Fall Break food: Sweet Cardamom Bread
We recently had our mid-semester break here at Wesleyan. It’s our two-day break (plus the weekend) after a grueling week of midterms.Where a lot of students go off and visit home or friends in the Big Cities™ (i.e. New York City or Boston), I stayed on campus and worked at my campus job for all four days. It’s too short of a break to go home and I had more exams the week after anyway.
Still, that didn’t mean that my break wasn’t exciting — Veronica and I had a small bucket list of things to do, like going to our favorite pho restaurant and thrift store shopping.
One thing on our list was this Finnish cardamom bread called pulla. We first tasted it at the Wadsworth Open Market over the summer, where there was a local vendor giving out little samples. It’s slightly sweet, definitely strongly spiced with cardamom, and had a bit of almond-fruit paste interwoven in the middle.
Our version is a little more plain, though just as tasty. We opted for a more traditional recipe without the fruit paste and for a bigger loaf as well. These loaves came out with a gentle but firm cardamom kick and a gently sweet body. I never thought I’d enjoy cardamom, since I’m not the biggest fan of chai tea and its various concoctions. I had several of my student coworkers try a piece of pulla out and all of them were delightfully surprised by the cardamom. Some proclaimed that the bread smelled stronger that it tasted but it was a good thing, since too much spice can be a little distracting.
Our loaves are braided but this recipe is pretty versatile. You could make lots of little buns for a gathering or many smaller loaves if you are looking to give them away as gifts.
If you’re looking for a low-key way to spend your afternoon or evening, try making some bread with a friend or two. It’ll take some work (kneading, cleaning up, dividing up the spoils), but it’s a good bonding activity as well. The hardest part might be whether you should save some for breakfast or just eat it all while it’s warm.
Sweet Cardamom Bread
(adapted from SAVEUR, for those without stand-mixers)
Makes two ~12-16in loaves
1 ⅓ cups milk, heated to 115° (think just a little warmer than a hot shower)
⅔ cup white sugar, plus more for sprinkling
4 teaspoons ground cardamom, divided (that’s right, four!)
2 ¼-oz. packages active dry yeast
3 eggs, lightly beaten
6 ½ cups flour, plus more for kneading as necessary
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes, at room temperature
1 tablespoon heavy cream (or milk!)
1 egg yolk
Sliced or chopped almonds, for garnish (optional)
Doing it by hand?
With a small amount of vegetable oil, grease a designated bread bowl (ha!). If you live in a cold and/or drafty house, turn on oven to about 300 degrees. Exact temperatures don’t matter, since you’ll only run it for a few minutes, enough to get it to just above room temperature. Turn off and shut oven once finished.
In a bowl, whisk together the warmed milk, ⅔ cup white sugar, 3 teaspoons ground cardamom, and yeast. Let sit in a non-drafty part of your kitchen for about 10 minutes, until foamy. Whisk in the 3 eggs. Add about 4 cups of flour and the salt at first. With some arm power, stir/mix/whack the dough until cohesive and keep adding the rest of the flour in increments until the dough pulls away from the bowl but is still pretty soft.
On a well floured counter, knead in cubes of the butter in batches. Knead the dough until the batch of butter is well incorporated, about 3-4 minutes. After the last cubes of butter are in, knead for about 4 more minutes. Transfer to the prepared bowl and cover with a plate or plastic wrap. Place the dough in the warmed-oven and let rise for an hour, until doubled. Punch down dough after this first rise, reform into a ball, and then let sit once more for about 30 minutes.
Using a stand mixer?
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine milk, sugar, 3 tsp. cardamom, and yeast; stir together and let sit until foamy, 10 minutes. Add eggs; mix to combine. Add flour and salt; mix until a dough forms. Replace paddle with hook attachment; knead dough on medium speed for 2 minutes. While kneading, slowly add butter in batches, mixing until incorporated before adding next batch, 3-4 minutes; continue kneading for 4 minutes more after last of butter is added. Transfer dough to a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down dough; cover again with plastic wrap and let sit until fully risen, 30 minutes.
Either way, you should get this:
Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit after you take out your risen dough. Transfer dough to a work surface and divide into 2 equal pieces. Set 1 piece aside and divide other piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each portion between your palms and work surface to create a 16″ rope. Braid ropes together to form a loaf, following the instructions below. Transfer loaf to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet.
Repeat with second dough piece. Or if you have a friend and space, you could do both loaves simultaneously!
Cover loaves with plastic wrap and let sit until slightly puffed up, about 20 minutes.
Whisk together remaining 1 teaspoon cardamom, cream or milk, and egg yolk in a small bowl; brush over loaves. Sprinkle each loaf with sugar and almonds (if using); bake until golden brown, 20–25 minutes. Transfer to a rack; let cool 10 minutes before serving.
Slice, add a dab of butter if you wish, and munch with a hot cup of tea.