Cardamom Bread (Traditional Finnish Pulla) #BreadBakers

J'adore cardamom bread.  Every year in December when I was growing up, one of our family friends would bring over a gorgeous braided loaf, topped with fine white sugar.  We would slice that baby up and savor it plain, and buttered, and toasted and buttered, it was fantastic.  I'm sure she made dozens every year as gifts.  Having gifts like that, along with getting a bread machine when I was in junior high or high school was probably one of the bigger reasons I got into bread baking.  And fortunately bread always seemed to come fairly easy to me.  The feel of dough made sense.  It's funny, because my brother, a fantastic chef, had an unfortunate propensity to turn out bricks when he tried to make bread.  His talent with yeast bent more toward brewing.  And though I am not a huge beer fan, the taste of some of his IPA's and other brews that I have been able to try have been very nice.  It would be fun to try baking with one...

But today, Pulla.  That's what traditional Finnish Cardamom bread is called.  I grew up in a town with heavy Scandinavian heritage.  It's so sad that some of the older bakeries have now closed recently due to the families dying out or having no one wanting to carry on the tradition.  So at least with this bread, I will pay homage to the flavors and scents I grew up with.  Baking with cardamom is like filling your kitchen with happiness.  I was thrilled when my kids definitely decided they loved it because it can be a rather strong flavor.  Floral, herbal, citrusy, spicy, and ever so lovely.  But it seems like the time of year I want to bake Pulla is so filled with other baking, that dealing with bread sometimes falls to the wayside.  So being able to quickly knead up a batch in the mixer, stick it in a bucket in the fridge, and deal with it next day or so at my leisure is a very good thing.  And making two loaves means we can indulge in one and save the other for company or gifts.  Some recipes make enough for three loaves, but that's still a lot of time, so we will stick with just two!  You don't even have to bake them the same day, the dough will hold.

To be honest, mine actually held at room temp for about 24 hours without even doubling because the house was cold.  There is so much sugar in this traditional recipe that it rises very slowly.  Probably double or more than in some other recent recipes I've seen.  It would be no problem at all to cut the sugar in half.  But despite all the sugar, the slices are not overly sweet, especially when toasted and spread with butter, or just spread with butter at all.  This definitely was like the bread I remember receiving, a fine, very tender and soft crumb that almost melts in your mouth, and that delicious hit of cardamom that lingers on for a while.  I usually go heavy on the cardamom.  One slice of this bread is very satisfying and rich.  I can understand how it would be appreciated and help bolster that "sisu" in the cold Finnish winter!

So after that talk of bucket bread I can specify that our #breadbakers theme for this month is make ahead bread: loaves, rolls, or flatbreads that can be shaped, refrigerated, and baked the next day.  Not only is it convenient for timing, it can also help develop flavor.  And thank you to Karen's Kitchen Stories for hosting! 

And now, a traditional recipe for Pulla - that heavenly Finnish Cardamom Bread that smells so divine.  A perfect and traditional accompaniment for morning or afternoon tea or coffee.  Recipe may be halved.  (This particular recipe was taken from one written partly in Finnish and partly in English by someone's Finnish mother!)

Pulla (Traditional Finnish Cardamom Bread)
Yield: 2 large loaves

1 cup (242g) half and half (I have made loaves with whole milk instead)
¾ cup (177g) water
1½ (297g) cups sugar (sugar may be significantly reduced if desired)
¾ cup (169.5g) melted butter, let cool
3 eggs
4 tsp (12g) yeast (platinum yeast for sweet breads might be helpful if using the full amount of sugar)
1 tsp (5.4g) fine sea salt
8-9 cups (960-1080g) flour
1 tbsp crushed cardamom seeds (green) or 4 tsp ground cardamom

Egg wash: 1 whole egg, 1 tbsp water
Coarse sugar or pearl sugar for topping

Grind the cardamom in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.  Heat the water to boiling and add the cold half and half.  Mixture should be less than 110ºF, a nice lukewarm.  Pour into a stand mixer bowl.  Stir in the yeast using the paddle attachment and activate for 5-7 minutes.  Stir to fully dissolve.  Mix in the sugar, eggs, cardamom, and salt. Stir in 4 cups (480g) of flour and beat until dough is glossy.  Add butter and stir well.  Add enough remaining flour to form a stiff dough, for me this was closer to 1050g.  Using the dough hook, or by hand on a floured surface, knead for 6-7 minutes and make a large ball. Place in large bowl and cover and let rise in a warm area for 1½ hours, or until dough doubles in size.  Dough will not rise fast in a cool area so you can let rise overnight and shape in the morning, or shape and chill and then let rise in the morning before baking.  Loaves will take up to two hours to fully rise, especially if chilled.  Punch down and divide into six balls to make two braided loaves. To make the braids, roll each ball into a long rope.  Braid two standard three strand braids for the loaves and tuck under the ends.*  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a lightly greased pan.  (You may wish to double the baking sheets to prevent overbrowning of the bottom crust.  I baked mine on airbake sheets and they still were fairly dark, though not burnt.  It's the sugar that browns so well and why this loaf is baked at a lower temp for breads.) Cover loaves with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator overnight.  Remove at least two hours before wanting to bake.  Let rise in a warm place until well risen and puffy before baking. Brush with egg wash or additional half and half.  Sprinkle coarse sugar over the top.  Place in a pre-heated 350ºF oven and bake for 40-50 minutes until done and nicely browned. Check at 30 minutes and cover with a sheet of foil to prevent over-browning of the top.  Bread is done when it is at least 195ºF in the center, or you can use the cake toothpick test as well.  (The loaf is done if the tester comes out clean.)  Cool on a wire rack before slicing.

*To get really nice braids, start in the middle and braid down using standard overhand technique, then turn around the sheet and braid the other side using an underhand braid.  Regular overhand braids go left over center, right over center, while underhand or Dutch braids go left under center, right under center, in this case because you are going the other way.

Check out our other make-ahead marvels this month: Chai Spiced Cinnamon Rolls from All That's Left Are the Crumbs Homemade Hotdog Rolls from Sneha's Recipe Make Ahead Sourdough Rolls from A Day In The Life On The Farm  Pesto Babka from Anybody Can Bake  Soft Potato Buns from Food Lust People Love White Rye Sandwich Buns from Karen's Kitchen Stories #BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. You can see all of our lovely bread by following our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page.
We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.

Approximate nutrition for one slice of bread:

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