From Scratch: Braided cardamom bread for breakfast
Some people are good at remembering names; others can place a face from someone they met 10 years before. I'm not good at either. However, I never forget a taste.
About 40 years ago, I was visiting a college friend. Her mother served a sweet bread unlike anything I had tasted before, and for that many years I had been trying to find a recipe to re-create it. Fortunately, I remembered the name of the bread in this case, and two years ago I was able to find a recipe for cardamom bread — or pulla, as it is known in Finnish.
If you've never experienced the taste of cardamom, you are in for a treat. This is a rich, slightly sweet bread perfect for a holiday breakfast or brunch. The process takes a bit of time, but it makes two large loaves and freezes well.
Before you begin, have the following ingredients at room temperature:
1 -1/3 cups warm milk
2/3 cup sugar
4 teaspoons ground cardamom
2 packages active dry yeast or 4-1/2 teaspoons
3 eggs, lightly beaten
About 6 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon heavy cream or milk
1 egg yolk
Coarse or decorating sugar, for garnish
Sliced almonds, for garnish
In a large bowl, combine the milk, sugar, 3 teaspoons cardamom and yeast. Stir together and let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Add the eggs and mix to combine. Add the flour and salt. Mix until a dough forms. Depending on the humidity of the flour, you can use more or less than 6 cups.
Remove the dough from the bowl and begin to knead on a lightly floured surface. If the dough is sticking, add a little more flour. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, by all means use it. While kneading, slowly add the butter in batches, mixing until incorporated before adding the next batch. Continue kneading for 4 minutes more after the last of the butter is added.
Transfer the dough to a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour depending on the temperature of your kitchen. Punch down the dough, cover again with plastic wrap and let sit until fully risen, about 30 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a work surface and divide into 2 equal pieces. I am a bit obsessive, so I weigh each piece on a kitchen scale. Set one piece aside and divide the other into 3 equal portions. Roll each portion between your palms and work surface to create a 16-inch rope. Pinch the three ends of the ropes together and braid to form a loaf. Transfer the loaf to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the second dough piece. Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and let sit until slightly puffed up, about 20 minutes.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together the remaining teaspoon of cardamom, the cream and the egg yolk in a small bowl; brush over the loaves. Sprinkle with sugar and almonds.
Bake, one loaf at a time, until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool 10 minutes before serving.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.