I just wanted some bread–which more than anything these days, thanks to the Atkins et al diets, is the sinful pinnacle of eats. Carbs, carbs, CARBS! This desire came from out of nowhere, almost like a character’s unwarranted, sudden actions in a badly written screenplay. There was no reason for this craving, it was just THERE. I woke up with it. I brushed my teeth. I wished the toothpaste was bread. I watched some television. The desire was still there.
I just wanted some bread–and not just any bread. Because if I had to have a sinful pinnacle of eats, then it had to be very good. I wasn’t going to just eat any old bread.
Should I bake some Cheese Board brioches? Or scones?
On that overcast Sunday morning, my unfulfilled desire drumming through my head, I flipped through the current Gourmet issue to satiate myself; perhaps if I saw PICTURES of bread and READ about bread, I wouldn’t actually NEED (er, WANT) bread.
Nope. There it was, a recipe for pulla, a Finnish sweet cardamom raisin bread. I love cardamom–I collect recipes that contain this spice that has all the delight of cinnamon without its harsh edge. I like it so much, I substitute cinnamon with cardamom in a multitude of recipes, including those for pie fillings.
So you see–couple my bread craving with my overall love for cardamom, and you’ve got a perfect intersection with pulla. All of a sudden, I had to make pulla.
Making the pulla is like making most sweet breads–there are two separate risings and it becomes a whole day affair (or at least, a half day affair). There is the combining of ingredients, the kneading, and then the rising…and again, some brief kneading and raisins, and shaping, and then rising…before finally baking (oh, and cooling–but who waits for THAT before jumping in for a bite?! I certainly didn’t.) But there is something leisurely and decadent to a bread that takes six hours to make.
And of course, I was satisfying an overwhelming desire, which in itself is a wondrous thing.
So make it and enjoy–it is just slightly sweet enough to make it perfect with tea. I’d add more raisins next time (I ahem, had already doubled the amount of cardamom), but would otherwise make no adjustments. Still, it was just sweet enough to not scream “dessert” or “pastry” and declare itself bread. I greedily pulled it apart, the steam still escaping from its braids.
Others liked it too.
When I took one of the loaves (the bigger one) to work the next day, the entire loaf disappeared within minutes.
“I baked it yesterday!” was all I had to say, before a multitude of hands ripped into the bread, tearing off chunks (it is the kind of bread that you just pull at and eat). They didn’t even wait to hear me describe what they were eating–nay, devouring.
“It’s pulla!” I yelled at the commotion, “A Finnish sweet bread!”
One person even mumbled, “Is it challah?!”
And before you knew it, the bread was devoured.
I personally love Cheese Board’s brioche the most (it too, has raisins in it) but this is right up there in my list of loved sweet breads.
Recipe follows after the jump…
(recipe from Gourmet)
This soft, slightly sweet bread is made with plenty of butter, which results in tender pieces that can be pulled apart, bite by bite. A hint of cardamom and a handful of plump raisins make it a special treat for teatime.
Makes 2 loaves.
1 cup raisins (I used golden raisins–and I would use at least a quarter cup more next time)
1/4 cup warm water (105-115°F)
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
5 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (I doubled it to 2 teaspoons)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/4 cups warm whole milk (105-115°F)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten with
1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Soak raisins in hot tap water to cover until plump, about 20 minutes, then drain.
Meanwhile, stir together warm water, yeast, and a pinch of sugar in a small bowl. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If yeast doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast.)
Stir together flour, sugar, cardamom, and salt in a large bowl, then blend in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in milk, whole egg, and yeast mixture with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead, dusting surface and hands with just enough flour to keep dough from sticking, until dough is smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. (I used my kitchenaid mixer to knead the dough–for approximately the same amount of time).
Pat dough into a 9-inch square and sprinkle with raisins. Fold dough over to enclose raisins and pinch edges to seal. Knead, dusting surface and hands lightly with flour, until raisins are distributed. (Dough will be lumpy and slightly sticky; if any raisins pop out, just push them back in.) Form dough into a ball.
Put dough in a buttered large bowl and turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Punch down dough (do not knead), then halve. Cut each half into thirds and roll each piece into a 15-inch rope. Braid together 3 ropes to form a loaf, then transfer to a parchment-lined large baking sheet, tucking ends under. Make another loaf with remaining 3 ropes, arranging loaves 4 inches apart. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
Brush loaves with egg wash and bake until golden brown and bottoms sound hollow when tapped, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Cooks’ note: Bread can be made 2 days ahead and kept, wrapped well, at room temperature or frozen 1 month.
Gourmet, August 2007