Monday 14 December 2015

Swedish braided bread with cardamom

Swedish braided bread with cardamom is the latest recipe on our Christmas menu, a welcome new tradition that is making our Sunday brunches in December even better. Perhaps the recipe should be called Nordic or Scandinavian Christmas bread, as it isn't specifically Swedish. Some people call it coffee or tea bread but I'm used to calling it Swedish. In Finland they call it pulla and another Finnish word for it is nisu or nissua. The Norwegian bread is called julekake (Christmas cake) and has raisins in it but I don't think they necessarily braid the loaf. In Denmark I have seen teboller (tea buns) with cardamom. The ingredients in these recipes will vary slightly but the cardamom, widely used in Scandinavia, is the common factor.

In Sweden they either bake a loaf or buns from the dough and usually they sprinkle pearl sugar on top, which is something you will never find in my cupboards. In some recipes the braids are formed into a ring that has been filled with butter, sugar and spices, and often topped with sliced almonds. All these Nordic recipes include butter and sugar, but it shouldn't come as a surprise that my version is less sugary and has just a bit of coconut oil instead of the butter. The bread is still soft and has a sweet taste but for us it's more about the heavenly taste of cardamom.

In my recipe I use freshly ground cardamom, from half tablespoon of cardamom pods (20-25 green ones). My first braided bread experiments included fresh yeast but I decided to experiment with dried yeast as well, in case some of my readers weren't able to buy fresh yeast (no one in this household complained, perhaps it was the cardamom coma!). The recipe calls for 735 grams of flour (5½ cups) but it's enough to use dried yeast needed for 500 grams (1 lb). I bake the bread with white spelt flour but I have also used organic plain flour, using either fresh or dried yeast, with good results. It was my intention to share a yeast-free version as well but to avoid confusion I will post it separately some other time.

I have told you before that I have Danish ancestors and was brought up in Iceland with quite many Danish traditions. However, I don't remember ever having seen braided bread on the table or buns with cardamom. The look of the bread has always fascinated me and I wanted to make my own version, as I have found the breads I have tasted too sugary. It isn't complicated to bake the bread, it just takes time as you first have to activate the yeast and then allow the dough to rise two times, first for an hour and then for 30-40 minutes after the loaves have been braided. If you don't know how to braid don't let it stop you, just make regular loaves instead. As I said before, my version of braided bread contains no butter and is less sugary than the recipes I have come across. Let's just say that in my recipe the scent of cardamom plays a leading role.


makes 2 loaves
17 g fresh yeast + 125 ml warm water (½ cup) to activate the yeast
  (or dried yeast for 500 g of flour - see notes in ivory box below)
185 ml milk (¾ cup)
4 tablespoons organic unrefined cane sugar
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon sea/Himalayan salt
½ tablespoon cardamom pods (or ground cardamom)
1 egg, free-range
135 g + 600 g white spelt flour or organic plain flour (1 + 4½ cups)
coconut oil for greasing
1 egg white for brushing

To activate the yeast: Put the fresh yeast with warm water (35-37°C /95-98.6°F) in a medium bowl. Stir gently with a spoon to dissolve the yeast and let it sit for about 5 minutes, until the surface is covered with froth. (See notes in the ivory box below if using dried yeast.)

Crack the cardamom pods with e.g. a rolling pin to remove the seeds. Crush the seeds coarsely using a mortar and pestle or a grinder. You can also wrap the seeds in baking parchment and crush them with a rolling pin.

Warm the milk in a small saucepan - do not boil it! Put sugar, coconut oil, salt and cardamom in a medium bowl. Pour the warm milk over and stir gently while dissolving the sugar and coconut oil.

In a large baking bowl, put 135 grams (1 cup) spelt flour/plain flour and egg. Break the yolk with a whisker before pouring the yeast mixture and milk mixture into the bowl. Whisk until smooth. Add the 600 grams (4½ cups) of flour and combine with a wooden spoon. Knead the dough while still in the bowl to get a feel for the texture. If it feels sticky sift some flour into the bowl and knead the dough until the texture feels right: moist but not sticky.

Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead with your hands for 5-7 minutes. Grease the bowl with a little bit of coconut oil before putting the dough back in. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm place for at least 1 hour, until it has doubled in size.

Punch the dough down and knead it slightly before dividing the dough in half, and each half into three balls. Roll the balls and shape into 6 equal ropes, 30 cm long each (about 12 inches).

Arrange 3 ropes of dough on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and pinch the ends farthest from you together. Braid the ropes and fold the ends under the loaf. Repeat with the other 3 ropes and make sure there is space between the braided loaves. Cover with a tea towel and set aside in a warm place for 30-40 minutes.

Brush the loaves with egg white before baking at 180°C/350°F (160°C fan oven) for 20-25 minutes. If you tap the bread bottom and the bread sounds hollow you will know it's done. Place the loaves on a wire cooling rack before slicing and serving with butter.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

For this recipe you can use either fresh yeast or dried yeast. Activating fresh yeast: see instructions above. Activating dried yeast: Even though the recipe calls for 735 grams of flour (5½ cups), I use the dried yeast needed for 500 grams (1 lb) - simply follow the manufacturer's instructions on the packet, as those may vary. The type of dried yeast I have used to make the bread calls for 125-150 ml lukewarm water (1 part boiling, 2 parts cold), 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of dried yeast. First you dissolve the sugar in the water in a medium bowl, and then you sprinkle the yeast into the bowl, whisk thoroughly and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes, until the surface is covered with froth.


  1. This sounds delightful, Lisa! Can you clarify. If I'm using ground cardamom (from Penzy's spices here in the US) I should use a 1/2 tablespoon?

    1. Hi Jessie! Yes, if you are using ground cardamom (shop-bought) then I recommend using ½ tablespoon. I tried it once with 1 teaspoon and we agreed that it needed just a little bit more.

  2. Oh Thanks for sharing this recipe! I have been baking for nearly two years without using any wheat flour. I work with many different grains and it has cost me some nervous experiences :-)
    I come here a bit late to try this for Xmas, but I will certainly use your recipe soon after.

    1. Thank you, Stephanie, for stopping by. Experimenting with different grains ... I have been there ;-) Happy Holidays and all the best for 2016!


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