A Simply Recipes reader recently informed me that Swedish coffee bread is a Christmas tradition in Sweden, along with Swedish meatballs and other goodies served on Christmas Eve. According to Sara Sabo, “it is a lot of work but the Swedish tomte that lives under the floorboards helps, and you better do your part or the Jul goat will butt you. This is the day all distant relatives and many friends decide they want to be Swedish.” With that kind of intro, wouldn’t you be intrigued? Sara sent me her 40 year old recipe for making this cardamom spiced yeast bread and I’ve now made three batches (with some recipe tweaking on my part). By the way, it’s called “coffee bread” because like coffee cake it is served with coffee; there’s no actual coffee in it.
Sara tells me that the bread is typically braided and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, but she likes to roll it up like a jelly roll and form it into a wreath. Cardamom is the essential spice in the dough, but pretty much anything goes for the filling. She recommends raisins, cinnamon sugar, and sliced almonds. Little dabs of almond paste in the filling is lovely as well. I made the bread both ways, simply braided, and stuffed and formed into a wreath, and all of the loaves were great. You can get creative with this one. Sara has made it with a cream cheese filling too, with a little sugar, egg yolk, and a dash of vanilla, then added some diced apples or peaches.
It's best to start with whole cardamom pods - peel the pods (helps to crush them first) to release the seeds. Crush the seeds with a mortar and pestle or use a rolling pin to grind them.
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2-pkg active yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
- About 4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 2 Tbsp melted butter
- 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 Tbsp white sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 cup golden raisins (optional)
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds (optional)
- 1/4 cup almond paste (optional)
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 Tbsp cream
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 Tbsp water
1 Put milk into a small saucepan and heat on medium heat until steamy (but not boiling). Remove from heat. Stir in the butter and sugar until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved. Pour into a mixing bowl. Mix in yeast mixture and egg.
2 Mix in salt and cardamom. Slowly add in 2 cups of the flour. After the first two cups of flour gradually add more flour until a soft dough starts to form a ball and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
3 Turn out onto a floured surface and knead dough for 7 to 10 minutes until smooth, OR use a dough hook in a stand-up mixer and knead the dough that way for 7 to 10 minutes, adding more flour as needed to keep the dough from being too sticky. Note that the dough should remain soft, so take care not to add too much flour.
4 Place the dough in an oiled bowl, covered with a clean tea-towel or with plastic wrap. Let rise for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
At this point you can make a simple braided bread if you want (2 loaves), by punching the dough down, dividing the dough in half, and then dividing each half into three equal parts, rolling the dough pieces into ropes, braiding them, and tucking the ends under. Or you can get more fancy, which is what we've done here, with a filling, and forming the dough into a wreath shape. The following directions are for the wreath form.
5 Press the dough down to deflate it a bit. Divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Take one part (saving the other for wreath number 2) and use your fingers to spread it into a 8-inch by 16-inch rectangle on a lightly floured, clean, flat surface. If you are having difficulty getting the dough to keep its shape, just do what you can and let it sit for 5 minutes before trying again. Like pizza dough, the dough needs time to relax while you are forming it. Brush the dough with melted butter, leaving at least a half inch border on the edges so the dough will stick together when rolled. Mix together the brown and white sugar and the cinnamon and sprinkle the dough with half of the mixture (saving the other half for the second batch of dough). Sprinkle on more fillings, as you like, such as raisins, slivered almonds, or almond paste. You could even sprinkle on some cream cheese for a creamier filling.
6 Carefully roll the dough up lengthwise, with the seam on the bottom. Carefully transfer to a greased baking sheet. Form a circle with the dough on the baking sheet, connecting the ends together.
7 Using scissors, cut most of the way through the dough, cutting on a slant. Work your way around the dough circle. After each cut, pull out the dough segment either to the right or to the left, alternating as you go around the circle. The dough circle will look like a wreath when you are done.
Repeat steps 5, 7, and 8 with the rest of the dough, to form a second wreath.
8 Cover lightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm area for a second rise. Let rise for about 40 minutes to an hour; the dough should again puff up in size.
9 Preheat the oven to 350°F. Whisk together the egg yolks and cream. Use a pastry brush to brush over the dough. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. After the first 15 minutes of baking, if the top is getting well browned, tent with some aluminum foil.
10 Remove from oven and let cool completely. Whisk together powdered sugar and water to create a final glaze (optional). Add more water if the glaze is too thick to drizzle, add more powdered sugar if the glaze is too runny. Drizzle the glaze in a back and forth motion over the pastry.