Did you know today was Darwin’s birthday (well, and Lincoln’s, but maybe we’ll give him the spotlight next year)? Well, it is, so I’m going to have to make all sorts of corny references to finch beaks and the HMS Beagle and The Origin of Species and all that jazz. I’m just warning you, friend.
Continuing with our Finland week theme, today we’ve got Finnish cardamom sweet bread, called nisua or pulla. Above you see it in cinnamon-bun form. We also made a cinnamon swirl loaf. Basically this is the doughiest, fluffiest bread in existence. Don’t believe me? Come, let’s board the HMS Pulla and sail towards the Fluffapagos Islands (swish!).
This dough is LOADED with yeast. Yeast is to this dough like finches are to the Galapagos (count it!). It’s also very very soft. You can’t really tell it what to do…based on its surroundings it just takes any shape that makes sense. Sort of like….a finch’s beak under selective pressure. No?
It rises like crazy. Like the population of finches expands during the bountiful rainy season (tired of these yet?). Rolling it into a rectangle is slightly challenging. When I was trying to make a rectangle shape, I kept making perfect circles. So then I pretended I needed it to be a circle and lo–it turned into a rectangle. Reverse psychology is foolproof with dough.
You don’t necessarily NEED to roll your dough out. Once you’ve made the dough, you have a lot of options. Because of the sugar and cardamom, this is great by itself. The traditional Finnish bread is braided and glazed with egg wash and baked until golden brown. We decided to go the cinnamon-sugar route which requires the roll out, then a layer of butter and cinnamon-sugar. Then you roll it up and you can either bake it as a loaf or cut it into little buns (or both! since this recipe makes 2 loaves). We made both, and I can’t say I prefer one over the other. One could almost say they are almost the same species, with just slight variations that suit different circumstances.
For the cinnamon buns you just cut opposing diagonals, making triangular cuts of dough. Then sit the dough upright on its fattest part and use the back of a knife to just kinda squish the top, bringing the sides together to make a pyramid. LIKE A FINCH BEAK.
These are so great for breakfast, you’ll find yourself naturally selecting them as soon as you get up. You don’t even need to put butter on them because they are so soft and doughy.
Have I exhausted all possible Charles Darwin references? It’s possible. To sum up: sweet, doughy, cinnamon-sugary. What are you waiting for? Evolution gave you opposable thumbs so you could grip knives and cut cinnamon buns. Don’t let Darwin down.
Finnish Cardamom Braids
from some ripped out magazine page my mom had
2 packages (1/4 oz each) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees F)
2 cups warm milk (110 to 115 degrees F)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
1 1/2 tsps salt
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
7 to 8 cups all-purpose flour (I used 7)
In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add milk, sugar, butter, salt, cardamom, eggs, and cups flour; beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-7 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour (we put ours in the oven with the light on). Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half.
For Braid: Divide each half into thirds. Shape each piece into a 13-inch rope. Place three ropes on a greased baking sheet. Braid ropes; pinch ends to seal and tuck under. Repeat with remaining dough.
For Cinnamon-swirl bread and buns: Roll out to a 12×18-inch rectangle (or really however big or small you want). Spread with about 1/2 stick of softened salted butter. Cover with a thick layer of cinnamon and sugar. Roll the dough up to form a log. For buns, cut pieces into triangular shapes. Stand on end on the thickest part and, using the back of a knife, press lightly on the top to form triangles.
For all: Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown (more like 20 for the buns). Remove from pans to wire racks to cool.
Yield: 2 loaves