Baker’s Solstice Countdown: December 17: Pulla (Finnish Cardamom Coffee Bread)

This recipe’s success relies heavily on the freshness of the cardamom you use, which is why I encourage you to get cardamom pods instead of ground cardamom. Ground cardamom loses its flavor very quickly, so if you have a jar of ground cardamom that has been around for a while, you want to open it and give it the sniff test. If you can’t smell a floral, citrusy, piney fragrance, you won’t taste anything in your bread.

I use a mortar and pestle to crush open the cardamom pods and then crush the tiny seeds inside. If you have a coffee grinder dedicated to grinding spices, you could grind the seeds in that. If you need to forgo the hand crushing due to physical constraints, buy the smallest jar of ground cardamom you can find, and use it up within 3 months.

Pulla freezes very well wrapped in plastic wrap, then foil, then tucked into a freezer bag. Any bread that has been over-baked or has gone stale can be turned into little toasts, called rusks, by thinly slicing and baking the bread at a low temperature (300-325 deg F) until it is well and truly dry, but not burnt.

Pulla

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 packages yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 7-8 cups all purpose flour, plus more for kneading

Glaze and Decoration:

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • pearl sugar

Method:

  1. Grind fresh cardamom with a mortar and pestle to measure 2 teaspoons.
  2. Melt the butter and set aside to cool.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast and warm water and leave to dissolve and foam, about 5 minutes.
  4. Heat the milk in a saucepan until it begins to steam, but NOT BOIL. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  5. Add the milk, sugar, eggs, salt, and cardamom to the yeast mixture, and with the paddle attachment, mix together well on low speed.
  6. Switch to the dough hook attachment, add 2 cups of flour to the mixture, and mix in on low speed.
  7. Add another 2 cups of flour, mix in well on low speed, then add the butter to the dough, and mix until completely incorporated.
  8. Add the rest of the flour 2 cups at a time, and mix well until the dough is smooth and starting to climb the dough hook.
  9. Remove the dough hook, and allow the dough to rest, covered with a towel, for 15 minutes.
  10. Flour a surface to knead on, and oil a very large container for the dough to rise in. Turn the dough out onto the floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, adding flour only as necessary to work the dough. Do not over-flour; the dough is meant to be sticky.
  11. Form the dough into a big ball, put in the oiled container and turn to oil all around. cover and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled. This will take at least one hour, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
  12. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. (Line two if using all the dough immediately.)
  13. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface, and press out the air. Divide the dough into 2 halves for ease of use. For braided loaves, divide one portion of dough into halves again, then divide each half into three pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope about 1 inch thick. Join the ropes at one end, and braid the three ropes snugly, but without stretching. Tuck the ends under. Repeat for the next loaf. (The other half of the dough can be shaped the same way, or into buns or rolls, or refrigerated in a loosely covered container up to 24 hours.)
  14. Place the shaped dough on the baking sheet(s) with room to rise. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise until puffy and visibly larger, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  15. Preheat oven to 375 deg. F. Once the oven is preheated, glaze the dough with the beaten egg, and sprinkle generously with pearl sugar.
  16. Bake for 25 minutes, until dark golden brown and fragrant (smaller rolls and buns will take less time, 15-20 minutes).
  17. Remove to a cooling rack to cool.

***To use refrigerated dough:***

  1. Allow the dough to warm and soften at room temperature. Dividing it into two pieces will help.
  2. Shape, place on parchment-lined baking sheets, cover with plastic wrap, leave to rise, about 2 hours.
  3. Preheat oven, glaze and sugar dough, and bake as directed above.

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