Pulla: Finnish Cardamom Raisin Yeast Bread
Meet Soile Anderson, Finnish Baker
“Baking is Happiness,” says Soile Anderson. And this means how she feels during the act of baking and the results her work has on her customers. Soile is a highly successful professional Finnish baker and caterer in Minneapolis. She immigrated to the United States over 20 years ago and carries on the baking traditions of her homeland passed on to her from her mother. Soile’s enthusiasm for her art is infectious, and watching her making a batch of yeasty pulla dough is a window into her passion. She pours a gallon of milk into a large pot and sets it on the stove, then she dashes to the refrigerator to get 4 pounds of butter, which she unwraps and puts into another pot on the stove. She rushes back to the fridge to pick up a flat of 30 eggs and cracks them open two at a time into a 30-quart mixer bowl. Then there’s another sprint to a different corner of her kitchen to fetch a generous quart of sugar, and so on, back and forth until she has everything she needs. She smiles and chatters happily as she works, and she’s not even out of breath.
Soile’s energy seems boundless. A batch of pulla dough for her means making enough for 10 to 12 dozen pulla rolls and 3 braided loaves. The rolls are so popular she makes them several times a week in her catering facility. For many years she owned Taste of Scandinavia, a tremendously successful bakery. Since selling the business recently, she’s opened the Finnish Bistro, a coffee shop featuring Finnish
and other Scandinavian baked goods. Her popular catering business, DecoCatering, has been flourishing for years.
The traditional shape is a straight braid, and Soile makes a 4-stranded one. She works with the speed of lightning, flipping and tossing two strands at a time until 5 seconds later there is a braid where none had previously existed. Sometimes Soile forms a braid into a wreath. But most often she makes individual rolls because they’re the most convenient for her customers.
Pulla: Finnish Cardamom Raisin Bread
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup salted butter (2 sticks)
- 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 1/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F.)
- Pinch sugar
- 4 large eggs warmed in their shells in warm water 5 minutes
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon regular salt
- 7 to 7 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (35 to 37 1/2 ounces)
- 3 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 1 cup dark raisins or currants
- 1 large egg lightly beaten with a pinch of salt
- 4 or 8 tablespoons cold salted butter for 16 or 32 buns
- 1/2 to 1 cup sliced almonds
- 1/4 cup crushed lump sugar or pearl sugar
- Put the milk into a medium saucepan and bring it almost to the boil over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat.
- In another medium saucepan melt the butter over low heat and set it aside to cool a bit.
- In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, warm water, and pinch of sugar. Let stand until the yeast is very bubbly, about 10 minutes.
STAND MIXER METHOD
- While the yeast proofs, beat the 4 eggs and sugar with the whip attachment of a heavy-duty mixer on medium high speed for 5 to 10 minutes, until the eggs have tripled in volume and are fluffy and almost white in color. Add the warm milk, melted butter, and yeast. Switch to the flat beater and add 4 cups of flour. Beat on low speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Switch to the dough hook and add 2 cups flour. Knead on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes. The dough will be very soft and sticky. Add the cardamom, raisins, and 1 more cup of flour (7 cups total to this point). Knead on low speed 2 to 3 minutes until the cardamom and raisins are incorporated and the dough is still soft and only slightly sticky.
- Hand Method. Beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl with a hand-held electric mixer until the eggs have tripled in volume and are fluffy and almost white in color, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the warm milk, melted butter, and yeast. With a wooden spoon, gradually stir in 4 cups of flour, then beat with the spoon for about 1 minute. Gradually stir in 2 more cups of flour and beat again for 1 to 2 minutes to make a very soft, sticky dough. Stir in the cardamom, raisins, and 1 more cup of flour. Lightly flour your work surface and scrape the dough onto it. Knead briefly, 2 to 3 minutes, just until the dough is smooth and elastic and the raisins are distributed evenly. The dough should still be slightly sticky.
- Coat a large bowl, 5- to 6-quarts, preferably with straight sides, with vegetable oil or cooking spray and transfer the dough to the bowl. Turn to coat the dough on both sides, cover the bowl tightly, and let the dough rise at room temperature until almost tripled in size, about 2 hours. (The time may be longer or shorter depending upon the temperature of your kitchen).
- Prepare the parchment sheets. If making 32 rolls, you'll need 4 parchment sheets. For 16 rolls and 1 braid, 3 sheets; for two braids, two sheets. Cut pieces of parchment to line 18 x 12 x 1-inch baking sheets or 14 x 17-inch cookie sheets. You'll need 4 baking pans if making 32 rolls. Disposable aluminum sheets are fine if you don't have four permanent pans. Line the pans with the parchment and coat lightly with cooking spray.
- Lightly flour your work surface and transfer the risen dough onto it. Flatten the dough gently with your palms to deflate it. You'll have about 4 3/4 pounds of dough. If you're using all of the dough to make pulla rolls, divide it into 32 equal portions weighing a scant 2 1/2 ounces each (67-68 grams). For 16 rolls and 1 braid, use half the dough for each.
- To shape the rolls, form the small portions of dough into balls, rounding them and tucking the sides of the balls underneath; pinch the seam firmly to seal. Cup a hand loosely over a ball of dough on your work surface and rotate your hand rapidly to shape the dough into a taut ball. The rounding and tucking helps to form a strong gluten net, giving the rolls a nice shape. Set 8 of the balls of dough, seam side down, spaced well apart on a prepared baking sheet. Cover loosely with a sheet of plastic wrap lightly coated with cooking spray, and leave the rolls at room temperature to rise until not quite doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- For one braid, divide half the dough into 3 equal portions and roll each into an 18-inch-long strand. Braid them together, pinch the ends to seal, and tuck them under the ends of the braid. Set the braid on the bias on a parchment sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap lightly coated with cooking spray. Let rise at room temperature until almost doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- About half an hour before baking, adjust two oven racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you have two ovens and four pans of rolls to bake, prepare it in the same way.
- For the topping, have the beaten egg ready. For 16 rolls, cut the 1/2 stick of butter lengthwise in half and cut each half lengthwise to make four sticks. Cut the sticks crosswise into four pieces each. For 32 rolls, cut the full stick of butter lengthwise into 4 sticks and crosswise into 8 pieces each. Omit the butter if making braids.
- For the rolls, brush each lightly with the beaten egg and push a piece of butter into the center of a risen roll, dimpling it. Grab a big pinch of sliced almonds and press the nuts onto the butter, covering the butter and some of the roll near the butter. Sprinkle each roll with about 1/2 teaspoon of crushed sugar. For braids, simply brush them with egg and sprinkle them with almonds and sugar.
- Strategy: If you have one oven and 4 pans of dough that are all ready to bake, you will have to stagger the baking. Refrigerate two pans of risen and almond-topped dough while you bake the remaining 2 pans. When the first pans come out of the oven, put in the pans from the refrigerator. You may have to adjust the baking time for the cold pans and dough.
- Put the pans in the oven. Bake the rolls about 25 minutes, until they're a rich golden brown and spring back when pressed. Reverse the sheets top to bottom and front to back once about halfway during baking to insure even browning.
- Bake the braids for about 30 minutes. Cool the breads on their baking sheets. Serve them warm or at room temperature.
- Storing. If you want to freeze baked pulla, put them on their baking sheets into the freezer after they're completely cool. When solidly frozen, transfer the rolls to heavy-duty zip-top freezer bags. Freeze for no longer than 2 weeks. Thaw the breads in their bags. To reheat them, unwrap the breads, place them on baking sheets, and pop them into a preheated 325 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes.