming the dough into two balls. Cover them for ten minutes, and prepare baking sheets by lightly greasing them. Place a round loaf onto the baking sheets and let rise again in a warm spot, covered with towels, until they’ve doubled in bulk, another 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Toward the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When ready to bake, beat the remaining egg in a small bowl then gently brush it over each loaf, taking care not to press down on the dough too much. Bake for 20 minutes, then cover with foil and bake until done; the original recipes suggest the second period should take about 25 minutes, until the bread is deep golden brown. Mine–which I baked in 2 ovens–took about 17 or 18 minutes for the second part. Immediately transfer to wire racks and cool.

Makes 2 round loaves.

16 thoughts on “Julekake (Norwegian Christmas Bread)

  1. Julekake – one of favorite things about celebrating the Christmas season in Norway! Have you tried making the candied lemon yourself though? Do you have a report/blog post about how it went?

    I’m going to try your recipe this weekend and will have to report back how it goes! Looks a lot like the brioche I made this past Sunday.

  2. Love your description of the newly fallen snow, which I dearly miss living in the Southeast U.S. I first had this wonderful bread when I lived in Chicago and am currently transcribing all my recipes that I’ve collected for decades into a cookbook. And Julekake is one of them. I googled it to get the history behind it and found your site. Cheers from the U.S.!

  3. Made cinnamon buns this morning and found something was missing…must be cardammom…mange takk jeg skal try again

  4. I have made Julekaka for over 40 years and my mother before me and I put a whole orange through the blender and add instead of candied fruit I have it with on xmas morning with gjetost Wouldn’t be xmas without it Colleen

  5. I am so happy to find your recipe as it is so close to what I have written by my grandmother. My family always put the geitost cheese on it. I had an incorrect spelling however of julekagen

  6. Your recipe is so glide to my grandmothers, with exception to the addition of some Crisco my grandmother added.
    Do you make tebrod as well? Would love to have your recipe for that as We unfortunately didn’t get my grandmother’s before she passed away

  7. Pingback: 3 tastiest Norwegian desserts you'll drool over - Muffin Paradise

  8. Pingback: 3 tastiest Norwegian desserts to drool over - Muffin Paradise

  9. Pingback: Food Review: Nutty as a Fruitcake. | Creator & Curator

  10. Love this web site. I have so many memories of my grandmother’s wonderful cooking and baking, but very few written recipes.

  11. My Irish Grandmother married into a Norwegian family. She loved many of their foods and traditions. Julekake became her expertise in this family. This recipe is like hers and I am glad to find it, as I’ve lost mine. Grandmother used golden raisins and candied orange peels instead of the citron. She loved oranges, too and probably these were easier to find than citron. It did not need multiple colors or icings. I was the “christmas baby” and so she made this for me every time I went cross country to visit her- even if it was 89 degrees in July!