Both my mother and father were born in Sweden; my mother in Stockholm, and my father in the province of Dalarna, where the Swedish wooden horses with their distinctive red clay color are made. The Dala horse is considered the unofficial symbol of Sweden by Swedish Americans.
Dalarna is rich with traditions and Swedish pastries and foods. One of my favorites is limpa rye bread, made with anise, caraway, and molasses to give it its distinctive flavor. There are variations of limpa rye using more or less of each ingredient, orange rind, etc. My mother, Alice Molin Holmstrom, made the simplest of these recipes. We had limpa rye exclusively at Christmas time—a very strong and fond memory of my childhood. The tradition waned when I went off to college. Once I married and had a family of my own, I decided to continue this Swedish tradition and now have it as an integral part of our family Christmases.
To me, the texture of the bread is as important as the flavor. I prefer my limpa rye bread to be dense and add more flour than most recipes require, feeding it in by hand at the end to get the bread dough to be firmer. On Christmas Eve, I serve the bread just out of the oven when the butter will melt from the heat of the freshly baked bread. Since my family loves to toast this bread (after Christmas Eve), I make the bread in a loaf pan rather than shaping it into a round loaf. I always double the recipe and divide the total into thirds so that the double recipe makes three loaves.
Christmas morning wouldn’t be the same in our house without a slice of limpa, toasted and slathered with butter and apricot jam and a cup of coffee. Whatever family traditions make your holiday special, we wish you the very best of the season. Enjoy…..
Ingredients (for one 9 x 5 loaf)
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/3 cup molasses
- 3 tsp. caraway seeds
- 1 1/2 tsp. anise seeds
- 1 tbl. butter or Crisco solid shortening
- 2 1/4 tsp. yeast (or 1 packet)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 3 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 1/2 to 3 cups rye flour
Place water, sugar, molasses, caraway and anise seeds, and butter (or Crisco) in medium pan and boil for three minutes.
Mix in remaining 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 cup of rye flour, and the salt. At this point, I mix in by hand up to one additional cup of rye flour to make a very firm dough. Cover with towel and let rise for additional two hours. Test by poking dough with finger; if indentation remains, dough is ready.
Knead and shape into one loaf and place in a 9 x 5 loaf pan which has been greased or sprayed with Pam. Cover with towel and let rise for approx. 30 minutes. Bake at 350o for approx. 50 to 60 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped.
I always double this recipe to make a total of three smaller loaves which I bake in three 8½ x 4½ loaf pans. The doubled mixture is too much for one bowl; so, from the start, I make the two bread doughs using separate pans for the liquid and separate bowls for mixing the dough. It is only after the second rising that I cut off a third of the dough from each of the two dough balls and form a third dough ball. Each dough ball is 2/3 the amount of the single recipe above. I place each of the dough balls in the prepared smaller loaf pans for the third rising. I then bake according to directions.