I love baking bread. Activating the yeast, preparing the warm dough, and kneading it until it's just the right sort of springy, firm consistency... it's an act that grounds me in food-making as I engage muscles and grit to put it together. I don't think there's any cooking I do that I enjoy so much.
Two days ago, I baked some Finnish Pulla for the first time since I was pregnant. This is my favorite bread recipe - it brings my grandma into my kitchen with me every time I make it, and it's always a crowd pleaser. When I got a text message on Tuesday announcing the homebirth of my Finnish friend's baby (and the boys' nanny for over a year), I immediately opened to my hand-written recipe and started in on the dough. It took about 12 hours for me to finish the whole process - the reality of making it with two toddlers under foot was pretty much as chaotic as I expected, but with three of my friends giving birth to babies in the past month, and two of them Finnish, I was determined to get it done. Sadly, one of these friends is in China right now, but the other two families got fresh sweet cardamom bread yesterday. It was a joy to put it into their hands! Here's the recipe:
Cardamom Bread - Finnish Pulla
1 package dry active yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup scalded milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 beaten eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon mace or nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup soft butter
5 1/2 - 6 cups of flour (use white, spelt, or a combination of whole wheat and white)
Soften yeast in water with a teaspoon of sugar.
Combine milk, salt, sugar, and butter in a large mixing bowl. Cool to lukewarm and stir in 2c flour. Add eggs and beat well. Stir in yeast, mace, cardamom, and remaining flour until dough forms. Turn onto a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, until a springy, firm dough forms. It will still be slightly sticky - this will lessen as the dough rises.
Clean out and oil bowl, then set dough in bowl. Oil or butter the top of the dough if desired, and cover with a damp towel. Allow dough to double in size, then punch down. Divide dough into two balls, cover and rest for 10 minutes. Divide one ball into thirds, and roll each into a strand about 12-15" long. Pinch top ends together and braid, pinching bottom ends and folding under loaf. Allow to rise to double size, then bake 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees, until top is golden brown. Brush butter on hot bread and allow to cool before slicing.
Perfect with hot coffee or toasted with butter and jam.
Some people like to frost this bread with a confectioner's sugar glaze, while others brush on an egg wash before baking. I prefer it without these, myself.
My next bread is going to be challah, I think. I would really love to be baking bread weekly, but we'll see how that goes. Do you have a favorite bread recipe you'd like to share?
Enjoy, and Happy Holidasys!