Baking Finnish Pulla Bread

We enjoy the legacy of homemade bread at our house. My mother has baked bread throughout her life. Her fresh-baked honey wheat bread with butter and honey on top was as good a snack as cookies. The smell alone was reason enough to carry forward the tradition and skills she gave me. When I married, my mother-in-law taught me how to make her heritage bread—Finnish pulla. Her mother gave her the recipe and taught her to make it, and some day I hope my girls will carry the tradition of bread making to their homes. Now, I combine both our mothers’ arts to elevate our everyday routines. We enjoy a variety of breads throughout the week, and pulla is reserved for Sunday mornings.

Finnish Pulla Bread

1 very full tablespoon active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
2 cups lukewarm milk (scalded and cooled to lukewarm)
1 cup granulated sugar (up to ½ cup more for sweeter bread)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
3 eggs, beaten
½ cup margarine or butter, softened to nearly melted
8-9 cups all purpose flour
1 whole egg, beaten and mixed with a little water
Swedish pearl sugar (available at IKEA, King Arthur Flour)

In a large bread bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water (105 – 115 degrees F). Add milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, and eggs to yeast mixture. Add 2 cups of flour. Beat with a wooden spoon or electric hand mixer until smooth. Add 3 cups more flour, beating until smooth.

Add the softened margarine or butter, and mix in until smooth. Stir in the remaining flour, ½ cup at a time until dough forms. Knead in additional flour on a floured surface until it is firm and not too sticky.

Wash and oil bread bowl. Put dough in the bowl and turn greased side up. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Let rise in a warm space for 2 or more hours, or until double in bulk.

Divide dough on lightly floured work surface into four equal sections. Each section will make one loaf.

Take one of these four sections and divide it into three equal sections. Make it into three long strands of dough by rolling it flat against your palms on the work surface.

Lay the strands next to each other and pinch ends together at the top. Tuck pinched end under.

Braid the three strands to the bottom.

Pinch the bottom ends together and tuck neatly underneath.

Place first braided loaf on a large rectangular greased baking sheet. Repeat with three other sections, putting two loaves on each of the two baking sheets.

Cover the four loaves loosely with plastic wrap or a towel for about 30 minutes until puffy. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Bake for 20-23 minutes, depending on your oven. Loaves should be darker brown than you expect and sound hollow when tapped. (Note: I have a convection oven and bake the loaves all four at a time. If you do not have a convection oven, bake two loaves at a time.)

While loaves are still on baking sheet, brush with beaten egg, on one part of the loaf at a time. Immediately sprinkle with pearl sugar or granulated sugar and sliced almonds while still wet.

(The hot loaves seem to cook the egg, and I use very little, but if you would rather, you can stick it back in the oven for a minute.)

Transfer loaves carefully to cooling racks. Wrap in aluminum foil. Serve, share or freeze until later use. (Frozen loaves may be defrosted on the counter overnight for breakfast.)

Slice, serve, and enjoy. Butter is not necessary when serving, but day-old pulla—if there ever is any—is nice lightly toasted and spread with butter.

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4 Comments

  1. ph
    Apr 19, 2008

    Of course, toasting, putting peanut butter on it, or doing anything except dipping it in your hot beverage of choice (hot chocolate for us), is considered heresy.

    But I do recommend it with creamy peanut butter, or lightly toasted with butter…even untoasted with butter and a thin slice of swiss cheese.

  2. Rachel Corbett
    Apr 21, 2008

    Yummy, I need to try that one.

  3. Anna Butler
    Apr 21, 2008

    Mom has made bread with me a dozen times, and yet I’m still afraid to do it myself! Thanks for the step-by-step with pictures! You may have given me the courage to try it alone. (Besides, I’m taking up all of mom’s free time with babysitting, so she hasn’t made any for us in ages!)

  4. Alison
    Apr 21, 2008

    Certainly there is a connection between pulla and challah – the traditional braided loaves of bread used on the Jewish Sabbath. Except for the cardemom, the ingrediants are the same, and the braiding is the same. Instead of sugar or almonds on top, we often top with poppy seeds or sesame seeds.
    Of course I remember sitting in your kitchen 20 years ago smothering your mother’s bread with honey and butter. You were the only ones back then that I knew with a bread machine! 🙂

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