This sweet cardamom bread called Pulla Bread is a staple in Finland. Soft, and aromatic, it has a sprinkling of traditional pearl sugar and almonds to make it even more special.
My sweet friend Emily shared her family recipe for Finnish Pulla bread with me. I pretty much can’t live without it now!
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The Pulla Bread Legacy (and confessional)
This bread has been a Harris family staple since Emily’s dad made it for her mom when they were first married. The best part—he made it out of boredom on his two week Christmas break from law school! Finding the recipe in a cookbook he had from his time spent living in Finland on a mission, he surprised his wife with braided loaves of bread and an apartment scented with sweet cardamom.
From a Christmas discovery to a tradition, this cardamom Pulla Bread is now made 100 loaves at a time!
Emily’s mom, Jean, now bakes the bread every Christmas to give away, and of course eat. One year she made over 100 loaves! The bread, warm out of the oven, is so tempting the Harris kids enacted a “Pulla Bread tax.” Stating that some of the loaves from each batch had to stay home to be eaten. Fair enough!
Emily’s favorite memory is of a particularly snowy December night when the roads hadn’t been plowed yet. Dad pulled her and her brother through the neighborhood on their Radio Flyer sled to deliver the loaves. It’s THAT worth it!
More than one of their friends have confessed to eating entire loaves themselves, even hiding the special delivery from their spouse. Clearly, you should make this bread and see what all the fuss is about!
What is Finnish Pulla Bread?
Pulla is a slightly sweet, cardamom-scented bread eaten with coffee or tea in Finland (so popular it’s like the coffee and donuts combo here). There are certainly several variations on the traditional, often it’s made into rolls instead of braids or speckled with raisins. Here, if I dare say, is the most divine recipe—it might just become a holiday, no, weekly tradition!
What makes Pulla Bread special?
This braided cardamom bread gets it’s rich and tender texture from plenty of eggs. Eggs both act as a leavening agent in breads, helping them bake up light and fluffy, as well as a tenderizer for the crumb. The fats from the egg yolks help tenderize and lighten the bread. While not as egg-rich as Challah or Brioche, the eggs create a softer, dense but still light, yeast bread. Eggs also contain the emulsifier lecithin. Lecithin is often added to bread to make the texture soft and smooth. Eggs do the trick!
Finnish Pulla Bread is more similar to Brioche by recipe. Challah is a Jewish bread and is made kosher, so there is no dairy. Brioche, being the French bread that it is has both eggs and plenty of butter.
Fats, especially butter, add flavor to bread. Butter make the crumb very tender and extends the shelf life of bread. This is a bonus since I love leftover Pulla Bread lightly toasted the next day with a drizzle of honey. YUM!
Sliced almonds and Swedish Pearl Sugar add to the elegance and taste of the cardamom scented bread. Sprinkled on just before baking, the almonds get lightly toasted and add a crunch to the few special bites of crust.
Swedish Pearl Sugar, found online or at some grocery stores, is a gorgeous sugar that doesn’t melt when baked, and stays a vibrant opaque white color. It’s granulated sugar that has been processed into tiny pieces and polished to resemble pearls! It resembled snow on top when Pulla Bread is made in the winter.
See just how to create the beautiful braided loaves:
This braided bread is a staple in Finland. Slightly sweet and flavored with cardamom, it can be devoured warm or sliced when cool. The recipe makes 3 large loaves or 6 small loaves.
- 2 pkgs instant dry yeast (2 scant tablespoons)
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons warm milk
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 5 large eggs
- 8 cups all-purpose flour plus more if needed
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter melted
- Swedish Pearl Sugar
- Sliced Almonds
In a small bowl dissolve yeast in warm water; let stand 5 min. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine 2 cups of the warm milk, granulated sugar, 2 tsp salt, cardamom, 4 eggs and 4 cups flour. Add the yeast mixture and stir for 1 min.
Stir in the melted butter and add the remaining flour, about ½ cup at a time while the mixer is on low speed. Dough should pull away from the bowl when enough flour is added. Let dough knead for 5 minutes on low. Cover and let rise until double in bulk, about 1 hr.
Turn mixer on low again and knead dough for 30 seconds. Remove from bowl to a floured work surface. Divide dough into 3 balls.
Starting with one ball, divide it into 3 smaller balls and roll each into a long rope, 14-to-15-inches long. (Cut these ropes in half to make a total of 6 small loaves, or leave them long to make 3 large loaves.) Pinch the ends of the 3 ropes together and begin to braid. At the end of the braid tuck the tips under the loaf and pinch to secure. Transfer loaf to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining balls of dough.
Loosely cover loaves with greased plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size, 45 min to 1 hr. Heat oven to 375ºF.
Whisk together remaining 1 tsp salt, 1 egg and 2 tbsp milk. Brush each loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with Swedish pearl sugar and sliced almonds. Bake until deep brown and cooked through, 18 to 20 min. Cool slightly and eat warm. Bread will keep airtight for up to 3 days.
Pulla Bread is a staple in Finland. Soft and aromatic with cardamom, the loaves get a sprinkling of traditional pearl sugar and almonds to make it special.
• The Harris family makes this recipe into 6 small loaves. The perfect size for gifting. Simply divide the dough into 6 pieces instead of 3 and make the braid ropes half the length.
Recipe courtesy of The Harris Family. Food Styling Tara Teaspoon. Floral design by Emily Harris. Photography Ty LaMont Mecham