Every Christmas season when I was young, my family would make a trip to a small Norwegian goods store in south Sarasota to load up on our favorite holiday treat: Swedish braid bread, which is also known as cardamom bread or, in my family, "ringabulla."
Why did my mom, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles all call this sweet, dense bread "ringabulla"? We have no idea. Google says "ringa" is a Swedish verb that means "to call" and "bula" means bump, but no one in my family can say where the moniker came from. (I only learned the real name of the bread a few years ago.)
Whatever you call it, enjoying Swedish braid bread has been a tradition in our family for generations, dating back to my grandfather's Swedish ancestors, who made the loaves by hand. While at first we purchased the bread pre-made, one year my mom asked my grandmother why we had never tried making it ourselves. Inspired, they dug out a stained, typewritten version of my family's recipe, sandwiched between birth certificates and family heirlooms in my grandparents' attic.
This year, I wanted to try my hand at making it. The bread is made with cardamom seeds, active dry yeast and plenty of sugar. At first, I was intimidated by the recipe, thinking that bread would be really difficult to make. But it was easy; the most difficult task is to be patient and let the dough rise. To make it, you just knead the dough, section it into three pieces and then braid it into a chunky loaf on a cookie sheet. The bonus is that throughout the making and the baking, your whole house will smell ultra Christmas-y.
Swedish Braid Bread, aka "Ringabulla"
1 package active dry yeast
2 3/4 to 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. ground cardamom (it's more fragrant if you grind the seeds yourself)
3/4 cup milk
4 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Place dry yeast in a large mixing bowl. Pour 1 1/2 cups water heated to 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit to activate it.
3. Peel and grind cardamom seeds. (This will take some elbow grease if you don't own a food processor.)
4. In the bowl with the yeast, add 3/4 cup of flour and cardamom.
5. Heat together milk, butter, sugar and salt until just warm, stirring occasionally to melt butter.
6. Add wet ingredients to dry mixture. Add egg. Beat at low speed with electric mixer for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl consistently.
7. Beat mixture 3 minutes at high speed. Then, by hand, stir in enough of remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough.
8. Pour dough onto lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-8 minutes. Place dough in lightly greased bowl. Cover and let dough rise for about 1 hour in warm, dry place.
9. Dough should double in size. Pour dough onto floured surface and divide into thirds. Roll each third into 16-inch-long rope.
10. Line up three ropes on greased baking sheet and braid loosely. Tuck ends under. Cover and let rise about 40 minutes.
11. After 40 minutes, brush top of dough with a little milk. Sprinkle with 1 Tbsp. sugar.
12. Bake 20-25 minutes.
13. Serve warm with butter.