Since I’ve been connecting with the “mystery side of the family” as my mom and I have always called it… I’ve found myself diving deeper into traditions from my relatively newly discovered Scandinavian culture. I’ve also gone back and reread all correspondence from the aunt that I briefly connected with on Ancestry a few years ago. She’s my biological dad’s sister, and she cut off contact at his request. But before she cut off contact she mentioned that my dad also likes to bake. Then she asked if I’d ever had or made Julekake. She said she’d send me a family recipe, but I never heard from her again. I had completely forgotten about that until recently, so I thought I’d attempt to make Julekake myself (pronounced Youl-ah-ka-ka). I found a few recipes online, and they’re all pretty similar. This one is from The Spruce Eats.
An update on connecting with this newfound family… I got to meet another one of them! Truly what a delight. I love hearing all their family stories. The craziest story is that my grandfather was a prisoner of war in WWII after his plane was shot down, and he didn’t meet his first born until he was 18 months old. When I was being told this story, they said, “Only 3 people survived that crash. If he hadn’t survived, the rest of the kids would have never been born.” Then they looked at me and said,” And you know what? You wouldn’t be here either.” Something about that story really hit me. I keep having this feeling that it all might be kismet. But perhaps it’s just luck of the draw?
Anyway, food has always made me feel more connected… to people, to culture, to history. I made this bread because it’s a tradition for a family I’m only just discovering. It’s my way of feeling connected to them, despite not growing up with them. It’s similar to when I make cheesy potatoes to remember my grandma. Food holds memories and food makes memories.
This bread is sort of dense, lightly sweet, and slightly spiced since I added crystalized ginger. I honestly wouldn’t recommend the ginger, unless you’re really into that. If I ever make this again, I’d add more cherries and maybe raisins. This version contained a small amount of maraschino cherries, plus crystalized ginger, candied citron, and candied orange peel. The citron and orange peel were in containers literally labeled “Holiday Fruit.” You can use anything you’d normally put in fruit cake. Having never made or eaten fruit cake, I winged it.
1/2 cup warm water
2 packets of active yeast (14g)
1/2 cup butter
2 cups milk, plus more for brushing loaves
8 cups of flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 cups mixed candied fruit
Warm the 1/2 cup water + 1/2 cup milk to 105-110 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the warmed milk with 1 tablespoon of sugar and the yeast. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes (it should get foamy). While the yeast is activating, pour the remaining 1 1/2 cups of the milk, along with the butter, into a sauce pan. Warm over medium-low heat until the butter has fully melted. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, mix 4 cups of the flour with remainder of the sugar, salt, and cardamom. Once the yeast is foamy, slowly add in some of the flour mixture, then the milk/butter mixture, then the remainder of the flour mixture. Beat with the paddle attachment until the batter falls in sheets from the paddle (a couple of minutes at most). Switch to a dough hook, and add in the candied fruit. Slowly mix in the remaining 4 cups of flour. Knead for 6-8 minutes with the dough hook or by hand. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise for about an hour (or until doubled in size). Punch the dough down to release the air and shape into 2 loaves. Place into 9x5x3 loaf pans, greased with butter or spray. Cover again and let rise for another 40-50 minutes (or until doubled in size). Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes. You may need to tent some foil over the top for the last 10-15 minutes of baking to prevent the top from burning. If you have a thermometer, check for doneness by sticking it into the center of the bread. It should read 190 degrees when fully cooked. I ended up baking for about 45 minutes total I think, but I suspect my oven runs cold.
The only way I like to eat this bread is toasted with salted butter. Jury is still out on whether or not I actually like it, though.