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Pulla: Embracing the Sweet Tradition of Finnish Cardamom Bread

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Pulla, a beloved sweet bread from Finland, is more than just a baked good—it’s a cultural staple that embodies the warmth of Finnish hospitality and the joy of sharing delicious treats with loved ones. This soft, slightly sweet bread is enriched with butter, flavored with aromatic cardamom, and often adorned with pearl sugar, making it a delightful companion to coffee or tea. Join us as we explore the history, ingredients, preparation methods, and cultural significance of pulla, along with a detailed recipe to bring this cherished Finnish tradition into your own kitchen.

History and Cultural Significance:

Pulla has deep roots in Finnish culinary heritage, where it has been enjoyed for generations as a comforting treat during festive occasions, holidays, and everyday gatherings. Traditionally, pulla was baked at home, with each family adding their own unique touch to the recipe. Its popularity grew during the 19th century when coffee culture flourished in Finland, making pulla a favorite accompaniment to coffee breaks and social gatherings.

Today, pulla remains a symbol of Finnish hospitality and is often served to guests as a gesture of warmth and welcome. Its soft texture, rich flavor, and delicate sweetness continue to captivate both locals and visitors alike, making it a beloved pastry throughout Finland and beyond.

Ingredients for Pulla:

For the Dough:
  • 500g (4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 100g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 10g (1 tbsp) active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 250ml (1 cup) milk, lukewarm
  • 100g (7 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 egg, room temperature
For the Topping (optional):
  • 1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
  • Pearl sugar, for sprinkling

Instructions:

  1. Activate the Yeast:
    • In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar in lukewarm milk. Let it sit for about 5-10 minutes until foamy.
  2. Prepare the Dough:
    • In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, remaining sugar, ground cardamom, and salt. Make a well in the center and add the melted butter, beaten egg, and activated yeast mixture.
  3. Knead the Dough:
    • Mix everything together until a dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Alternatively, use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment to knead the dough.
  4. First Rise:
    • Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.
  5. Shape the Pulla:
    • Once risen, punch down the dough to release the air. Divide the dough into equal portions and shape each into desired forms such as braids, knots, or rolls.
  6. Second Rise:
    • Place the shaped pulla on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let them rise again for about 30-45 minutes, or until puffed and nearly doubled in size.
  7. Bake the Pulla:
    • Preheat your oven to 190°C (375°F). If using, brush the risen pulla with beaten egg and sprinkle generously with pearl sugar.
    • Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom. If baking multiple trays, rotate them halfway through for even baking.
  8. Cool and Serve:
    • Remove the pulla from the oven and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve pulla warm or at room temperature with coffee or tea. Enjoy the soft, aromatic goodness of freshly baked pulla.

Tips for Perfect Pulla:

  • Cardamom Flavor: Adjust the amount of ground cardamom to suit your preference. For a more pronounced flavor, you can crush whole cardamom pods and grind the seeds finely before adding them to the dough.
  • Egg Wash: The egg wash gives pulla a shiny, golden crust. If you prefer a lighter color, you can omit the egg wash or brush with milk instead.
  • Storage: Store leftover pulla in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Pulla can also be frozen for longer storage; thaw at room temperature before serving.

Serving Suggestions:

Pulla is traditionally served with coffee or tea, especially during coffee breaks (kaffepaussi) in Finland. It can be enjoyed plain or with a dollop of butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. For a festive touch, serve pulla alongside fresh berries or preserves.

Conclusion:

Pulla, with its soft texture, delicate sweetness, and aromatic cardamom flavor, embodies the heart of Finnish baking tradition and hospitality. By following this recipe, you can recreate the warm, comforting flavors of pulla in your own kitchen and experience the joy of sharing this beloved Finnish treat with family and friends. Treat yourself to a taste of Finnish culture with each delightful bite of freshly baked pulla, and savor the simple pleasures of Nordic baking at its finest.

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Written by Robert Zelesky

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