Happy St. Lucia's Day! Celebrate With Finnish Pulla
Brioche makes me crabby. It's not the eating, the rich slightly sweet eggy dough is a pretty good mood booster but the making that's the problem. All the yummy rich ingredients, the eggs, the butter, make for the stickiest dough. Kneading something that is more adhesive than cohesive, that seems to want to glom onto your fingers more than stay in the bowl, just makes me crazy. My ordeal with brioche-like challah will fill you in on the details. So it was with a little annoyance and way too much flour that I made my second attempt at pulla bread from Finland. Looks pretty good, doesn't it? Well is isn't. The extra flour was a huge mistake; I was relatively happy kneading the controllable dough but the end result was solid. Doughy. Not light, stretchy and eggy. Normally, the lovely thing about pulla is the way the house fills with the scent of cardamom when it's baking, and of course the taste. Along with coffee and maybe some jam, it makes a lovely holiday morning breakfast, especially if your Scandinavian older sister serves it to you while wearing a crown of real candles. So it's not like you shouldn't try this. You should, really.
So, here's my do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do recipe pulled mainly from Finnish-American chef, Beatrice Ojakangas's entry in the Baking With Julia cookbook with a couple additions and changes of my own to help make this recipe workable without all the extra flour.
1 cup milk
1 tbsp dry yeast or 1 block of fresh yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp crushed cardamom seeds
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs at room temperature
4-1/2 to 5 cups flour (and NO more!)
1 stick (112 grams)
1 beaten egg plus 1 tbsp milk for glaze
Place the dry yeast in a large mixing bowl and add the 1/4 cup warm tap water. Scald the milk in a small saucepan then set aside with a food thermometer in it. Let the milk cool to 115F then pour the milk in to the yeast mixture. Whisk in the sugar, cardamom, salt and eggs. In a medium mixing bowl, place 4 cups of the flour and add the butter in small chunks. Cut the butter into the flour with a fork or rub between your fingers until the flour looks more like white cornmeal. Add 2 cups of the flour/butter and mix with a spoon until you get a uniform consistency. Continue adding the flour/butter by half cups mixing and incorporating before each new addition. Then add the next 1/2 cup to 1-1/2 cups and mix. Cover the dough and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Knead the dough for 5 minutes on a cool surface (marble is excellent for this). If you've reached 5 cups of flour and you still have a too-soft texture, refrigerate the dough for at least an hour and then try kneading it. After kneading the dough should be smooth and uniform, even satiny. Grease a mixing bowl and place the dough into it. Let it rise covered for about 1 hour or until it has doubled in volume.
Punch down the dough and separate into 3 equal pieces. Roll each out to at least 2 feet long. Braid the dough and pinch the ends together to make a wreath. Music to braid pulla dough by: Minnesota (thus probably Scandinavian) Post-Punk geniuses, Lifter Puller. Carefully lift the pulla dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet and let rise at room temperature for about 1 hour.
Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Best one egg in a small bowl and whisk in 1 tbsp milk. brush the mixture on all sides of the dough then bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve with hot morning coffee and crown on your head.