31 August 2011

Finnish Pulla

Finland.  It was a land of mystery.

Before 2009, this country made me think of:  Snow.  Marimekko.  Double vowels.  Lapland.  The Flying Finn.

Then Bacalhau Boy and I had a two week honeymoon there.  Christmas 2009 was spent mainly above the arctic circle meeting the real Santa Claus, dogsledding, snowmobiling, steaming in saunas, watching the sun set at 3 pm, and spending one night in a bed (and room) made entirely out of ice.

The Ice Hotel: carved entirely out of snow and ice.  Amazing.  Also: one night was enough.
I don't know why, but I have been getting nostalgic for Finland lately.  Perhaps it is getting to be that time of summer when an ice bed and some cozy soft sweaters sound appealing.  Or perhaps it is because I have a natural tendency to be all sentimental and nostalgic without provocation. Either way, this weekend I decided to try my hand at some homemade Finnish Pulla.

Our introduction to pulla began with nearly two weeks of buffet breakfasts at hotels across Finland.  Each morning we surveyed a slightly different buffet.  Whatever the differences, it always included the three Finnish P's: pickled fish, porridge, and pulla.

Funnily enough, although BB loves his bacalhau, he was across the board disdainful of Finnish fish.  Pickled herring, roe, whitefish in gelatin... even I have to admit that I may be adventurous with my palate, but I am not pickled-fish-at-8:00-am adventurous.

As much as the fishes scared us, the grain-based breakfast goodies were spectacular.  I scarfed down the porridge every morning with exotic berry compotes, and we both fell wildly in love with the breakfast bread called pulla.  Cardamom-scented, slightly sweet and eggy soft with a crisp crust-- this is teatime perfection.

Now, I am more of a bread eater than a bread maker, really.  My hands don't have that easy instinct with kneading, and my lack of Kitchen Aid mixer means I need to kick it old school with every loaf.

On the bright side, I have learned that even if you are a bread novice you should have no problem making a pulla! The texture is lovely, with a soft, slightly spongy crumb and a thick sweet crust glazed with cream and almonds.  The butter and egg inside makes it so rich, and the braiding makes it look all professional and sleek-- even for a first-timer.

So, when you have had enough of summer and find yourself ready to get into some cozy sweats and curl up with a nice tea and some bread, tap into some vicarious nostalgia and try a loaf of pulla.

makes two full loaves
from Saveur

1 1/3 cups warm milk (115F)
2/3 cup sugar
4 tsp. ground cardamom
14 grams (2 1/4 oz. packages) dry instant yeast
3 eggs, lightly beaten
6 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, at room temperature
1 tbsp. heavy cream
1 egg yolk, beaten

1. In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle), mix together the milk, sugar, 3 tsp. of cardamom, and yeast.  Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the 3 beaten eggs to this mixture and mix to combine.  Then add the flour and salt, and mix with a wooden spoon (or paddle) until blended.

2. Time to knead!  If you are using a stand mixer, replace the paddle with a dough hook.  If you are doing it by hand, roll the dough onto a lightly floured counter or wooden board.  In either case, add the butter by thirds, kneading to incorporate completely after each addition. The dough should be stretchy, cohesive, and make a nice glossy ball.

3. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turn the dough over, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.  Punch the dough down, cover and let rise for another 30 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).  Divide the dough into two equal pieces.  Take one half and divide it into three equal pieces.  Roll the pieces into ropes about 16" long.  Braid the pieces together.  (There is a visual braiding tutorial here.)  Repeat this with the second half of dough, so that you have two full loaves.  Transfer your loaves to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 20 minutes.

5. Beat together the cream, egg yolk, 1 tsp of cardamom and brush the top of the loaves generously with this mixture.  Sprinkle sugar and almonds on top.  Bake the loaves for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.  Transfer to a rack to cool for about 10 minutes before eating.

6. If you can't eat two loaves all at once, despite your best efforts, here is a great way to get through them: Cut each cooled loaf into thirds.  Freeze the thirds in sealed freezer bags for up to a week.  When ready to eat, defrost in the microwave.  You can eat it this way, or slice them and toast the slices under a broiler. Each third should feed two people easily.


  1. Ohh this looks so delicious. Once the season of carby homemade delights hits (aka November), a certain someone is going to find this at the top of his recipe pile (with apologies to Rose Levy Berenbaum, of course).

  2. Haha! I know that in YOUR kitchen, this pulla is going to have some major competition. (But I trust in the pulla, it will hold its own, even against the amazing RLB!!)