Nisu or Pulla Bread
on Apr 18, 2014, Updated Jul 08, 2022
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Known as nisu or pulla bread, this cardamom-scented Finish sweet bread is wonderful served with coffee or tea. As it bakes, the aroma will linger in your kitchen.
My husband’s family is mash up of a few different heritages. And like so many others with that kind of cultural melting pot, comes a collection of food memories and traditions. Since he is a quarter Finnish, he has grown up eating nisu, also known as pulla bread. A bakery in his hometown of Massachusetts sells these loaves. His favorite way to devour this sweet bread is toasted with butter.
When we were living in London years ago, we even made it a point during a long weekend to travel to Helsinki to see the sites, museums, and of course, to eat.
What is Nisu Bread?
With eggs, flour, milk, yeast, sugar and salt, Finnish nissua falls in the category ofenriched breads, which also includes brioche and challah. The higher fat content results in a crumb that is very soft. You can easily tear it apart.
It is a braided bread that ends up with a thin and delicate deep golden-brown crust. Brushing it with an egg wash is essential to getting that look, and it acts like the glue when you’re sprinkling it with pearl sugar and slivered almonds for decoration.
This is what you need:
- Milk: My preference is 2% or whole milk for the recipe because they will add more to the flavor than skim milk.
- Sugar: The dough is sweetened with granulated sugar. It’s not too much that it’s overly sweet, which makes the bread good for breakfast, brunch or an afternoon treat.
- Cardamom is part of the ginger family. Look for green cardamom, which is the kind used in Nordic cooking. Toasting whole cardamom pods and grounding them will give you the most flavor, but you can definitely buy it already ground. It has such a distinct and unique smell and taste that there is no substitute.
- Yeast: The recipe calls for active dry yeast. It is important not to warm the milk too much. If it’s very hot, it will kill the tiny air bubbles and you won’t get any rise or that light airy texture.
- Eggs are important for the bread, and you need 4 large ones to make it.
- Flour: For this bread, you want all-purpose flour. Since the crumb is softer, you don’t use bread flour because it has too much gluten.
- Butter: Give the unsalted butter time to sit out at room temperature, so it is nice and soft. Don’t sue margarine.
- Salt: A teaspoon salt helps bring out the overall flavor.
- Pearl sugar & almonds are optional toppings for the loaves. Besides looks, they do add some crunch.
How To Make Finnish Sweet Bread (a.k.a. Pulla Bread)
- Combine the warm milk, sugar, cardamom and yeast in the large bowl of a stand mixer. Let it sit for 10 minutes, so the yeast has time to bloom and get foamy.You should have the paddle attachment on the mixer at this point.
- Mix the lightly beaten egg into the yeast mixture and then stir in the flour and salt to create a shaggy dough. Now switch to the dough hook attachment.
- Knead the bread for a couple minutes at low speed.
- Gradually add the butter with mixer running. This part of the kneading should take 3-4 minutes.
- Turn the dough on a floured surface and knead by hand until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
- Shape the soft dough into a ball and put it in a greased bowl. Let it rise in a warm place until it has doubled in volume, about 1-1/2 hours. Then punch it down and wait another 30 minutes for it to rise again.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Braid the loaves. First, divide the dough in half. For one loaf, split the half into 4 equal pieces and roll them into long ropes. Then braid them as shown in the diagram. Repeat and transfer each one to a baking sheet. You could so braid them into wreaths.
- Cover the shaped loaves with plastic wrap. Let them rest for 45 minutes. They will puff up slightly.
- Whisk together the egg wash. Brush it all over the loaves and top with pearl sugar and slivered almonds.
- Bake each loaf for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Leftovers can be stored wrapped tightly or in an airtight container up to 3 days. The bread is best and most fresh closer to when it has been baked.
You can store baked loaves in the freezer up to 1 month. I recommend slicing it before freezing it, so you can just have a slice (or two) at a time.
More Ways To Use This Bread
Think of nisu beyond just as something to go with coffee. It makes incredible French toast or a very special bread pudding.
More Baking Recipes
Nisu or Pulla Bread
- For dough
- 1-1/3 cups milk, 2% or whole, heated to 115 degrees F
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 3 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 2 – 1/4 oz. packages dry active yeast
- 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 5 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting work surface
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus more for greasing bowl
- For egg wash
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon milk
- Pearl sugar optional
- Slivered almonds optional
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the milk, sugar, cardamom and yeast and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Mix in the eggs and then add the flour and salt. When a shaggy dough begins to form, switch to a dough hook and knead for 2 minutes. Add the butter gradually over 3-4 minutes of kneading. Once the butter is incorporated, turn on a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for an additional 5 minutes.
- Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place the dough in a warm spot to rise until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down the dough and allow it to rise for an additional 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.
- On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. For the first loaf, take 1 piece of dough and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Roll each into a 16-inch rope and braid as shown in the diagram above. Repeat for the second loaf. Transfer the loaves to the prepared sheet pans and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the loaves sit for 45 minutes until they rise slightly.
- Whisk together the egg yolk and milk. Brush the loaves with the egg wash and sprinkle with slivered almonds and pearl sugar (if using).
- Bake each loaf separately for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.