November 28, 2010

Joululimppu - Finnish Christmas Bread

It is First Advent today and my partner and I are meeting his parents for a pre-Christmas lunch. Last year we spent the Christmas here in Sydney and I prepared a full-on Scandinavian feast for us to enjoy: Finnish Christmas casseroles, salads, home-made gravlax and joululimppu - the Finnish Christmas bread.

I also prepared a Christmas hamper with everything home-made; including tomato chutney, apricot marmalade, chocolate, truffels, date cake, etc. Yes, I went Christmas crazy! Obviously I have taken it easy this year seeing we are departing for our trip in a week's time. I couldn't help myself but make this bread again as it was a huge success (especially had with home-made gravlax!), and this morning my home smells like sweet Christmas :-)

This is a typical bread for Christmas in Finland. We call it joululimppu ('joulu' meaning Christmas and 'limppu' meaning a type of bread), it is sweet because of the dark syrup (treacle) and fragrant thanks to the spices like aniseed and fennel. The crust is sweetened with syrup-water and it is my favourite of the whole bread. Back in Finland I'd have to fight over the end pieces of the bread with mum, but here I can enjoy them all by myself :-)

Joululimppu - Finnish Christmas Bread

100ml treacle (dark syrup)
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp aniseed or 1/2 tsp carraway seeds
1 tsp dried (but not candied) orange peel, finely chopped*
600ml buttermilk or milk
about 300g organic rye flour
about 300g organic white, unbleached spelt flour or plain wheat flour
4 tsp dry active yeast
a good pinch of salt
100ml canola oil or melted butter

1 tbsp treacle, extra
100ml water

*in Finland I would use 'bitter orange peel' for this, but dried orange peel works well, too

In a small saucepan bring the syrup and the spices to boil. Remove from the heat. Pour the milk into a large bowl and add the warm syrup. Mix and check the temperature. You will need this to be hand-hot so place it in the microwave and heat for a minute or two to get it right. Be careful not to over heat though! Add the yeast and the salt into a small amount of flour and stir into the milk. Starting adding the flour kneading and mixing as you go. You may need more flour (or use less) depending on the type of flour you are using. Knead the dough until smooth and slightly elastic. Add the oil and knead it in as well. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to double in size.

Form the dough into two large breads (shape of a large ball), place on a large roasting tin lined with baking paper and leave to rise for 20-30 minutes. Prick the breads and bake in 200C for about 50-60 minutes. After 45 minutes brush the bread with the syrup and water mixture (mix the syrup into warm water) and continue to bake until the base of the breads seems cooked. Leave to cool on a wired rack and serve with butter or gravlax.