jayellebee's Blog

December 25, 2011

Swedish Cardamom Bread

Filed under: Recipes — Joanne @ 11:00 pm

I’ve never seen the job description for “Grandmother,” but I imagine it reads something like:  The Grandmother (henceforth referred to as Granny, Grandma, Nana, Nona, Gigi, and/or Moo) will, preferably, love, but at the bare minimum like all children born to her children, step-children, foster children and assorted waifs.  Of course, there are exceptions to everything.  Swedish cardamom bread is both the reason I believe my Grandma Larson liked me and the reason I’m not so sure.

Every year, my grandmother came to spend Christmas day with her son (my father) and his family (Mom, my brother, and me).  And every year she arrived carrying a loaf of homemade cardamom bread.  The offering only appeared on December 25th, and there was always only the one loaf.  My  brain formed a Pavlovian response to the pungent smell of cardamom on Christmas.  To this day, I salivate at the sound of Christmas bells.

I really liked cardamom bread.  So much so, one summer when I was about thirteen and knew absolutely nothing about baking bread, I asked Grandma Larson for the recipe.  She seemed pleased at my interest and wrote down the amounts of each ingredient on a scrap of paper.  A note on the back told me how long to cook the dough, and at what temperature.  So, she must have liked me, right?

I’d mastered Snickerdoodles and Toll House cookies.  Knowing no better, I assumed the same basic process worked for baking bread, too.  Wrong!

And that’s why there’s this tiny, itsy-bitsy suspicion lurking in the back of my mind.  If my grandmother really liked me, wouldn’t she have at least alluded to the need to knead and the requisite rising time?  I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe baking bread was akin to breathing for her and she simply couldn’t imagine anyone not knowing how.  Maybe.  All I know is the first time I tried making cardamom bread I ended up with petrified cardamom logs.  No, really.  Jaw-breaker hard.  Dull the knife blade hard.  My second attempt was no better.

Luckily, I filed the recipe away until, years later, I had learned how to make bread from a cook book.  Novel concept, eh?  At any rate, when the time was right I succeeded in making mouth-watering, dentally-sound cardamom bread for my husband and sons.  With growing confidence, I even supplied my father who had not, by then, had a loaf for many years.

Anyhow, I’m going to share the family recipe with you.   And, I’m also going to explain how to make bread.  There it is.  My 2011 Christmas gift to the world — or at least to the three of you who read my blog.  Enjoy!

Swedish Cardamom Bread – makes 2 loaves

7-1/2 C Unbleached all-purpose flour                              1/2 tsp Salt

2-1/2 C Milk, divided                                                          1/2 C Butter

2 Packages yeast (1-1/2 T)                                                 15 Cardamom seeds, shelled and pounded

1 C Sugar

Cardamom can be purchased in powder form but don’t waste your money.  The powder has almost no aroma and even less flavor.  Instead, invest in a jar of whole cardamom seeds.  Cut into the side of the hard hull with a paring knife.  The shell will split allowing you to remove the tiny kernels within.  Discard the shells.  Pile the kernels near the center of a clean piece of fabric.  Fold the fabric over the kernels and beat the heck out of them with a kitchen mallet — or if you don’t have one, a hammer swiped from the garage works nicely.

This photo shows the whole seeds, the empty hulls, the tiny kernels, and the powdered cardamom.  15 seeds will produce about 3/4 of a teaspoon of powder.  I’ve used the same bit of white fabric for years, storing it in a baggie attached to the recipe.

Heat 1/2 C of the milk 20-30 seconds on high in your microwave (until warm but not hot).  Pour the milk into a food processor equipped with a bread hook.  Sprinkle yeast over the milk.  The yeast will soften somewhat as you heat the remaining milk and chunked cube of butter for about 90 seconds on high in the microwave (again, until warm but not hot).  The butter does not need to melt completely.

While the milk is being nuked, add the sugar, salt, cardamom and 3 C of flour to the yeast mixture.  Slowly add the warm milk/butter combination through the food processor’s feed tube.  Process until well blended, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add the remaining flour and process until the machine stalls.  (Seven-and-one-half cups is a huge amount of flour.  Unless you have a commercial size processor, your machine will stall.)  Pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic ( 1-2 minutes). Use the heels of your hands to push the dough firmly down and away from you.  Then use your fingertips to pull the dough back toward you.  Continue this motion, turning the dough every few strokes.  The point of kneading is to fully mix the dough until the consistency is the same throughout.  The kneading is done when the dough comes together in a ball.

Place the dough ball in a large, oiled bowl.  Turn the dough to coat the entire surface with a thin layer of oil.  Cover the bowl with a dish towel to hold in the warmth and moisture and leave it in a warm place to rise.  (I use the oven, preheated for about 15 seconds and then turned off.)  Allow the dough to double in bulk, which takes about 45 minutes.

When the dough has doubled, if you gently push two fingers into the dough, it will hold the impression.

Gently roll the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface.  Cut the ball in half.  Each half will then be cut into five pieces — three of equal size and two slightly smaller.  Using the palms of your hands, start at the center of one of the larger pieces and gently roll your hands back-and-forth, working toward the ends of the dough piece.  Repeat until the dough forms a rope about 18″ long.  Lay the rope lengthwise on a greased baking sheet.  Repeat with the other two large pieces.  Braid the three ropes together, tucking the ends under so the braid won’t come undone.  Make ropes out of the two smaller dough pieces and twist them together.  Lay this twist on top of the braid, again tucking the ends under the loaf.  Repeat with the second half of the dough to form a second loaf.

Cover the loaves with a dish towel and leave in a warm place to rise for 30 minutes.

Mix an egg with one teaspoon of water.  Brush this egg wash over the loaves, then place the baking sheet in the lower third of an oven preheated to 375 degrees.  Bake 30 minutes.  Remove the beautiful golden-brown loaves to a rack to cool.

Grandma’s recipe makes a sweet bread — remember that cup of sugar?  It’s terrific toasted, spread with butter, dipped in coffee or tea.  I doubt you’re going to enjoy ham sandwiches made with cardamom bread.  It’s probably not a good accompaniment for dinner, either.  But I can tell you with the assurance that only comes from experience, cardamom bread isn’t just for Christmas anymore.



  1. Great post! I ended up making 8 loaves this Christmas (teacher presents!). And that alone made me appreciate all the years you supplied us with our own loaf of Cardamom Bread! 2 of the loaves sadly didn’t come out – but that didn’t stop us from eating them! Christina and I are getting together this week so that I can pass along the Larson tradition. We will be thinking of you AND Grandma Larson!

    Comment by Fanny — December 26, 2011 @ 12:49 pm | Reply

  2. Fascinating! I love the flavor of cardamon. Unfortunately, I am gluten intollerant, so I won’t be trying it, unless I can find a flour that has no wheat, rye or barley in it. I am fearful that because there is no gluten in the GF flour, it won’t rise enough and it won’t say risen when it cools (one of the things the gluten does for bread). I’m afraid I will recreat your petrified cardomom logs! I could eat them but I’d risk a trip to the dentist.

    Merry Christmas and I hope you have a spectacular 2012.


    Comment by Bee Hylinski - Author and Baseball Fan — December 26, 2011 @ 6:33 pm | Reply

  3. Merry third day of Christmas, Joanne! I enjoyed your Birthday,Thanksgiving, Christmas piece. Also the bread recipe. Making bread has never been one of my strong instincts. Though I love homemade bread. Alas, when I tried one time it turned out like your first attempt and I wasn’t thirteen.
    Hope to see you at a CWC meeting. Have a happy, healthful 2012. Fran

    Comment by Fran Wojnar — December 27, 2011 @ 9:51 am | Reply

  4. […] Swedish Cardamom Bread (jayellebee.wordpress.com) Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Filed under Posts and tagged Scorpa | Leave a comment […]

    Pingback by Skorpa, Skorpa, Skorpa and a hot beverage, preferably coffee. « foodbeautifulfood — February 1, 2012 @ 1:08 pm | Reply

  5. My in-laws mother always made this for Christmas so I am trying to make it this year. Thank you for the recipe. I reviewed many others but yours was by far the easiest to understand. Your practical step by step made it less daunting. We found cardamom inner pods and ground them like you suggested. Is 3/4 tsp really all we need? Seems like so little but I have no idea how it is supposed to taste. It is rising now – wish me luck and thank you!!

    Comment by josephine — December 23, 2012 @ 2:52 pm | Reply

    • The total amount of ground cardamom will vary slightly, depending upon the size of the pods, but 3/4 tsp sounds right. Would you believe I forgot to add the spice when I made loaves last week? The hurrier I go the behinder I get!

      Comment by Joanne — December 24, 2012 @ 2:52 pm | Reply

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