I am fascinated by bread, especially the ones leavened with yeast. So every December, you will see me trying out traditional celebratory bread recipes from around the world. Here is one such bread – the Finnish Pulla. Rich, soft, sweet and close crumbed, this bread could easily be mistaken for cake. This cardamom flavored treat from Finland is perfect to be served with a hot mug of coffee. Or make a few of these wreaths and send them as gifts !
Cardamom flavored bakes are very common in Scandinavian countries, which came as a surprise to me. It would have made perfect sense if I had paid more attention during the high school history lessons. Vikings – travel – discovery there is definitely a connection here. Did you know that the around the world journey of cardamon started from the hills of Western Ghats of India, a place that is very dear to me. Do I need any more reason to make this bread ?!
I first came across the recipe for Pulla in Baking with Julia: Savor the Joys of Baking with America’s Best Bakers . It is a classic recipe, and absolutely delicious. Definitely worth making it her way at least once. After some tinkering (anyone surprised?) I found the perfect recipe for my wreath 🙂 .
If you look at the recipe you realize that is an enriched sweet dough. These enriched sweet concoctions are not very friendly to the bread baker. Everything about an enriched dough – the sugar , the butter and the spices – conspire to work against you when it comes to proofing (making the bread rise). These flavors that tickle our tongues can be lethal to the yeast. Often you see bakers doubling or even tripling the yeast to keep things under control.
To me the best breads are of the slow fermented sourdough kind. So it was natural for me to take advantage of the slow fermentation and create a more cake like bread. Instead of the standard two rises I decided to do a third rise – in bread geek speak an additional stretch and fold. This does wonders to the crumb, there are no giant holes in the resulting loaf. Now if you can slow down one of the rises by keeping the dough in the fridge – all the better.
There are many ways of shaping the bread, you could do a standard loaf or a braid. Since it is close to Christmas I made a wreath and a few buns. The recipe here will make giant wreath that needs a full size sheet pan or two smaller wreaths. Alternately you could make two 8 or 9 inch loaves with it as well.
Forming the braid into a wreath adds a festive touch. This wreath bread is a fantastic center piece for the dinner table. Divide the dough for the wreath into 3 equal portions plus a small one. Form each of the large portion into a long rope about 22 to 24 inches long. Plait the ropes together to make a standard braid. Transfer to a baking sheet bring the ends together to form a circle. Pinch the end together closing the circle. For the small piece of dough into a long rope about 12 to 16 inches long and twist it into a bow. Place the bow where the wreath was joined to cover the seal. Cover the wreath and and let it rise till almost doubled.
When ready to bake brush the loaf with egg wash and place in the center rack of the oven. I like to bake the loaf for about 15 minutes before taking it out to apply a second coat of egg wash and sprinkling some pearl sugar or sparkling sugar on top. This ensures that the bread browns evenly. For a more festive touch use colored sugar. Return to the oven to finish baking. For a quicker version brush the egg wash on and sprinkle any toppings before placing the dough in the oven.
Another fun way to use up this dough is to make individual buns. These I have have decorated in red and green .
Form the dough into rolls . Make a depression in the center and slightly flatten the ball. Fill the depression with the filling of your choice. Bake :-). The thing to remember is that unless you make the center very thin the oven spring will push out most of the filling.
Or make it your way – just have fun with this 🙂
If that is not a piece of heaven ..
Finnish Pulla Wreath
- 5 C Flour 600g (Notes)
- 1C + 1 Tbsp Milk 260g
- 1/2 C Sugar 125g Unprocessed , raw
- 1 Tsp Fine Sea Salt 7 g
- 1 Pkt Yeast 7 g
- 2 Eggs Large
- 1/2 C Butter 110 g or I stick
- 1 Tsp Cardamom
Topping For Buns
- 1/2 C Pistachios
- 1/2 C Strawberry/raspberry Jam
Topping for Wreath
- 1 Tbsp Pearl Sugar
- 2 Tbsp Fine Sugar
- 1 Egg
- 2 Tsp Milk/Cream
- Warm the milk till it is 110°F or just warm to touch. Take 1/4 c (about 50g ) of the the milk in a small bowl and stir in 1 tsp of sugar. Sprinkle the yeast on top and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes until the yeast is frothy.
- Take half the flour in a large mixing bowl. Mix in salt , sugar and the cardamom powder. Make a well in the center of this mix and add the activated yeast mix along with the eggs and the most of the remaining milk reserving a few tablespoons. Mix, using a wooden spoon or in a mixer, until the all the flour is mixed in and a sticky elastic dough is formed.
- Slowly add the remaining flour half cup by half cup and knead until a soft dough forms. Add the softened butter to this dough and knead. At this time add a little extra flour (up to 1/2 C) if the dough is very sticky. On the other hand if the dough seems stiff add the reserved milk little by little to soften it. Knead until the dough is soft and supple about 15 minutes by hand or about 7 to 8 minutes in a stand mixer. At the end of kneading the dough should be smooth, elastic and a little glossy. It should not be tough or wet or sticky.
- Form the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover and let it rise in a warm place till almost doubled (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.).
- Punch down the dough and knead by hand for 1 minute. Form into a ball again, cover and let it rise. This takes about 40 to 45 minutes under warm conditions.
For The Wreath
- Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Take one half and pinch off a large lemon sized ball. Divide the remaining dough into 3 equal size portions. Take one portion and roll it into a long rope of about 22 inches in length. Repeat with the other 2 pieces. Braid the 3 pieces together. Transfer the braid on to a baking sheet and form into a circle. Pinch the ends together trying to make it look as seamless as possible. Knead the reserved dough it into a long rope of about 16 inches in length. Form it into a bow and place on the wreath to cover the braid ends are joined together.
- Cover and let it rise until almost doubled 20 to 25 minutes.
For The Rolls
- Divide the dough into about 18 equal sized portions. Roll each into a smooth balls. Gently flatten the ball using your palm. Place the ball on teh cookie sheet and make an impression on the center as deep as possible without making a hole. Spread the jam in the depression and sprinkle the chopped pistrachios on top.
Make egg wash
- Break an egg into a small bowl add 1 to 2 tsp of milk to it. Beat well.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) .
- Brush the wreath with egg wash and sprinkle the decorative sugar on top. Transfer the wreath to the oven. For a smoother finish take the loaf outof the oven after 15 minutes and brush on the egg wash for a second time. If sprinkling the sugar add it after the second coat of egg wash. For the wreath bake for 30 to 35 minutes until teh tops are browned evenly.
- For the buns, brush egg wash on top avoiding the jam and pistachios just before transfering to the oven. Buns are done in about 25 minutes.
- Since this is an enriched bread when done the internal temperature should be 200° F (93°C)
- Use bread flour or AP flour with high protein content in this recipe.
- The rise timings will vary based on the room temperature and yeast quality.
- The first 2 times the dough should almost double and for final rise it should just look puffed up.
- If the bread seem to brown too quickly reduce t eh temperature to 350°F (175°C).
Important: Values are only estimates. Actuals vary depending on ingredients and serving size.
Here are other holiday breads that you may like …
Like to try some more Christmas Recipes ??