She came from Finland, a beautiful country, both modern and old. The countryside is filled with tall, white-trunked birch trees, red houses, saunas, and many many lakes. Three-quarters of the country is still covered by forest, and there over 100,000 lakes.
In summer, the sun barely sets. The days are long and sparkly and bright, the air effervescent and light. It feels charged with something magical.
The Finnish have a word for this, it is called “sisu”.
There is no exact translation, but my understanding is… it is a strength and perseverance that comes from the deepest part of ourselves. My mom had this.
But what I wouldn’t give to be in that car again listening to her crackly voice. I can’t express enough how taking that time to be with her was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I thought I did it for her, but in fact, I see now how all along, it was a gift for me.
You’ll make a soft dough and let it rise until doubled. If using active dry yeast, this may take 2 hours. Fast-acting yeast will cut that time in half so I usually opt for that.
Once the pulla has just about doubled, shape into rolls or 2 loaves or make two traditional Finnish braided loaves like this.
My mom would often add sliced almonds and raisins and roll up the dough into small sweet rolls. Those were good too. To make the braided loaf, divide dough in half, then into 3 balls each, and make long “ropes” out of them. Braid them and tuck the ends under. Let rise for another 1 – 1/2 hour.
Brush with an egg wash, or milk and sprinkle pearl sugar over the top.
You can also bake the braided roll in a loaf pan for easier slicing, tucking the ends under.
A traditional recipe for Pulla – a buttery Finnish Cardamom Bread that tastes and smells heavenly. Think of this as Finnish Coffee bread- perfect for mornings or afternoon tea. This makes 2 extra-large braided loaves, feel free to halve the recipe. Allow 3 hours rising time (30 mins hands-on time)
***Makes 2 loaves -feel free to halve.
- 14–20 cardamon pods (or sub 2 teaspoons ground cardamon)
- 2 cups whole milk or half and half
- 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp salt
- 6 –7 cups all-purpose flour, more for the counter
- 1/2 cup soft butter
- 1 egg (for egg wash)
- coarse sugar for sprinkling
- If using whole cardamom pods, crack open the pods and lightly toast the seeds in a dry skillet for 45-60 seconds, stirring over medium heat until fragrant. Grind down to the consistency of sand with a mortar and pestle. You could do this step ahead, or use ground cardamom.
- Heat milk to a simmer, let cool to lukewarm (you don’t want it over 110F which can kill the yeast) pour into a small bowl. Add a pinch of sugar and stir in yeast and let stand for 7 minutes. Check that yeast is dissolved and frothy.
- In a stand mixer or large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until lemon colored. Add the milk and yeast, cardamom and salt and beat until smooth. Mix in 2 cups of flour cup by cup, mixing until smooth and no lumps. Add the softened butter and mix well – the dough will get beautifully glossy. Continue adding the flour, a 1/2 cup at a time, mixing to incorporate, adding flour until stiff enough to knead, yet still soft about 6 cups. Knead using a dough hook adding a little more flour as needed until the dough pulls away from the edges, and is satiny, about 5 minutes. (The key here is to use as little flour as possible.) Alternatively, kneed by hand on a well-floured surface, for 6- 7 minutes, adding a little flour at a time, dough will be slightly tacky but not sticky. At this point, if you wish, you could knead in some raisins and almonds. Shape into a ball.
- Place in an oiled bowl, turning to coat the top, cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm area (80F) until it doubled in size. (I like to turn my oven on at the very start at the lowest setting, then turn it off, letting the dough rise inside, or place it on top of the stove.)*** Having a warm spot for it to rise is imperative here.
- After it has doubled, divide it in half. This will make two extra-large loaves. (or make rolls see notes)
- To make 2 braided loafs, divide each half into 3 pieces. Roll each piece into long ropes about 1 1/2- 2 inches thick. Braid the 3 ropes and tuck under the ends. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or in lightly greased, or parchment-lined loaf pan-see notes).
- Beat the egg with tablespoon water. Brush the loaves with the egg wash. Sprinkle with pearl sugar over the top and sliced almonds if you like.
- Let rise again until doubled. Place in a preheated 375-degree oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until skewer or toothpick pulls out clear (or internal temp is 200F) and the top is nicely golden.
- If baking in a loaf pan, bake at 350F for 40-45 mins.
- Pull it out of the oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Slice and slather with butter.
Instant yeast will cut the rising time in half.
Store the pulla, covered tightly on the counter. Or freeze (sealing well) for later.
This makes two large braided loaves. Or use loaf pan loaves. You could easily halve this recipe!
To make rolls: On a floured surface, flatten out dough into a large rectangle, about 3/4 inch thick. Spread with almond paste (totally optional) Sprinkle with raisins and sliced almonds. ( you can sub other dried fruit- craisins, currants and other nuts – pistachios, pecans, etc) From the longer edge, roll up into a roll. Cut into 1 -2 inch thick slices. Either place these on a parchment-lined sheet pan spread out- or in a greased baking dish with edges touching. Even a metal cake works great here! Brush with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar. Bake until a skewer comes out clean. Baking time will be shorter for individual rolls on a sheet pan ( check at 20 mins) and a little longer for the rolls (that are touching) in the baking dish.
I often divide dough in two, and make one braided loaf, and make rolls out of the remaining dough.
Keywords: pulla, pulla bread, cardamom bread, Finnish bread, pulla recipe, traditional pulla recipe, Finnish cardamom bread, sweet bread,