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Pulla is a traditional Finnish sweet bread that is flavored with the unique scent of cardamon. Your kitchen, whole house actually, will be filled with the scents of yeasty bread-baking with an amazing cardamon finish. It makes a stunning braided loaf, or can be baked into individual rolls for easy eating. Finnish Pulla is very similar to challah, with its eggs, milk and butter additions but interestingly fragrant with a warmth of spices. It’s fascinating how Scandinavians have the tradition of pulling cardamon, a spice native to India, into their bread baking. It was the Vikings who brought back this spice from their plundering expeditions. How cool is that?

This is my dad’s recipe, scrawled rather cryptically on a hard-to-read recipe card. After some code-breaking and further research, here it is. The recipe originated from a Finnish friend of the family who not only made us Pulla but made it at our house, hence my strong scent-filled memories of this wonderful bread.

Side note about Cardamon

Scandinavians not only use cardamon in their breads, but also in mulled wine, cookies, cakes, pastries and meatballs too.  Cardamon, the third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla beans. My small bottle cost $10.95. It is a part of the ginger family. Indigenous to South India, and according to some accounts to Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal as well, it was brought to Scandinavia by the Vikings, a thousand years ago, from their travels to Turkey. Cardamon appears in written Nordic cookbooks as early as 1300AD.

Side note about Finnish swearing

This recipe makes two braids. One I’m bringing to Master’s Swimming this morning to present to a Finnish swimming mate, Jarkko. Every swim practice I google a Finnish word and try it out on my pal. Today’s is “jumalauta” which translates to holy shit, or God help me, a good word to use after a tough kick set. (Jarkko hates kick.)

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Ingredients

  • 1 13 cups milk, heated to 115°
  • 23 cup sugar
  • 4 tsp ground cardamon
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 6 12 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 12-inch cubes, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream
  • 2 (14-oz) packages active dry yeast
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Sliced almonds
 Directions
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine milk, sugar, 3 tsp cardamon, and yeast; stir together and let sit until foamy, 10 minutes.
Add eggs; mix to combine. Add flour and salt; mix until a dough forms. Replace paddle with hook attachment; knead dough on medium speed for 2 minutes. While kneading, slowly add butter in batches, mixing until incorporated before adding next batch, 3-4 minutes; continue kneading for 4 minutes more after last of butter is added.
Transfer dough to a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
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Risen dough after an hour

 

Punch down dough; cover again with plastic wrap and let sit until fully risen, 30 minutes.
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Who needs a proofing drawer when you have a warm spot in front of the fire.

 

Heat oven to 375°. Transfer dough to a work surface and divide into 2 equal pieces. Set 1 piece aside and divide other piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each portion between your palms and work surface to create a 16-inch rope. Pinch the three strands together and braid ropes together to form a loaf.
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Transfer loaf to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Repeat with second dough piece. Cover loaves with plastic wrap and let sit until slightly puffed up, about 20 minutes.
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Whisk together remaining 1 tsp cardamon, cream, and egg yolk in a small bowl; brush over loaves. Sprinkle with almonds.
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Bake, one loaf at a time, until golden brown, 20–25 minutes. Transfer to a rack; let cool 10
minutes before serving. (Pulla makes wonderful toast too.)
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