What’s overtly clear about Lindstrom, from the minute you enter the township, is that it still has pretty strong ties to its Swedish-settled roots. It’s home to the Karl Oskar days – a summer festival built around a fictional character by the same name who pretty much embodies the Swedish emigrant experience in a great little series of books.
Lindstrom is even a sister city to Tingsryd, Sweden, and it was in Lindstrom that I learned more about Swedish traditions, despite my own Swedish heritage. While growing up, my family’s holidays had revolved around the Eastern European goodies from my dad’s side – let’s hear it for Polish sausage and pierogies!
But at Eric’s house, on Christmas Eve, his mom would put out a spread of appetizers, which I’ve since come to learn is a little like a Swedish julbord – which literally translates to “Christmas table” and indicates a veritable buffet smorgasbord of goodness. While this practice was a little strange to me at first, I clearly had no problems adapting to grazing on delicious food for three hours on Christmas Eve. Truth.
While I haven’t fully adopted all of the Swedish practices I’ve learned from Eric’s family – we’re talking lutefisk and uffda! - I have loved starting to think about what “ethnic” traditions we can include in our own Christmas celebrations as our kids get older to help them know – even just a little – where they come from.
This year, I tried my hand at this Swedish Christmas bread braid…or kardemummakrans…which is an amazing word. Please. Stop reading. Say it outloud. Kardemummakrans.
This cardamom-spiced yeast bread is a Swedish Christmas tradition, and one that I know I’ll make again. This variation does not include a filling, but has plenty of flavor from said cardamom and some almond extract. Beyond your basic yeast-rising protocol, the dough is then broken into three strands, rolled into ropes, and braided. Some kardemummakrans varieties are left in a long braid, others formed into a wreath, like this one.
A super simple glaze covers this bread, and I can’t recommend anything but making a little extra to serve along with each piece. This glaze and this bread were meant for each other. And both were meant to be served with coffee.
Here’s to Christmas. Here’s to traditions. Merry Christmas. God jul.
2 packages (or 4 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast (not fast rising)
½ c. warm water (about 105 to 115* F)
¾ c. warm milk (about 105 to 115* F)
½ c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
8 tbsp. (1 stick) melted butter
3 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. ground cardamom*
2 tsp. almond extract
6 to 7 cups all purpose flour
1/2 c. sliced almonds for garnish
Vegetable oil or cooking spray for greasing the bowl and baking sheet
parchment paper helpful
heaping 2 1/2 tbsp. butter, melted
1 c. powdered sugar
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. hot water
*Note: this bread really has a strong cardamom flavor, which is kind of the point. But if you're not so sure about cardamom, consider trying this bread with 1 to 1 1/2 tsp. instead.
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the milk and sugar and let stand about 5 minutes, or until the sur-face becomes foamy.
Stir in the salt, butter, eggs, cardamom, almond extract, and 3 cups of the flour, and then beat until very smooth. Add enough of the remaining flour to form soft dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead for about 5 to 8 minutes. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and turn it to coat the entire surface. Cover the bowl with a floured towel and allow the dough to rise until double in volume, about 1 hour. (I like to let mine rise this way: heat oven to 200*. Just before putting dough bowl in, turn off the oven, and keep door shut while it rises).
Lightly grease a baking sheet or parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and divide it into thirds. Using the palms of your hands, roll each of these thirds into ropes about 20-inches long. Braid the ropes together and lift the braid onto the prepared baking sheet to form a wreath, pinching the ends together to seal them. Let rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes to an hour.
Preheat oven to 350*.Bake the braid in the preheated oven for about 35-50 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped. (PS - mine was done AT 40 minutes; I'd start checking earlier next time). Place the loaf on wire rack to cool.
To make the glaze, whisk together the melted butter powdered sugar, vanilla, and hot water until smooth.
Drizzle glaze over the bread braid once mostly cool and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Serve with any remaining glaze.
Keeps well, covered on the counter, for 2-3 days.