Swedish Christmas bread recipe

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At Christmas time, this bread is hugely popular in Sweden – it is a sweet loaf served on the smörgåsbord with the ham. There are raisins in vörtbröd, but you can leave them out if you prefer a less sweet finish (this bread is sold with and without in Sweden). Ground bitter orange peel can be hard to find (and hard to grind), but you can get it in Nordic food shops and, of course, online. If you can only get whole peel, use a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder to pulverize it.

  • Yield: 2 loaves


  • 3½ tablespoons (50 g) butter, plus extra for brushing
  • 1 teaspoon ground dried bitter orange peel
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ⅞ oz (25 g) fresh yeast
  • 1 cup (250 ml) Guinness (or a similar stout)
  • ⅓ cup (80 ml) black treacle/molasses
  • 2 tablespoons malt extract
  • scant 2 cups (200 g) wholegrain rye flour
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 3½ cups (500 g) white strong bread flour
  • ¾ cup (100 g) raisins (optional)
How to Make It
  1. Melt the butter, stir in the ground orange peel, ginger, cloves and cardamom, and leave to infuse.
  2. In a stand mixer, add the yeast and 250 ml/1 cup lukewarm water (no warmer than 37°C/98°F) and stir to dissolve. Add the stout and treacle/molasses, then mix again. Add the butter-spice mix and malt extract, then start to add the flour: begin with the rye, then add the salt. Continue with the white flour. If using, stir in the raisins as you add the white flour. You need to add enough flour to have a sticky, firm dough – you may need more or less flour than specified here.
  3. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for at least an hour or until doubled in size. You can also prove it for longer in a colder place.
  4. Knead and shape into two loaves, place on a baking sheet, then leave to rise under cover for another hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 240°C (475°F) Gas 9. Fill a small ovenproof bowl with water and leave to one side.
  6. Melt a small amount of butter and brush the tops of the loaves. Place them in the preheated oven and turn the temperature down to 200°C (400°F) Gas 6, then place the bowl of water in the bottom of the oven, closing the door immediately after. This will help a crust to form.
  7. Bake for around 30 minutes until golden and done. The bread is ready when the internal temperature reaches 98°C/208°F. Baking times vary by oven, so if the bread is going too dark during baking, you may need to reduce the heat a little.

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