cmaukonen's picture

    Christmas Pulla

    I have been making a traditional Finnish sweet bread know as Pulla for the last couple of years. It is made with cardamom seed, ground and lots of egg and milk and butter. As well as time. Here is the recipe I follow. Well mostly follow.  Swedish Finns call it Nissu.

    Finnish Pulla
    A unique bread with a sweet flavor that makes a wonderful holiday gift! It takes
    about 4 hours to make, so allow yourself plenty of time.
    2 cups milk
    1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees)
    1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
    1 cup white sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon ground cardamom
    4 eggs, beaten
    9 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup butter, melted
    1 egg, beaten
    2 tablespoons white sugar
    Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Let
    cool until lukewarm.
    Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Stir in the lukewarm milk, sugar, salt,
    cardamom, 4 eggs, and enough flour to make a batter (approximately 2 cups). Beat
    until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add about 3 cups of the flour and beat
    well; the dough should be smooth and glossy in appearance. Add the melted butter
    or margarine, and stir well. Beat again until the dough looks glossy. Stir in
    the remaining flour until the dough is stiff.
    Turn out of bowl onto a floured surface, cover with an inverted mixing bowl, and
    let rest for 15 minutes. Knead the dough until smooth and satiny. Place in a
    lightly greased mixing bowl, and turn the dough to grease the top. Cover with a
    clean dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
    Punch down, and let rise again until almost doubled.
    Turn out again on to a floured surface, and divide into 3 parts. Divide each
    third into 3 again. Roll each piece into a 12 to 16 inch strip. Braid 3 strips
    into a loaf. You should get 3 large braided loaves. Lift the braids onto greased
    baking sheets. Let rise for 20 minutes.

    Brush each loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

    Bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Check occasionally because the bottom
    burns easily.

    Now the trick is not to follow the recipe exactly as written. In fact the original tradition was that every Finnish house wife had her own recipe which she gave to no one. She would give her daughters a generic recipe which they were expected to change to their own.

    What you have to pay attention to is the consistency of the dough and the rising of it. There are three rises total.  You may need more or less flour than what it calls for but the consistency is what is important. About that of a fresh can of Play Dough. Any stiffer and the loaves will be too dry. Any gooier and it will end up flat.

    When rising you need to go by the volume. The first rise should double the volume.  Then punch down, but not too aggressively.   The second should nearly double. The third should have nice puffy loaves.  I will sometimes extend this recipe so as to get four loaves by increasing the milk to 2 1/2 cups and add additional flour. I also use 2 packs of yeast as I found that one does not quite work. But YMMV. I also like a bit more cardamom and use those milk carton eggs. Like Egg Beaters as I do not use real egg enough to even get a half carton. Seems to work for me. Keep a eye on the baking. Pulla can burn on the bottom easily.  I generally set my electric oven on 350 as there can be as much as a 50 degree overshoot when it heats up. The loaves should be a nice golden brown. If you have a gas oven, you are lucky as they are the best for baking.  If your oven is old though, you might want to get an oven thermometer to check the temp.

    After basting with the egg before I put them into the oven, I like to sprinkle colored sugar over the top for an nice Holiday effect.

    So if you would like to try it, you may find it a very nice addition to you Holiday treats.

    And Hauskaa Joulua!


    Sounds just about the same exact as my grandmother from Kuopio's recipe though I confess (quite shamefacedly) I'm trusting memory only as I haven't looked at her recipe or made pulla myself in years.  I think you may have inspired me though.

    Merry merry and happy happy to you, cmaukonen. 

    Thanks Anna. To bad we did not meet up in NYC when I was up there. Maybe some other time. Ans Merry Christmas to you.  And I only make Pulla at Christmas, Mostly for friends and family.

    Thanks very much, not only for the recipe, but also for the step-by-step instructions -- so often, it is doing that correctly that makes or breaks the end result.

    I haven't used cardamom very often, so looked it up just now to understand what kind of flavor it would impart to a sweet bread as compared to a sauce. Really interesting read, here:

    Thanks again. Happy New Year. 

    How the heck did I miss this?   My Finnish mom and grandmother and assorted aunts and friends all had their own variations of Nissu, just as you sayI liked my mom's the best, of course, but never made it myself--considering it the kind of sacred effort that requires a loving hand and tender care and lots of time, and since I didn't have to, I didn't do it. (My job when Mom made it was the egg wash and sugar finale.  I took it seriously, spending many minutes sprinkling the sugar carefully so as to cover the entire braid evenly. Sometimes the wash would have already dried before I was finished.)

    We ate it sliced and spread with lots of real butter.  I can taste it now as I'm writing this.

    All of those women are gone now, and the tradition has died out except for one cousin who makes it now and then, but she's in Arizona fighting the Republicans there so I don't know if she even has time anymore.  I'll have to ask her.

    Hyvää Uuttavuotta, Carl.  Thanks for a lovely memory.


    Thanks Ramona. My mother used to make for my father when he was alive. And did for a while after. Of course my aunt an grandmother made it. My sister's make it occasionally but lately it has just been me.

    It is a lot of work but worth it and I make enough to send to various friends as well. Cannot afford to do much at Christmas and this is one thing I know will be appreciated by all.


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