Wreath Breads, the Festive Centerpiece You Can Eat

Norwegian Julekake

From a babka-inspired braid to a circular pain d’epi, our ring-shaped takes on four Northern European classics will reinvigorate your baking with new techniques and festive flavors. 

Norwegian Julekake 

Rich, moist, and slightly sweet, Julekake is traditionally boule-shaped and flavored with sukat (what Norwegians call candied citrus peel), raisins, and cardamom. The bread, whose name loosely translates to “Yule cake,” originated in pre-Christian Norse times. Norwegians would make Julekake from one of the last cornhusks in the fall and place it in their homes as decoration through the holiday season. Customarily, they serve the bread during Christmas breakfast with jam and Brunost, a Norwegian brown cheese. 

Finnish Joululimppu

Finnish Joululimppu 

For Finns, rye bread has been a cultural and nutritional staple for centuries. It was voted Finland’s national food for the centenary celebrations of the country’s independence this year. Originating in Eastern Finland, Joululimppu is traditionally a boule-shaped rye, flavored with dark treacle and orange, and brimming with earthy seeds like fennel and caraway. It has all the nuttiness and chewiness of a traditional rye bread, but it is teeming with the season’s flavors of citrus and spice. Buttermilk or whole milk, which are used in most Finnish bread recipes, keeps it moist and sweet. “Joulu” means Christmas and “limppu” translates to a type of bread. Get our November/December issue for the recipe! 

Swedish Saffranskrans

Swedish Saffranskrans

In this brilliant golden wreath, the standard holiday spices of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg take a knee to saffron. For centuries, Sweden was a prominent trade center on the northern land route of the global spice trade known as the “Silk Road” that connected Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. As a result, saffron, which is native to Southwest Asia, became a staple in Swedish baking. In Saffranskrans, a buttery saffron dough is filled with candied orange peel and raisins. The bread is popular during Advent and is often served on December 13 for St. Lucia Day, a winter solstice celebration also called the “Festival of Lights.”

Swiss Hefekranz

Swiss Hefekranz

Hefekranz, which translates to “yeast wreath,” refers to the traditional braided wreath bread enjoyed in Switzerland, southern Germany, and Austria during the winter holidays and Easter. Hefekranz and its cousin hefezopf (a braided loaf) typically include three woven strands of dough, which are said to represent the Holy Trinity. The classic recipe is scented with lemon, studded with raisins, and sprinkled with sliced almonds. Some historians claim it was developed in 1256 by Switzerland’s first bakers’ union. Another popular theory is that the braided bread originated as a symbol of human sacrifice. When a husband died, his wife would end her own life in his honor. This evolved into the wife leaving her braid—then considered a symbol of honor—in her husband’s grave, which eventually turned into leaving a braided loaf. For the recipe and guide to shaping this wreath bread, order our November/December issue

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