I have a handful of vivid memories of my maternal Finnish-American grandmother, Rauha, from when I was growing up….knitting, collecting cloth scraps to make her beautiful braided rugs, playing cards at the kitchen table with her glass of beer, and especially making Pulla. For those unfamiliar with it, Pulla is a soft, sweet, Finnish coffee bread. It’s typically braided, egg-washed, and sprinked with sugar, but what makes Pulla really unique is cardamom. Pulla has long been popular in Finland, and it’s ubiquitous in Finnish-American communities as well. As a first generation Finnish-American, my grandmother had been making Pulla since she was a girl. She made it A LOT as I recall, and I don’t ever remember going to her house when there was not a fresh loaf in the breadbox, or one ready to pull out of the freezer. Whenever she came to visit us, she would quickly take over the kitchen and start baking. Oh, did I love her Pulla!
My grandmother passed on quite along time ago (almost 20 years now…hard to believe!) and I have not eaten Pulla since. I certainly would love to, but I’ve just not come across the opportunity. Connor, Ian, and I spent this past week up the coast visiting my mother and stepfather, and since I’d long been wanting to make Pulla with my mom, I decided that, finally, this was the time to do it. My mom had never had much interest in baking, and had never learned to make Pulla from her mother before she’d died. Though, I’d assumed that my mom might at least have some yellowed, dog-eared index card with my grandmother’s recipe on it–perhaps tucked away in a cookbook, or buried in some old recipe box–that I might be able to find if I dug deep. But no such luck.
So, I set to work–going through books and looking for recipes online. I was very pleased to see that the vast majority of the Pulla recipes that I found were extremely similar to eachother. This is perhaps not so surprising, given that Pulla is a traditional bread with a long history, passed down from one generation to the next . So, based on this information, along with our collective memories, my mom and I (with the help of Connor and Ian, of course!) attempted to re-create my grandmother Rauha’s Pulla. And, I’m pleased to say that think we came pretty close! Though my braiding technique still needs a little work, I think Grandma would be proud.
Makes 3 loaves
2 cups milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
20 whole cardamom pods, seeded
1 packet (or 2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water (about 100 degrees or so)
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vegetable oil, butter, or other shortening for greasing
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
1/4 cup sliced almonds for decorating
3 tablespoons white sugar for decorating
1.) Scald the milk in a saucepan. Remove from heat, and allow to cool until lukewarm.
2.) Melt the butter and set it aside to cool.
3.) Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods. Discard the pods, then crush the seeds. A mortar and pestle works the best for this, but you can also put the seeds in a small bag and crush them with a hammer. You should end up with about 2 teaspoons of finely-crushed seeds. If you can’t find whole cardamom pods, you can substitute 2 teaspoons ground cardamom powder.
4.) Put the yeast into a large mixing bowl. Add the water, then stir until yeast is dissolved.
5.) In a separate small bowl, beat the eggs.
6.) Add the eggs, milk, sugar, salt, and crushed cardamom to the yeast and water mixture, then stir to combine.
7.) Add 2 cups of the flour and beat until the batter is smooth. Add 2 more cups of flour and the melted butter and beat until the dough is smooth and shiny. Add the last 4 cups of flour and mix well. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover dough loosely with a clean cloth and allow to rise for 15 minutes.
8.) Knead dough again, for about 8-10 minutes. Lightly grease mixing bowl with oil. Place the dough in the bowl, turning it over once to coat it with the oil. Cover with a clean, damp dishtowel and allow to rise until the dough has roughly doubled in size–about one hour.
9.) Punch the dough down, and cover again with a clean, damp towel. Allow dough to rise again for about one hour, and until roughly doubled in size.
10.) Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide dough into three equal pieces. Then, divide each of these pieces again into three equal pieces. Roll pieces into roughly 16-inch long strips. Braid three of the strips of dough together, pinching the strips together at both ends, to form a loaf. Do the same with the remaining strips, ending up with a total of three braided loaves.
11.) Grease 2 or 3 baking sheets (depending on the size of the sheets), and place loaves on the baking sheets. Allow loaves to rise for 30 or 40 minutes, until puffy. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
12.) In a small bowl, beat the egg for the egg wash. Brush the loaves with the eggwash, then sprinkle with sugar and sliced almonds.
13.) Bake loaves for 25 or 30 minutes, until golden-brown. Remove from oven, cool slightly, slice, and serve. Pulla is delicious as is, as well as toasted with butter. Enjoy!