fat free opinions on a food centric life

Finnish Pulla: Bread Baking Day

I keep a list of food events taking place around foodland in Bloggsville.  Don’t get too excited.  It’s nothing fancy.  It’s sort of scrawled on a grocery list and gets shuffled around from the counter in my kitchen to my office where I write pithy posts such as this.  My list of food events comes in especially handy when I realize I’ve missed a deadline, and with resignation, am then able to cross it off my list as yet another thing I’ve intended to take care of and haven’t.

Or, did take care of and just didn’t post.

Like last night.  It was the deadline for making shaped bread.  I baked some Finnish Pulla earlier in the week as I had planned, but do you think I posted it?

Uh…nope.

So, here it is, finally, and as my mother would have said, a day late, and a dollar short.  My entry for Bread Baking Day #6: Shaped Bread, hosted by Eva of Sweet Sins.  Bread Baking Day was started by Zorra at 1x umruhen bitte who just so happens to be another Daring Baker.

Why Finnish Pulla?  Well, I know that it is presented in a lovely braid (that would be a shape which would qualify me to submit my efforts to Bread Baking Day), either as a loaf or a ring.  I also know that the recipe is quite basic, the dough doesn’t have to sit in the fridge over night, and that it always contains cardamom.  Just the idea of the amazing scent of cardamom wafting through my house as the bread bakes was something I had to experience — that elusive not quite lemony, sort of cinnamony, kind of fresh woodsy fragrance that sends me into a swoon.  Besides, pulla is a sweet bread, and I enjoy a bread that has some sweetness.

If I have my facts straight, pulla is usually considered a celebratory bread. Because cardamom (elettaria) or “true cardamom” is one of the most expensive spices (behind saffron and vanilla), its inclusion in some dishes was reserved for special occasions — usually the holidays. So might I be celebrating a special occasion?

Not exactly.  But I am feeling more optimistic than I have in the past two weeks since having lost a very dear cat to a serious illness.  The sun is shining as it usually does in this far corner of the country, and because it never really gets too cold, there are already signs of spring everywhere.  So with a fresh outlook, some misty-eyed nostalgia, and tenuous acceptance of life’s ups and downs, here is my Finnish Pulla — in celebration of a lovely feline furry companion whom I will dearly miss.

Finnish Pulla Recipe

from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients:

1 c. milk
1 T active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm water (about 110 degrees F)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. crushed cardamom seeds (about 7 pods)
1 tsp. salt
2 lg. eggs, slightly beaten, at room temp
4-1/2 to 5 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
4 oz. unsalted butter, melted
1 lg. egg beaten with 1 T milk, for glaze

Directions:

  1. Heat milk in a small saucepan until small bubbles are visible around the rim of the pan.  Remove from head and let cool to between 105 and 115 degrees F.
  2. In the large bowl of your Kitchen Aid, whisk yeast into the warm water and let sit for about 5 minutes or until yeast is dissolved and creamy.
  3. Whisk in milk, sugar, cardamom, salt, and eggs at medium speed.
  4. Switch to the hook attachment and add 2 c. flour, beating until smooth, occasionally scraping around the bowl to incorporate all the flour.
  5. Add the melted butter, and then keeping count as you go, add flour 1/2 c. at a time until the dough is stiff, but not dry.  (My dough took 4-1/2 c. flour)
  6. Cover and let the dough rest for about 15 minutes before proceeding.
  7. To knead the dough, either use your machine on medium speed until dough is satiny — OR — turn dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead until it is smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes.
  8. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl making sure the top is oiled.  Cover with plastic and let rise at room temp until doubled in bulk — about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  9. After dough is done with the first rise, line a baking pan at least 14 ” long with parchment.  Then oil a work surface.  The surface should be cool.
  10. To shape the dough, turn it out of the bowl and briefly knead it to deflate it.  Divide it into 3 pieces and roll each piece into a rope about 36 inches long.  Braid the three ropes pressing the ends together and tucking them under the loaf.  Lift the braid onto the parchment.
  11. Cover the braid lightly with plastic that has been lightly oiled or with a kitchen towel.  Let rise at room temp until puffy, but not doubled about 45 minutes.
  12. Brush egg glaze over the bread.
  13. Bake the bread in a preheated 375 degree F oven on the center rack for about 20 to 25 minutes until golden.  Let cool on a rack until room temp.

Recipe Notes:

  • Kneading the bread myself instead of using my Kitchen Aid was a breeze.  I usually avoid doing this because I have severe tendonitis, but this dough is light and wonderful to work with.  It isn’t sticky, and I was able to knead it to a very nice satiny texture.
  • I should have watched the video I found on YouTube.  It demonstrates a couple of different ways to braid this bread.  I had trouble making my three ropes because I was impatient with rolling the ropes.  So what else is new, right?  Plus, I made my braid as one would braid hair, which is fine, but the demonstration is quite creative!

  • Um…so when you put the cardamom in your coffee grinder, yes, do wipe it out before you begin (I did).  And take the seeds from the pods (I didn’t) because it’s a bit of work to remove all those pieces of the shell after they’re ground.  Logic, right?  Okay, so next time.
  • The first rise took longer than expected.  I have a proofing feature on my Wolf which is great, keeping the environment at a moist 85 degrees F, but it still took over an hour for the bread to double in bulk.
  • On the second rise, I should have opted not to use my proofer, because the bread got really big and looked somewhat like a giant caterpillar instead of a loaf of bread.  A bit of icing, some antenna and eyes, and what a great idea for kids in the kitchen!
  • I used a convection setting to bake the bread and had to keep an eye on it because it began to get really brown.  The final cooking time was only 15 minutes!

This is a very, very lovely bread.  The finished texture is firm, but light.  It butters well, and when toasted, is crunchy on the surface and soft inside.  The cardamom is so pleasant.  I wonder if I hadn’t baked it myself if I’d be able to identify the flavor.