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A holiday tradition: How to bake pulla, a Finnish sweet bread

Published: Dec. 19, 2020 at 3:40 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In a year coming to close with a holiday season like no other, many of us are trying to find ways to feel connected to family while staying apart.

Holidays far away from family are something I’ve gotten used to since moving from Texas to Alaska in 2015.

In my family, Christmas morning isn’t complete without a warm pulla bread wreath and spiced butter. Even thousands of miles away from home, the smell and taste of this Finnish sweet bread helps me feel connected to my family’s traditions during the holidays.

The bread and FaceTime. Lots of FaceTime!

If you feel like making a warm delicious treat this year, I hope you’ll enjoy this bread as much as I do. The recipe is my mother’s, derived from a cookbook she has had since before I was born.

Ingredients:

Pulla:

  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 packet of dry yeast
  • 3/4 cups of granulated sugar
  • 13 ounces of evaporated milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of room temperature, unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom
  • 8 cups of all purpose flour

Later you’ll need:

  • 1 more egg
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • Some coarse sugar for sprinkling on top (we use sugar in the raw, available at most grocery stores)

Instructions

Making pulla isn’t difficult, but it is time-consuming. Having some version of an electric mixer really helps with this process.

Activate the yeast by combining it with a tablespoon of the granulated sugar and the warm water. Let it sit for about five minutes.

Add in the rest of the sugar, evaporated milk, three eggs, butter, salt and cardamom and mix well. Gradually add eight cups of flour. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and set it aside for half an hour.

Next, knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured surface for about 10 to 12 minutes. If you’re using an electric mixer for this step, it won’t take as long. You’re done kneading once the dough is smooth with tiny blisters.

Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Securing an airtight seal with a rubber band around the rim helps it rise. You can also wrap the covered bowl in a towel or blanket, then put it in a warm place. Let the dough rise until doubled; this takes an hour or more.

This time, you’ll turn your dough out on a surface that is lightly oiled. Cut the dough in half. Cut each half into thirds. You will be making two braided wreaths.

Roll each third into a long strand, aiming for 3 feet in length. Take your time so it does not tear or get too weak in any place. You’ll want to pinch a bit of dough off of the longest strand and save it for a bow.

Braid the three strands together, then coil the braided dough into the shape of a wreath and place it on a flat baking sheet. Roll out the extra dough you saved into a thin strand and shape it into a bow. Place it over the spot where the ends of your braid meet.

Repeat this process for the other half of the dough.

Cover both wreaths with plastic wrap again and let them rise for another 45 minutes in a warm area.

Before putting the wreaths in a preheated oven, mix an egg and the milk together and brush it over the wreaths. Sprinkle a generous amount of raw sugar over the top.

Bake at 375ºF for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Serve with whipped, spiced butter.

Whipped Spiced Butter

  • 1 pound of unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of ground nutmeg & ground cardamom

I cannot imagine pulla without this whipped, spiced butter. It is delicious and the simplest part of this recipe, but you’ll definitely want the help of an electric mixer.

Begin to whip the butter then start gradually adding in the cream as it becomes fluffy. Then add the sugar and spices.

You can serve the butter in a small bowl or cup in the center of your bread wreaths.

Enjoy!

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