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 ..
Here are other holiday breads that you may like …
Like to try some more Christmas Recipes ??