Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Finnish-ing the Year

After arriving home at 5pm New Year's Eve, I didn't feel like heading out into the cold. Curling up on the couch with my roommate, cats, and her friends to ring in 2014 with Duck Soup and Junior's cheesecake seemed just right. And since I wasn't braving the crowds, I decided that I had enough time to mix, knead and braid a Finnish Pulla.

Finnish Pulla is a delightful yeasted bread for winter. It is packed with cardamom, which tastes great on its own or paired with soup. The dough is similar to challah and is traditionally braided in a ring, so half the fun of the bread is presentation. Thus, perfect for showing off for company!

Finnish Pulla (Cardamom bread) a la Baking with Julia

1 cup milk
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 110 F)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp crushed cardamom seeds (about 7 pods worth)
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature
4.5 to 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, melted

1 large egg beaten with 1 Tbsp milk, for glaze
Sliced or slivered almonds, for topping

Put the milk in a small saucepan and scald it (heat it until a ring of small bubbles is visible around the sides of the pan). Remove the pan from the heat and cool the milk to a temperature of
between 105 and 115 F.

In a large bowl, whisk the yeast into the warm water. Set aside for 5 minutes, or until the yeast has
dissolved and is creamy. Whisk in the milk, sugar, cardamom, salt, and eggs. Switch to a wooden spoon, add 2 cups of the flour, and beat the mixture until smooth. Beat in the butter and then add as much additional flour, half cup at a time, as you can until the dough is stiff but not dry. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until it is smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes.

First Rise: Shape the dough into a ball. Place it in a lightly greased bowl, turn it around in the bowl to
grease the top, and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature until
it doubles in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Lightly oil a cool work surface for shaping the dough. Turn the dough out onto the oiled surface and knead it lightly and briefly, just to deflate it and release the air. Divide the dough into thirds and roll each third into a rope about 36 inches long. Braid the three strands, braiding as far down to the bottom of the strands as you can. Lift the long braid onto the parchment-lined pan, shaping it into a circle as you place it on the pan. Snip about 1 inch of dough off each end of the braid and fuse the ends together, pressing and pinching them together
Second Rise: Cover the wreath with a kitchen towel and allow it to rise at room temperature until it
is puff y but not doubled, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to
375 F.

Brush the egg glaze over the bread. Sprinkle the wreath with sliced almonds or pearl sugar for an extra treat. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden, taking care not to overbake the wreath. Transfer the loaf to a rack to cool to room temperature before cutting.

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