While J. and I were living in London, we took advantage of a bank holiday weekend and ventured to Helsinki. I had always wanted to go somewhere in Scandinavia, and with J.’s quarter Finnish heritage, it was an easy choice. On our list of must-sees for design and architecture were Alvar Aalto, Iittala and Marimekko. Our must-eat was a cardamom-spiced bread that J. enjoyed on special occasions while growing up.
Known as nisu or pulla bread to modern Finns, this loaf is typically served with coffee or tea. The distinct scent of cardamom lasted for days in the kitchen as we sliced our way through the bread for breakfast and for an afternoon snack. Braiding the loaves and sprinkling them with sliced almonds and lump sugar gave them a bakery-worthy look that took J. back to his childhood and both of us to that weekend in Helsinki.
Adapted from Saveur
Makes 2 loaves
1-1/3 cups milk, 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
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 the 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, 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.
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.