Our Christmas Tradition:  Scandinavian Cardamom Coffee Bread, Pulla (Finnish)

Our Christmas Tradition: Scandinavian Cardamom Coffee Bread, Pulla (Finnish)featured

As a child, my mom made this for the holidays.  All of my grandparents on both sides of my family were Finnish.  We called this ‘pulla.’  We devoured it fresh, and we loved to eat it toasted with butter the following morning.  This bread is made in all of the Scandinavian countries (including  Finland, even though Finland due to language and history is not technically a part of Scandinavia.)  Other names for it are vetebröd (Swedish), hvetebröd (Norwegian), hvedebrød (Danish), and hveitibraud (Icelandic).

My only criticism of this bread is that by the second day, it is stale, and it has to be toasted.  However, it is even better toasted than fresh!  Over the years, I have tried modifying the recipe to make it less prone to becoming stale—however, in doing so, it becomes more like “challah” bread (Jewish), which I also adore.  The main difference between challah and pulla is that challah uses water and oil (vegetable), and pulla uses milk and butter.  There is a also a bit more sugar (and also the main flavor of cardamom) in pulla.  These are otherwise similar white, egg based, braided breads.  Therefore, I have opted to stay with the traditional pulla recipe using milk and butter.

Pulla Bread
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
4 loaves 4-6 hours
Servings Prep Time
4 loaves 4-6 hours
Pulla Bread
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
4 loaves 4-6 hours
Servings Prep Time
4 loaves 4-6 hours
Ingredients
Main
  • 2 packages active dry yeast (instant is okay)
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 cups milk, scalded and cooled (see tip below)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp freshly ground cardamom (see tip below)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 8 cups flour plus more for kneading
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted (1 stick)
For topping
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp milk whisked with the egg
  • 1/2 cup Swedish pearl sugar (see tip below)
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds optional
Servings: loaves
Instructions
  1. Scald your milk and let it cool. In a really large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Wait about 5 minutes, and then add the cooled milk (must be cooled or it will kill the yeast), sugar, salt, 4 cups of flour, cardamom, eggs, and melted butter. Mix. Add additional 4 cups of flour. Turn onto floured surface and let it rest 15 minutes. Wash the bowl and grease it with butter.
  2. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, adding flour when necessary. Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with a damp towel. Let it rise for about 90 minutes until about double in size. (Time will vary based on type of yeast you are using and the temperature of your house).
  3. Punch it down. Use a sharp knife to cut it into 4 pieces. Cut those pieces into additional three pieces each. Roll into ropes and loosely braid. Place on baking sheets, cover with damp towel, and let it rise for 20-45 minutes (again rising time varies depending on house temp and yeast). I recommend using Silpat or other silicon baking sheets on your pans to prevent burning. Preheat your oven to 375°F.
  4. Brush the loaves with the egg-milk mixture. Top with sugar and almonds, if using.
  5. It is VERY EASY to over-bake and burn this bread. Bake two loaves on one sheet at a time in the center of your oven. Everyone has a different oven, so baking times will vary. When it is lightly browned and is no longer doughy in the center (press with your finger to check), it is done. This is approximately 20 minutes in my oven. Bake second pair of loaves. Enjoy!!!!! Serve fresh and warm, or toast the following day.
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Tips:

#1:  To scald or not to scald milk?  Scalding milk used to be necessary to kill bacteria that affected yeast activity and to denature a protein that affected gluten in the bread.  It is commonly believed that pasteurization has made this no longer necessary.  I still do it though—a habit.  To do it, gently heat the milk until it bubbles (see below).  Finnish Pulla Bread

#2:  Use freshly ground cardamom, if possible.  I order all of my spices from Penzey’s, and I use a hand-grind spice mill for the cardamom.  In the photo below, you can see the white cardamom pods, shelled cardamom, and ground cardamom.Finnish Pulla BreadFinnish Pulla Bread

Tip #3:  The recipe is too large for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer.  Use a huge bowl, and a hand held mixer.Finnish Pulla Bread

Tip #4:  Make sure you let the sticky dough rest 15 minutes before you knead it, so that it absorbs the flour.  It should look like this:Finnish Pulla Bread

Tip #5:  Hand knead for 10 minutes.  I set a timer for 10 minutes to make sure I do it that long.  Kneading makes the gluten elastic, and contributes to a chewy smooth texture in bread.  This is what it should look like when you are done kneading:Finnish Pulla Bread

Tip #6:  Loosely braid the loaves.  This bread bakes quickly on the surface (due to the milk), and the center will end up raw if your loaves are too thick.  Loaves should look like this after braiding:Pulla Bread

Tip #7:  Use authentic Swedish pearl sugar.  This can be ordered online.  Americans often think this is salt.  But no, it is sweet and crunchy sugar!!!—and will make your bread a true version of this special Scandinavian treat.Finnish Pulla BreadFinnish Pulla Bread

Enjoy!!!!!Pulla BreadPulla BreadPulla BreadPulla BreadPulla Bread

Merry Christmas, 2015.

About the author

Stephanie Koski

Stephanie is a retired physician, mother to three boys, and an avid gardener with many hobbies and interests. She lives outside of Salem, Oregon, in the mid-Willamette Valley.
Stephanie does all of the photography and writing for this website, and all content is original and copyrighted.

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