|Mel, Charles and Anna|
My parents divorced when I was twelve, and a few years later my mother remarried. Her new husband was of Swedish descent (on both sides), so I ended up with a pair of Swedish step-grandparents. They filled their roles admirably: their son was an only child, and they didn’t want to do anything to harm their relationship with him, so they accepted a new wife and two teen-age step-grandchildren with good grace. We spent many holidays and birthdays together, and they even attended my college graduation.
Grandmother Johnson was a baker by choice (a bank secretary by profession, retired by the time we knew her). Each Christmas she would make an array of cookies—spritz, and thin ginger cookies topped by an almond—and breads like limpa, a traditional Swedish rye bread flavored with fennel, caraway and anise. She also made a braided cardamom bread that my sister and I both remember fondly—and that’s my Christmas offering to you.
Cardamom is not widely used, and it may be an acquired taste, because its flavor is very distinctive. It smells wonderful in baking. This is a raised bread. Sadly a lot of people don’t have the time to make yeast breads these days (all that rising, you know), particularly if they’re also trying to make cookies and dinner for the visiting relatives and decorate the house and shop for gifts and … I’m tired just writing about it. But if you’re ever in the mood to experiment and find yourself with time on your hands (ha!), this is a nice bread to try.
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 pkg dry yeast
6 cups flour
Note: This bread asks for three risings. Since it’s sometimes hard to find a consistently warm place in your home in winter, I suggest turning the oven on to a low temperature and letting your bread rise on top. Then preheat it to cooking temperature during the last rise.
Combine the milk, butter (which will melt in the warm milk), sugar and salt and let the mixture cool.
Dissolve the yeast in a scant quarter-cup lukewarm water.
Add the beaten egg, cardamom and the dissolved yeast to the milk mixture and blend.
Stir in the flour. Knead for 10-15 minutes (if you have a stand mixer, you can use your dough hook).
Form into a ball. Generously grease a large bowl, and place the ball in it, turning it once to cover all side (you don’t want the surface to dry out), cover with a clean cloth, place in a warm place and let rise until doubled in size, 30-40 minutes.
|Before and after rising|
Punch it down (this is fun!). Then let rise again until doubled. Punch once more.
Divide the dough into three parts. Roll each part into a long thin snake (about 18”) then braid them together. Make a circle of the braid and pinch the ends together to make a wreath. Place on a greased baking sheet and cover with a clean towel and let rise yet again, about 45 minutes or until doubled.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
(Yes, you’ve now committed your entire day to sitting around waiting for your bread to rise. Go write your holiday letter or wrap presents while you wait.)
Mix an egg with a little water and brush over the top of your bread, then sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a rack.
Confession time: this recipe as given makes a monster loaf that will serve a starving nation. I’d suggest dividing this and making a pair of smaller, more manageable breads.
|The big one|
|The little one|