Sunday, December 23, 2012

Julbord: Our Swedish Christmas Eve Dinner

The holidays are all about family traditions.  What makes the holidays so special is the fact that no family has the same traditions, every household is different and unique!  My family has many holiday traditions; some have been passed down through generations and others have been created in just the last few years. 

Julbord: Our Swedish Christmas Eve Dinner

My favorite family Christmas tradition involves food (of course!) and also celebrates my mother's Swedish background and heritage.  Every Christmas Eve my mother prepares a special type of Swedish smörgåsbord called the julbord, which is the standard Christmas dinner in Sweden.  Like the Sweds, we all gather together and feast on ham, Swedish meatballs, scalloped potatoes, lingonberry jam, green peas, pickled herring, and limpa bread... while sipping on glasses of glögg.

family trip to Stockholm, Sweden in 2008

Unless you are familiar with Swedish food, you are probably scratching your head at some terms and components of this holiday meal. Here is a quick reference guide:

Smörgåsbord - a type of meal served buffet-style with multiple cold and hot dishes of various foods on a table, originating in Sweden.  The Julbord is the Christmas version of this type of meal.

Swedish meatballs - a classic Swedish dish. Swedish meatballs are made from a mixture of beef and pork, flavored with nutmeg and allspice and served with a rich beef and sour cream sauce.

Lingonberry Jam - a staple food in Scandinavian cuisine. A jam (only berries, sugar, and a small amount of water) made from lingonberries, a berry plentiful in Scandinavia. Similar to a cranberry.

Pickled Herring - yup, it's just that. Pickled, sweetened herring, called inlagd sill, is the most traditional of Swedish appetizers.

Limpa - Limpa bread is a Swedish rye bread flavored with molasses, anise, and orange peel.

Glögg - Mulled, spiced wine (served warm).

Authentic Swedish meatball plate in Stockholm, Sweden

My mother spends a good part of the month of December in the kitchen, cooking and baking (the main reason why the holidays are brutal on my waist-line!). One of the most time-consuming baking projects she takes on is the limpa bread for our julbord, or Swedish Christmas Eve dinner.  She's been using the same recipe for years... but little did I know that one batch of the bread takes her a few DAYS to complete!  I had no idea!  That seems like a lot of work for bread... but the end result is worth all the effort. ;)  Limpa is a dark, sweet rye bread... hearty, flavorful, and aromatic.  If you're not having a julbord or smörgåsbord, limpa is a great bread to use for toast or dessert.  Just warm up a slice and spread on some butter, cream cheese, or jam!

loaves of Swedish limpa

Swedish Limpa Bread

1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 to 1 cup light light molasses
4 cups milk
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 to 1 cup light or dark brown sugar, packed
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon each finely crushed or ground caraway seed, fennel seed and anise seed
grated peel of 1 orange
1 cup uncooked rolled oats, regular or old-fashioned
2 cups light or medium rye flour
9 to 10 cups bread flour or unbleached, all-purpose flour
warm molasses to brush hot loaves 

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water and let stand for 5 minutes. 

Stir in the molasses (according to amount of sweetness desired), milk, oil, brown sugar to taste, salt, spices, and orange peel. 

Mix in rolled oats and rye flour; beat well.  Slowly stir in as much bread flour as possible to make a stiff dough.  There should be no "dry" flour remaining in the bowl, but dough will be lumpy.

In cold climates, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature overnight.  During this time, the dough will rise to the top of the bowl.  In warm climates, or in summertime, let stand 3 to 4 hours in a cool place.

Sprinkle top of dough with about 1/4 cup all-purpose flour.  With spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead until smooth.  If the batch is too big to handle, divide the dough into two parts and knead each separately.  Knead 5 to 10 minutes until smooth and satiny.  Grease 4 (my mom uses 3) 9x5 inch loaf pans (my mom uses 9 inch pie plates).  Divide dough into 4 (or 3) equal parts.  Shape each into an oblong loaf (or circle).  Place in pans with smooth sides up.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Bake 35 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from pans onto cooling racks.  Brush hot loaves with warm molasses.

Note: Limpa freezes well, which is ideal since this recipe makes 4 9-inch loaves or 3 large 12-inch round loaves of bread.

While you are enjoying the holidays with your family, take note of all the wonderful traditions you've created through the years.... they are yours, and yours alone. It's quite a beautiful thing.

Merry Christmas all!  Skol!!



  1. Sounds like my family Christmas Eve dinner from my Grandmother and now my childrens. It's wonderful tasty and to us the smells and tastes always recalls other Christmases. God Jul !!

  2. This is just like our Christmas dinner except we still eat Lutfisk! We will try this limpa as it sounds really good.
    Thank you