The Swedish Christmas Bread Made From Brewer's Wort

Exploring holiday traditions around the world is more than just a cultural education; it can also add new recipes to your own holiday festivities. As days get shorter and evenings chillier, it's a pleasant diversion to prepare new dishes with ingredients that broaden horizons beyond our own upbringing. Swedish Christmas, or Jul, celebrations begin early, according to Scandification, on December 1. Like traditions in other countries, celebrations always seem to be centered around food and drink, providing plenty of inspiration in the kitchen.

Swedish Jul decorations tend to be rustic and often handmade, explains Scandification, and Johanna Kindvall's Kok Blog adds that much of the holiday season is celebrated with handmade baked goods as well: "If there's one thing that's essential to a good December in Sweden, it's julbak. It might come as no surprise that 'Christmas baking' is of the utmost importance in a country where December is a cold and very dark month."

The Culture Trip points out that the festive gatherings often focus on the Julbord, or the Christmas buffet table, loaded with delicious traditional foods like Christmas ham, pickled herring, meatballs, beetroot salad, and a deep, dark rye bread called vörtbröd. Vörtbröd, or vörtlimpa, carries tons of hearty seasonal flavor, and it's also easy to make at home.

What is vörtbröd?

Swedish Food explains that vörtbröd simply means "wort bread," and it takes its name from the sweet, syrupy mixture brewers create as part of the beer brewing process. Lost in a Pot says the bread is also known as vörtlimpa, or wort loaf, and it's also called Jullimpa or Julbröd, names that highlight the tie between this festive loaf and the holiday season.

Now, if you've used your stock pot to brew beer, you may have wort on hand, but if you don't, you can simmer beer and reduce it to concentrate the flavors and add in the traditional spices, which include ginger, cloves, ground pomeran peel (which is bitter orange peel), aniseed, fennel, and cardamom, according to Medium writer and Swedish native Hanna Mansson. Swedish Food explains that most Swedish bakers use a vörtmix, which is a packaged mixture of spices and powdered wort extract. 

King Arthur Baking's recipe calls for the addition of currants, as well as molasses and a little orange juice, and there are plenty of variations throughout Sweden. The finished loaf of vörtbröd is richly flavored and is perfect for making a sandwich with the Jul ham or, as Mansson enjoys it, with a beetroot salad.