I have been making a traditional Finnish sweet bread known as Pulla for the last couple of years. It is made with cardamom seed, ground and lots of egg and milk and butter. As well as time. Here is the recipe i follow. Well mostly follow. Swedish Finns call it Nissu. I grind my cardamom fresh. The stuff you get in the supermarket is not very good and quite often stale.
A unique bread with a sweet flavor that makes a wonderful holiday gift! It takes about 4 hours to make, so allow yourself plenty of time.
2 cups milk
1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees) 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast 1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 eggs, beaten
9 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons white sugar
Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Let cool until lukewarm.
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Stir in the lukewarm milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, 4 eggs, and enough flour to make a batter (approximately 2 cups). Beat until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add about 3 cups of the flour and beat
well; the dough should be smooth and glossy in appearance. Add the melted butter or margarine, and stir well. Beat again until the dough looks glossy. Stir in
the remaining flour until the dough is stiff.
Turn out of bowl onto a floured surface, cover with an inverted mixing bowl, and let rest for 15 minutes. Knead the dough until smooth and satiny. Place in a lightly greased mixing bowl, and turn the dough to grease the top. Cover with a clean dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch down, and let rise again until almost doubled.
Turn out again on to a floured surface, and divide into 3 parts. Divide each third into 3 again. Roll each piece into a 12 to 16 inch strip. Braid 3 strips into a loaf. You should get 3 large braided loaves. Lift the braids onto greased baking sheets. Let rise for 20 minutes.
Brush each loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Check occasionally because the bottom burns easily.
Now the trick is not to follow the recipe exactly as written. In fact the original tradition was that every Finnish house wife had her own recipe which she gave to no one. She would give here daughters a generic recipe which they were expected to change to their own. In fact there is a Youtube video on making Pulla where the lady (and her daughter) make it.
To test the yeast, put 2 tbs of sugar into the the warm water and then add the yeast and watch the reaction. The yeast should almost immediately begin to do it's thing. If not, your yeast is bad and you need to get some fresh. Good way to find out before you get too much into it and find the rising not up to par.
What you have to pay attention to is the consistency of the dough and the rising of it. There are three rises total. You may need more or less flour that what it calls for but the consistency is what is important. About that of a fresh can of Play Dough. Any stiffer and the loaves will be too dry. Any gooier and it will end up flat.
Mixing the dough: Here is the trick to this. Mix in only about half the flour. Until you get this gooey dough. Then turn it out on to a floured surface. I like to use a pastry mat. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to clean up and stray put. Now kneed in the rest of the four until you get a nice silky dough.
When rising you need to go by the volume. The first rise should double the volume. Then punch down, but not too aggressively. The second should nearly double. The third should have nice puffy loaves.
I will sometimes extend this recipe so as to get four loaves by increasing the milk to 2 1/2 cups and add additional flour. I also use 2 packs of yeast as I found that one does not quite work. But YMMV. I also like a bit more cardamom and use those milk carton eggs sometimes. Like Egg Beaters as I do not use real egg enough to even get a half carton. Seems to work for me.
Keep a eye on the baking. Pulla can burn on the bottom easily. I generally set my electric oven on 350 as there can be as much as a 50 degree overshoot when it heats up. The loaves should be a nice golden brown. If you have a gas oven, you are lucky as they are the best for baking. If your oven is old though, you might want to get an oven thermometer to check the temp. Also a baking stone is great to use as well. You can also line the bottom rack with foil and this will help in keeping the bottoms of the loaves from burning.
After basting with the egg before I put them into the oven, I like to sprinkle colored sugar over the top for an nice Holiday effect.
Incidentally Pulla does take a great deal of time to make. For me nearly 5 hours, sometimes more.
So if you would like to try it, you may find it a very nice addition to your Holiday treats. And Hauskaa Joulua!