While I don't wish bad luck upon others, I do see some misfortune as an opportunity to make something that would bring comfort to someone. I know this will make my old Weight Watchers teacher's head explode, but food is comfort, both literally and emotionally (reason #37 why I'll never be skinny).
So when my Finnish neighbor fell and broke her hip while shoveling snow last week, my first thought was, "Oh how terrible!" That quickly jumped to "Ooh I have an excuse to make Finnish Pulla Bread!". (I know, I'm going straight to hell.)
Pulla is similar to Challa and other egg and milk-rich celebratory breads (although I'm told that Pulla is eaten frequently). It has crushed cardamom seeds mixed in the dough, which makes it unique. The recipe emphasizes using cardamom that has been freshly ground, so I broke out the mortar and pestle and ground some up. It smelled amazing, and I'm determined to put the remainder of the cardamom to good use, perhaps in an Indian-spiced rice pudding.
Anyway, this is a really easy bread to make. I've never braided a loaf into a circle before, so that was a little stressful. I wish I could tell you how it tasted, but you'd have to ask my Finnish neighbor.
This recipe is from Baking with Julia, a great book based on the PBS series where different chefs would come to Julia Child's kitchen and bake different things. It was one of my favorite shows.
Finnish Pulla Bread
1 c. milk
1 T. active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm water
1/2 c. sugar
1 t. crushed cardamom seeds (from about 7 pods) (Note: I had to crush way more than 7 to get a t. of seeds.)
1 t. salt
2 large eggs
4 1/2 to 5 c. flour
1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
Glaze: 1 large egg beaten with one T. milk
Sliced or slivered almonds for topping
Pearl sugar, for topping (Note: I used coarse sugar)
Scald milk and cool to lukewarm. In 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 c. of the flour, and beat the mixture until smooth. Beat in the butter and then add as much additional flour, 1/2 c at a time, as you can until the dough is stiff but not dry. (You can also make this dough in a mixer fitted with the dough hook. Follow the procedure for hand mixing, adding the ingredients in the same order.)
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. (Or knead in mixer about 5 minutes. Stop short of a satiny dough and finish kneading by hand to avoid overmixing.)
Shape dough into a ball and place in lightly oiled bowl, turning dough to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temp. until doubled.
Line a 14-inch pizza pan or large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Lightly oil a cook work surface.
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 (and try not to have a nervous breakdown) onto the parchment-lined pan, shaping it into a circle as you place it on the pan. Snip about 1 inch of the dough off each end of the braid and fuse the ends together, pressing and pinching them (if necessary) to fit. Roll the trimmings into a rope about a foot long and twist the rope into a bow shape. Place the bow over the seam you created when you fused the ends.
Cover the wreath with a kitchen towel and allow it to rise at room temperature until it is puffy but not doubled, about 45 minutes.
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375. Brush the egg glaze over the bread. Sprinkle the wreath with sliced almonds and pearl sugar.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes (mine baked for 30), until golden, taking care not to overbake. Transfer the loaf to a rack to cool before cutting. Contributing baker: Beatrice Ojakangas.