Sometimes, it’s the second day of spring and it’s snowing out, and you pick up a cone of gelato on your way home from work because you know that cones taste best eaten outside in just this kind of fluffy falling snow. And it reminds you of your last lazy cooking day, when you baked this Finnish Sweet Bread, and you remember that there’s a frozen loaf of it in your freezer, stockpiled for a busy week. You figure this week qualifies. Cue daydreaming, gelato in hand, about the delicious sandwich you are going to have for lunch tomorrow.
I love days like these.
I should say that I’m not a big bread baker – I’ve baked bread only occasionally (notably here and here), and mostly because I want the smell of baking bread in my apartment all the time. Some recipes I’ve found to be nothing but frustration and wasted effort and ingredients (saffron buns, I’m looking at you – I’ve tried you on four separate occasions only to be left with the same dense hunk of bread-rock). This Finnish Sweet Loaf, though, is my tried and true – it always comes out perfectly. And since 2013 has been so busy, if I’m going to spend the afternoon of my day off baking bread, I want it to be a delicious guarantee; I want it to produce a significant yield; I want it to last me through the work week. Finnish Sweet Bread, Pulla, whatever name you go by – it has always been you.
The reasons why:
- This recipe makes three massive loafs. Compared to all the one-loaf recipes out there, that’s a pretty good return on investment for a home kitchen.
- The loaves freeze fabulously. Just wrap them in waxed paper or plastic wrap, cover that in foil or a tightly-wrapped plastic bag, and stick it in the freezer. When you’re ready, set it on the counter to defrost overnight.
- It looks beautiful. The braids? The almonds and sugar? It’s an attention-grabbing crowd-pleaser.
- Going stale? Oh don’t worry. Toast it for an epic sandwich, or (better yet) break it out as French toast.
- It. Tastes. So. Good. I want to cover everything I eat in sugar, milk and cardamom.
- I don’t think you need me to tell you that your home will smell stupendous.
When I made this recipe a few weeks ago, one loaf went to the freezer; one loaf went to sandwich bread; and one went to hot-out-of-the-oven eating. Dave and I broke out fancy jams courtesy of Misa & Tony’s summer wedding, spooned them over tufts of steaming bread, and had a feast.
Spring snow, my gelato and I can’t even be concerned by you. This is the perfect weather for a loaf of bread.
Finnish Sweet Bread
from Sundays at Moosewood
2 cups milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
2 packages dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 tbsp sugar
4 eggs, beaten
3 cups whole wheat flour (or white flour)
up to 6 cups white flour
1/2 cup melted butter
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp milk
1/2 cup coarse or pearlized sugar (optional)
1/2 cup chopped or sliced almonds (optional)
1. In a medium saucepan, combine milk with 1/2 cup sugar, salt and cardamom. Heat over medium-low until just warm. Set aside to cool.
2. While the milk is cooling, place the warm water into a large bowl. Add yeast and 1 tbsp sugar, and stir to dissolve. Set aside for 5 minutes, or until the yeast has bubbled. Add the following, mixing after each addition: beaten eggs and the cooled milk mixture; 3 cups of whole wheat (or plain) flour; 3 cups plain flour; melted butter. Half a cup at a time, add only enough of the remaining white flour to make the dough workable and firm. You can add more as you knead if you need it.
3. On a floured surface, knead the dough until smooth (5-10 minutes). Add flour as needed to keep dough from sticking to your hands and your work surface. Butter or oil a large bowl. Work the dough into a sphere and place it into the bowl, rolling it around so all sides are lightly glazed with the butter/oil. Cover the bowl in a tea towel and place it in a warm spot (your oven or a cupboard) for 90 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.
4. Remove the tea towel, lightly flour your fist, and punch the dough down. Tear it into three equal pieces; set two aside. Take the remaining portion and tear it into three pieces. Roll each into a long coil about 2 feet long. Braid them together to form the loaf, tucking the nubbed ends of each strand underneath the loaf. Place the completed loaf on a butter baking tray. Repeat with the remaining 2/3 of the dough. Cover the baking tray with the tea towel, and return to the warm place to rise for an additional 45 minutes, or until doubled.
5. Remove tea towel, and preheat oven to 375 degrees. While it heats, whisk together remaining milk and egg to form a glaze. Brush it generously over the loafs, and discard what is left over. If using, sprinkle sugar and/or almonds over top. Bake until light golden (20-25 minutes).