Sunday, March 2, 2014

Cardamom Bread - Yum!

Growing up, my sister and I loved it when we visited our Great Grandma, Kuka, because she almost always baked cardamom bread for us. It's also commonly called cardamom braid, because of its shape; in the Finnish language, it's called pulla. Whatever you call it, the luscious fragrance of cardamom and yeast baking in the oven is unbeatable. And when the bread is fresh from the oven and warm, thick slices are slathered with butter, there's nothing more homey and delicious.

Kuka did not speak English, only Finnish. I'll tell you the story of her name another day. Luckily, our  Grandma and Mom spoke both Finnish and English and so were able to bridge the gap between us. The three women would drive us kids crazy at Christmastime by talking about our gifts in Finn - which we couldn't understand.

Many years later, I was trying to show off my culinary skills to my new Mother-in-Law, who was an excellent home cook as well as a caterer. I really wanted to impress her with pulla, and I told her that it was one of my specialties. Truthfully, I had never made it by myself and though I was around when Kuka or Grandma made it, I didn't really pay attention. In addition to not making pulla before, I don't think I had ever made any yeast bread from scratch - refrigerator biscuits from the grocery store, but other than pulling them apart and baking them, I had no experience.

So I got my Grandma to give me the recipe and I bravely began. Amazingly, I did not start off by killing the yeast and managed to get the dough together fairly easily. And then the last part of the recipe said, " Divide dough into 3 and braid." And so I did. I divided the dough into three balls, made them into thick ropes, and braided them together. What I did not know, was that the recipe really should have said, "Divide into 3, and then divide each ball into 3 and braid to make 3 loaves." So instead of 3 nice loaves, I ended up with one giant loaf. I remember that my Mother-in-Law said, "Oh, my! Is it supposed to be that large?" "Oh, yes," I lied, still trying to keep the pretense that I knew exactly what I was doing. Well, the bread rose again and I still baked the monstrosity. As you can imagine, the edges were way overdone and the inside was raw. We ate the edible parts and it was delicious anyway. The best part was that I admitted to my novice baking skills and my Mother-in-Law offered to teach me. And she didn't laugh at me, but with me.

Here's the recipe - just remember that you should end up with 3 braided loaves.

 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 large eggs
8 cups all purpose flour (you may need a little more or a little less to make the dough correctly)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup brewed, strong coffee, cooled
1/2 cup pearl (coarsely granulated) sugar

  1.  Dissolve the yeast in warm water
  2. Add milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs, and 2 cups of flour and beat to a smooth batter
  3. Add 3 cups of flour, a little at a time, mixing well
  4. Add melted butter and enough of the remaining flour until it's a stiff dough
  5. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes
  6. Place dough in buttered mixing bowl, turning a few times until it's all coated with butter
  7. Let dough rise in a warm place, covered, for about 1 hour and it's doubled in size
  8. Punch down the dough, cover, and let rise 30 minutes
  9. Lightly flour a board and divide the dough into 3 even-sized balls
  10. Divide each ball into 3 pieces and roll out each piece into a rectangle about 16 inches long
  11. Place these 3 rectangles on a greased baking sheet and braid the 3 rectangles together; pinch both ends together and tuck the ends under the loaf
  12. Repeat the process with the remaining 2 balls; you'll end up with 3 braided loaves
  13. Allow to rise an additional 20 minutes
  14. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees; meanwhile, glaze the 3 braided loaves with coffee and sprinkle on the pearl sugar
  15. Bake at 400 degrees for about 25 - 30 minutes, until lightly browned

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