Pulla? Must Be Christmas!
According to #2, it's not Christmas until she's smelled the pulla. Apparently, the Christmas season officially began in our house today, because we fulfilled our family tradition of making the Finnish sweet bread.
Pulla has always meant Christmas to me. We had it every December when I was a kid. Dad was usually the one who made it, and I have lots of great memories of sitting at the kitchen counter watching and "helping."
I'm no expert, but I do enjoy making pulla, and this year was extra special, because I had fresh cardamom straight from a Helsinki grocery store. This meant that the cardamom was not only mucho cheaper than the stuff in the States (a bottle here can run you around $15), but it has a stronger, better flavor. One whiff had my eyes rolling into the back of head.
Lots of versions of the recipe are out there, but here's the one I use. The amount of cardamom listed assumes you have the fresh stuff. When I have to use a U.S. bottle, I double or triple the amount.
1 TB dry yeast
1/2 c warm water
2 c hot milk
1/2 c butter
1 c sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom
4 eggs, beaten
9+ c white flour
Dissolve yeast in water and let sit for several minutes. Add milk, butter, sugar, salt, cardamom, and eggs. Add 2 to 3 cups of flour and beat until you have a batter. Add 3 more cups of flour. Beat until smooth and glossy. Stir in remaining flour until dough forms a stiff ball.
[At this point you're supposed to let it rest for 15 minutes and then knead until it's smooth and elastic. I let my trusty KitchenAide do the kneading because I'm lazy like that.]
Put in a greased bowl and let rise until double. Cut into pieces to make 3 large braids or several smaller ones. Let the braids rise for another 20-30 minutes. Brush with egg wash. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes (large braids) or 15-20 (small braids) until they are golden brown.
Finns often put lump sugar on top of the egg wash before baking (something else hard to find over here).
Dad generally lets the braids cool and then drizzles a simple powdered sugar glaze over them. Sometimes he adds sliced almonds on top. I do it his way.
The kids love rolling out the dough and making the braids. I let them, because they love it so much. The resulting braids aren't as even as pretty as they could be, but the memories are worth it. We made the smaller braids this year, and the picture above shows a few of them.
One Finnish food I adore but have never tried to make is Karjalan Piirakoita (Karalian Pies). My new year's resolution is to learn to make them. Then my life will be a tad more complete!