Finnish cardamom bread or Pulla is an enriched bread. It is soft and delicately flavored with cardamom. You can serve it plain or make an intricately braided loaf, decorated with sugar, almonds, or jam.
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. Scandinavian Climate is not where I imagined cardamom to thrive. It would have made perfect sense had I paid more attention during the high school history lessons. Vikings – travel – discovery there is a connection here.
Did you know that the around the world journey of cardamom started at the hills of Western Ghats of India? Here is a place very dear to me. Do I need any more reason to make this bread?!
Dough for the Finnish Cardamom Bread
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. To be more specific sugar, butter, and spices all prevent yeast growth.
These flavors that tickle our tongues can be lethal to the yeast, slowing down and sometimes ending the yeast activity. Often you see bakers doubling or even tripling the yeast to keep things under control.
There are two ways to deal with it
- Long fermentation or Increasing the time
- Adding more yeast
To me, the best bread is of the slowly 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. This does wonders for the crumb. Here is another bread where I often use this method – Challah.
The crumb is close, without any large holes. It is still very soft and spongy. If you keep the dough in the fridge to slow down the fermentation for one of the rises it will be even better!
Adding More Yeast
If you are pressed for time increasing (doubling or tripling) the yeast is the way to go. I would not recommend adding too much yeast ( 3times or more) as the resulting products have a pronounced yeast flavor, which some find not very agreeable. When using more yeast than called for in the recipe make sure to keep an eye on the dough to prevent over-proofing. For example, if you are doubling the yeast and the recipe calls for 1 hour for the first rise, check the dough a little before 30 minutes have passed.
Shaping the dough
There are many ways of shaping the bread, you could do a standard loaf or a braid. As it is close to Christmas I made a wreath and a few buns. The recipe here will make a 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.
Making the Finnish Cardamom Wreath Bread
Forming the braid into a wreath adds a festive touch. This wreath bread is a fantastic centerpiece for the dinner table. Divide the dough for the wreath into 3 equal portions plus a small one. Form each of the large portions into a long rope about 22 to 24 inches long. Plait the ropes together to make a standard braid.
Transfer the braid to a baking sheet and bring the ends together to form a circle. Pinch the end together closing the circle. Form the small piece of dough into a long thinner rope about 12 to 16 inches long and twist it into a bow. Place the bow where the ends of the braid were joined. This helps to cover the seal as well. Cover the wreath and let it rise till almost doubled.
Making the cardamom buns
Another fun way to use up this dough is to make individual buns. Here I have the buns decorated in red and green.
Divide dough into small portions of 70g to 100g each or about the size of a lemon). Form each of these sections into rolls. Make a depression in the center and slightly flatten the ball. Fill the depression with the filling of your choice. Bake :-).
This bread has generally good oven spring (increases in bulk while baking). So it is important to make the center very thin before adding fillings. Otherwise, the oven spring will make the filling spill over.
When ready to bake brush the loaf with egg wash and place in the center rack of the oven. For braided loaves, I like to apply a second coat of egg wash at about 15 minutes into baking. The second coat of egg wash ensures that the bread browns evenly.
Sprinkle some pearl sugar or sparkling sugar on top after applying the last coat of egg wash. For a more festive touch use colored sugar. For a quicker version brush the egg wash on and sprinkle any toppings before placing the dough in the oven.
Christmas and Cardamom Goodies
Cardamom is very aromatic and a little goes a long way. The beauty of cardamom is that it does not alter the texture or color of the finished product. Many treats use cardamon to subtly enhance the flavor.
I first came across the recipe for Pulla in Baking with Julia: Savor the Joys of Baking with America’s Best Bakers . 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. This bread became my perfect X’mas wreath bread, after some tinkering of course 🙂. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
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.