Baking Yule bread

The other day I made Swedish Yule bread ("vörtbröd"). I call it Yule bread since in Swedish we say "Jul" for the holiday. Even Christians call it "Jul". There is no literally corresponding Swedish term to "Christmas". The term, if not the tradition, is readily usable by all: atheists and non-atheists of all colours. Except maybe those that are fundamentalist enough to even verbally shun a reference to old pagan traditions. But I digress....

As usual, my recipes are approximate. That works for most cooking. For pickling and similar conserving techniques, such fuzziness is not advised. But then, being a haphazard cook, I do not make e.g. pickled herring. But I enjoy eating it.

I started by letting two pieces of dried bitter orange peels simmer in water for about 30 mins. Bitter orange is used in some other Yule cooking, too.

I then put whole meal rye flower (a little more than half a kg) in a steel container and poured boiling water over it (scalding it). I think the amount of water was about 3/4 litre. Enough to soak it to porridge-like thickness after stirring it thoroughly. I then put a lid on it and let it soak a while.

When it had cooled off a bit, I poured 45 cl of Carnegie Porter on it. I assume it is similar to British porter. The one I used is a weaker variety sold in food shops. It's the thick rich taste, not the alcohol, that we're after here. The Swedish name of the bread, "vörtbröd", means the usual ingridient is "vört", i.e. wort. Usually recipes have vört powder in them and/or porter. I do not know if real, liquid wort from a brewery is available here.

Next, I added about 1 dl of (ordinary sugar) syrup. I added five ground cloves and some cardamom. This was the first time I have used cardamom for yule bread, and it made it nice, less rustic and more like pastry. I also added raisins (about 1 dl, think). Added about 1 tablespoon teaspoon salt. Grated some fresh ginger over the mixture. I took out the bitter oranges and removed the white stuff from their inside and then finely chopped them and put them in the dough. I mixed the (wet) dough a bit and then added yeast (50g). Lastly I added spelt (dinkel) but ordinary wheat is of course fine, too. Mixed it well and then took it out and kneaded it, adding more spelt until it felt fine and soft and not sticky. I vastly prefer hand-kneading to any mixing machine. It is easier to get the dough good. All flours are different, and I never followed a baking recipe without having to modify amounts. My other, more personal reason, is that the kneading feels good for my aching fingers.

I let the dough rise for about an hour. The dough was larger than I had planned, so I made 6 medium-big loaves. I let loaves rise for about 30 mins. Baked in 200 degrees Celsius for about 40 minutes, then turned them upside down, and baked 5 more minutes. Your mileage may vary, all ovens seem different. Just knock on the loaves to make sure they are ready. The bread should cool off slowly. Wrap them in cloth for a few hours. The heavier/darker the bread, the more it should be rested before eating.

Here is how they looked when done (click for larger image):

Three loaves of Swedish Yule bread.

Three loaves of Swedish Yule bread.

Re: spices: the only spices I find essential are cloves and ginger. I could have added a little more of that than I did. Raisins and cardamom are common ingredients, but optional. I did not use cinnamon, but that is also a quite common spice in the Yule bread. The bread can be eaten with e.g. butter and cheese, as any sandwich. However, the most typical use is to use it as Yule sop. The sop is made from the broth resulting from the cooking of the Yule ham.

Hope this is useful. It turned more into a short story than an easy to read recipe 😉


  1. 2013

    I changed the salt amount, as I think I must have confused the English terms. Or maybe not. I am not a big fan of salt. If you are not used to little salt, probably more than one teaspoon is required.

    Furthermore, I did not have any syrup, so I am trying 1 dl raw cane sugar.

    It turned out quite good. But less sweet than with syrup (not surprisingly). There can be more cloves in the recipe, too. I didn’t try cinnamon this year either. It is a bit hard to put in the right amount without it being too much.

    Addendum Januari 2014 : I usually make Yule bread once per year, but this season I made it three (!) times. The second time I had forgot to buy Porter, but used a beer that was more ale type. I did not notice any big taste difference, which was a bit surprising. The third time I forgot to put salt into the dough. I use very little salt, so I at times forget it when baking. Does not bother me, but might bother salt lovers. I tried cinnamon power twice. About 10 ml. It made a difference, I didn’t want it too much to taste like pastry. The cinnamon added a nice flavour.

    The last time, I actually forgot the ginger. So the Yule bread can be spiced in a rather big variety. Happy hacking!

    This is almost the only time I bake these days. I like baking, but I have practically stopped eating soft breads, so it is really only for others.

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