Every family has holiday traditions, usually going way back to their ethnic roots. I am of Irish, German and Finnish descent. So, we had several festive traditions. Getting drunk on whiskey and fighting with each other, getting drunk on beer and invading France and getting drunk on vodka and trying to kill Russians. Family gatherings were lively.
The Finns had one other tradition besides the Russian thing. Pulla. Pulla is a wonderful holiday bread made with Cardamom.
I remember as a child having pulla at family gatherings. The wonderful braided bread, golden and infused with the rich flavor of cardamom is one of the best memories of my childhood. Remembering my Aiti (It was not until I was an adult that I realized that Aiti was a title – mother – rather than her name. To this day I have to look to see what her first name was) on the rare occasions we made it to Minnesota or vice versa.
Anyway, in recent years I have missed the Pulla. So, last year I decided to make some pulla myself. I am not sure why I waited so long, it is not hard. (With one little warning).
First some stuff:
Cardamom is about the third most expensive spice in the world, after Saffron and vanilla. Cardamom spice is made from the seeds of the cardamom plant, a type of ginger native to India, Sri Lanka and parts of Southeast Asia. It has been used medicinally and as a flavoring for food for at least two thousand years Like saffron, cardamom is expensive because it is labor-intensive to produce. The seed pods are hand-picked before they are fully ripe to ensure the freshness of the seeds. There are about 12 seeds per seed pod.
India and Guatemala are the main producers of cardamom. It is a primary ingredient in curry, a popular additive to coffee in Arab countries and is widely used in Scandinavia to flavor baked goods.
It is the Scandinavia thing I come from even though the Finns are not Scandinavians. Still they retain some traditions from their years of oppression under the jackboots of the Swedes. In my family we had it at Christmas and at weddings and special occasions. In the later years of my life I was much surprised when a Greek family I knew gave me a traditional Greek Easter Bread that was cardamom flavored and tasted very much as I remembered pulla.
Anyway, pulla is very delicious and not that hard to make. Here comes my little warning, though. I had the bread dough in a stand mixer and I noticed that the dough started to march up the bread hook. This is a very dense, sticky dough, and throughout the mixing process kept working its way up the bread hook. Even with a spatula and a steady nerve, it got all over the place. Recently I have learned about an aftermarket attachment you can get for your stand mixer that prevents that and if I can find out the link I will put it in this article.
Anyway, pulla is a great holiday bread and not that hard if you remember to watch out for the bread crawling up the mixer.
Here is the recipe:
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon finely crushed cardamom
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Preparation: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 1/2 hrs
- Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Let cool until lukewarm.
- 2 Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Stir in the lukewarm milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, 4 eggs, and add 4 cups of 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. Knead by hand for 5 to 10 minutes.
- 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 F for 22 to 28 minutes. Check after 20 minutes as the bottom burns easily.
This is a great holiday bread, very traditional, and not that hard. Other than the mixing, the toughest part for me was to remember how to braid things. I had not braided anything since I used to braid string in 3rd or 4th grade, Lo’ those many years ago.
Anyway, try the recipe out. I think you will like the results as will your friends and family.
(And if I have screwed this up royally, Finns can feel free to drop a comment. Swedes – shut it.)
N.B. Guest blogger Erik Nabler blogs regularly about drinks and drinking at the Liquor Locusts.