Friday, December 20, 2013

Swedish Cardamom Bread

by Sheila Connolly

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.

Swedish Cardamom Bread

1-1/2 cups scalded milk (just short of boiling, with little bubbles around the edge)

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

God Jul!

(Merry Christmas)


  1. What a beautiful bread, Sheila, and lovely story of supportive parents/grandparents. On the yeast breads taking time, that's very true, although once learned one can get into a rhythm with it. My father's mother made bread every day--and in an outdoor oven--they were poor farmers. But she reused her starter and that saved time. Me? I use the no-knead method! But on the holidays, it's a pleasure to take time to bake, and this recipe will be a Keeper, along with the warm story of family that goes with it.

    God Jul to you, as well, Merry Christmas!
    ~ Cleo

  2. Lovely recipe and what a nice background to it. You hit the jackpot, Sheila. Now I am racing to send my Swedish friends to MLK to read this.

    Happy and Merry!

  3. The breads are beautiful Sheila! I'm a big fan of stepfamilies, having experienced them from both sides. Fairy tales don't do them a favor, but stepparents and grandparents can provide so much love--glad your experience was a good one!

  4. I love cardamon. Isn't it interesting that it is featured in Scandinavian cooking and Indian? The sweet and the savory.
    There is something very comforting about making bread--the kneading, the waiting, the yeasty smell, the wonderful aroma filling the house.
    Thanks for the recipe and lovely family memories.
    God Jul

  5. Love this, Sheila. My mama always made it every Christmas and I've now taken over the tradition in our family. We've always called it Coffee Bread though because you always have a cup of coffee with it. Which I'm about to do, shortly. Never tried making limpa though. Hmmmm.

  6. This takes me back! My best friend growing up was of Swedish ancestry and I tasted this bread when I was too young to appreciate it. Now I'd love some. Thank you for the memory, and have a rich and happy holiday season.

    Marc Cerasini (the other half of Cleo Coyle)

  7. This is beautiful, Sheila and such a lovely story to go with it. Today would be the perfect day to try it since we are pretty much housebound due to ice covered roads. We already have Lucy's sugar cookies on the menu to make!

  8. Sheila, what a gorgeous bread! Really beautiful. My grandmother made many if those cookies, and she wasn't Swedish. But she was Irish and loved all things European.

    Daryl /Avery

  9. I've never had much luck using yeast...but I love cardamom!