This moist and flavorful bread has been served in our home on Christmas morning for many years, and our grown sons consider “Christmas bread” one of our important family traditions. The origins of this particular recipe are obscure – it is hand written in the back of a cook book published by, oddly enough, Vincent Price in 1965 and is on the next page after my grandmother’s recipe for fruit cake.
I’ve seen similar Scandinavian recipes over the years, all of which include cardamom seeds. It is made only at Christmas in our home, but certainly would be a welcome at any breakfast. This recipe is for six loaves. The baked loaves freeze well and when wrapped in foil and heated in a 325 degree oven are almost as good as when freshly baked. We enjoy giving the extras to neighbours on Christmas morning, but the recipe can easily be halved.
9 cups all purpose flour
2 cups warm milk (not low fat)
2 packages dry yeast
¼ cup warm water (90 – 110 degrees)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ cups sugar, plus extra for sprinkling loaves before baking
2 teaspoons salt
¾ cup softened butter
Seeds from 20 cardamom pods, crushed
1 cup sliced almonds
Egg wash (1 egg white whisked with ½ teaspoon water)
Dissolve yeast in the water and cover with a dish towel until bubbles appear. Mix sugar, eggs, salt, milk, butter, cardamom seeds and approximately 1 cup of flour and beat until soft. Add yeast and the remainder of the flour and knead until firm and smooth (Joanne uses the dough hook on her mixer, but certainly it can be done by hand).
In a bowl covered with a towel, let dough rise until doubled in size. Turning your oven on for a minute or two will warm it slightly and the dough will rise well in the oven. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.
To shape, divide dough in half and divide each half into thirds, providing dough for six loaves. Divide each loaf’s dough into thirds, and roll each third on the work surface into “ropes” of equal length (they will be about 12 inches long). Place the three ropes together and braid into a single loaf. Place each loaf onto a buttered baking sheet, cover and let rise until doubled. The bread can be baked at this time or the dough can be covered with towels, refrigerated overnight and baked the next day.
To bake, pre heat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush each loaf with the egg wash and sprinkle with the sugar and almond slices. Bake 25 – 35 minutes until they are nicely colored. The bread tastes best warm and can be reheated in foil. Although several steps are required in this recipe, it is not difficult. Sharing the rolling out of the dough and the braiding of the loaves with children is fun and may start a new holiday tradition in your family.
About the author:
An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president of the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association (www.nhfma.org). His column & recipes appear weekly in The Heart of New England’s newsletter… get a free subscription by visiting www.TheHeartofNewEngland.com