If I did no other holiday baking, I would make a batch of Julekake. For me, it is the flavor and odor of Christmas and all I need to prompt my digging out the red-and-gold reindeer mugs for a cup of tea to go with a slice of it spread with butter.
I got this recipe from my friend Anna Coit, who married a Norwegian descendant whose mother’s recipe this is. She always made it to serve to those of us who helped her sell her cut-your-own Christmas trees. That was 25 years ago when she was in her 70s. She is 100 and still going strong — still making Julekake, the most sublime shortbread you ever ate, and still selling Christmas trees.
This holiday bread recipe usually makes three loaves. Anna always said she thought that using all raisins wasn’t a good idea because, she said, “raisins made too strong a statement.” She substituted sultanas or what we sometimes call golden raisins for part of the dried fruits.
The recipe also calls for the cook to set a sponge, that is, to make a loose mixture of ingredients in which the yeast can develop and to which you add more flour later. That means it is a good idea to make this bread on a day when you expect to be around and can keep one eye on it. Go wrap some Christmas presents, put up the tree, make cookies and check the bread intermittently. It might take a big chunk of the day, but you don’t have to stand around and watch it every minute.
With the currants, raisins and sultanas, you may find that in order to get 12 ounces of each you will have to buy a couple of 10-ounce boxes of them. It is really all right to use 10 ounces, but you can add 2 ounces of other raisins or currants to the total, or more currants and fewer raisins. It is pretty variable. Older recipes based on older standards of box sizes leave us a little up a creek these days with the recent incredible shrinking box sizes. I often pick up raisins at co-ops or health food markets, anywhere bulk items are sold, in order to obtain more easily the quantities I want.
If you want the bread to progress more quickly, add a third packet of yeast; otherwise two will do it. When you knead it, you may find that the raisins pop out from time to time. Just pick them up and stick them back in the bread where they belong. Or eat them. Knead until it is nice and sticky, and it will be sticky.
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Yields three 9×5 loaves.
1½ cups hot water
1½ cups milk
½ cup or one stick butter
1 tablespoon salt
½ cup sugar
2-3 packets or tablespoons of dry yeast
3 teaspoons ground cardamom
10-12 ounces currants
10-12 ounces sultanas
10-12 ounces of raisins
4 ounces of candied citron
6 to 7 cups flour
Heat the water, then put it into a large mixing bowl, and add the milk and butter. When the butter has melted and the liquids are still warm but not hot, add the sugar, salt and yeast, stir to mix, then stir in 3 cups of flour to make a sponge. Cover the bowl and set it to rise in a warm place until it is frothy looking which may take two hours.
Beat in the eggs, and then add the cardamom and fruits. Add another cup of flour and beat it all together for about 50 strokes. Cover and set aside again to rise. When it has doubled, beat in another 2 to 3 cups of flour. The dough will be sticky, but should hold together. Divide it and put it into three greased loaf pans. Cover and set aside to rise. Allow to double.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake at 400 degrees for five minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until loaves are brown, sound hollow and slip from the pans.