Joululimppu - Spicy Finnish Christmas bread

Christmas bread here in Finland is spiced and sweet bread, usually having more or less rye flour in the dough. The sweetness comes from malt syrup or malted rye flour. I'm very precise about my Christmas bread. It has to be soft, but dense, slightly sweet and moist in my opinion. I find the right kind of bread rarely in the shops or bakeries: they are either too crumbly and dry or if dense enough then they are not moist nor soft. I found this recipe last year and forgot to write it down and actually forgot where I got it. I had a hunch it was from Heléne Johansson's (who's an amazing Swedish baker) book Bröd från Brunkebergs Bageri. When I tasted the baked product I just knew it was the one I had made earlier. Perfect! I love it with Christmas ham and mustard, though it's excellent with just butter, too.

The bestest Christmas bread I've found is from Ravioli (maybe I should try to figure out its recipe, too) but as one can buy it only once per year, so... I've tasted some other Christmas breads too, and while I haven't made a proper test, I'll try to write down some of my thoughts on them here, so I don't make the same mistake next year ;)

Quite OK ones:
-Vaasan Leipomo's both Christmas breads (Tumma & Vaalea joululimppu) are soft, not crumbly, and quite dense
-Fazer's Christmas bread with rice crocant

I haven't tasted Stockmann's Juhlaleipä in a while, so my recollection might be wrong, but I remember it being quite ok, sweet and dense, but maybe lacking some softness. The spices might also be a bit different although the level of spiciness is ok.

Kannisto's was too crumbly and not enough dense. And it didn't taste at fennel or aniseed at all, but had a taste of cardamom???

Primula's was also too crumbly and "höttöinen" (fluffy in a dry kind of manner...).

I can't remember which one of the Tampere bakeries made better Christmas breads, Linkosuo or Leivo...

Year 2016 edit: Leivo's lighter Christmas bread (Vaalea joululimppu) is very good! 041216

Joululimppu - Christmas Bread

adapted from Heléne Johansson: Bröd från Brunkebergs Bageri

Stage 1:
165 g boiling water
60 g finely ground rye flour
20-25 g malted rye (depending how strong malt flavour you're after)
5 g fennel seeds

Stage 2:
50 g water
1/4 packet fresh yeast (=12,5 g)
~220 g high-protein wheat flour
40 g dark syrup
1-2 g aniseed (optional)
13 g butter, soft
3-4 g seasalt

beaten egg for brushing

Stage 1: Pour boiling water on top of rye flour, malted rye and fennel seeds. Stir and leave to cool. Once it's at room-temperature, you can continue (or leave the predough in fridge for 3-4 days, covered by a cling-film).

Mix predough with the ingredients from Stage 2 list except butter and salt. Knead it properly, about 10 min with a mixer, or at least twice the time if you're kneading by hands). Add the butter and salt. Continue kneading for 5 minutes. Leave the dough to rest for 30 min.

Form into a round bread and leave to rise on a baking tray under an oiled cling-film or a kitchen cloth for 2 hours. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 35 min in 180 C or until the bread's inner temperature reaches 98 C. Let cool. Enjoy with butter, gravlax or Christmas ham and mustard.

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