Traditional Finnish Cardamom Bread Recipe (Pulla)
Pulla is a traditional Finnish cardamom bread. The braided look of this sweet bread recipe makes a stunning treat for the holidays, whether for breakfast or for afternoon tea. The delightful cardamom scent really warms the soul during the winter holidays.
My mother-in-law, Diane, has a Scandinavian heritage. She was born in the United States but moved to Norway with her family so her father, a mason, could help build church buildings. From there she volunteered to serve in Finland as a voluntary missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 2 years when she was 19 years old in the 1960s.
She picked up several Finnish recipes from the the people she met while serving. She often made this spectacular sweet Finnish cardamom bread called “Pulla” (pronounced POOL-la) at Christmastime. With some slight tweaks, this is one of her cherished recipes that she has passed to her children, including my husband.
We recently discovered that at Christmastime, my in-laws continue the tradition of baking braided Pulla loaves, and have started sharing pictures of their creations with each other. We all live far from each other, so we don’t get to see each other often. But this family Christmas food is one way to connect us and refresh memories.
If you are looking for a Christmas baking idea, or an impressive holiday sweet bread recipe to wow your family, don’t miss out on this traditional Finnish cardamom bread recipe. It’s worth the effort – and it isn’t that difficult.
If you enjoy Finnish baked goods, check out my Finnish blueberry pie recipe called Mustikkapiirakka. It is a creamy blueberry pie and so easy to make.
What is Pulla?
Pulla (or Nisu) is a cardamom-spiced braided sweet bread that is popular in Finland. It is like cross between a buttery Brioche and a braided Challa. It is typically served all year round with coffee or tea. Nearby Scandinavian countries, Sweden for example, also enjoy this cardamom bread around Christmas.
This traditional Finnish holiday loaf is delicious and the smell from the fresh cardamom is heavenly. Especially when this beautiful braided loaf is topped with pearl sugar, this rich yeast bread is a show stopper for holiday gatherings.
Serve with your favorite hot beverage. I enjoyed this Pulla bread with hot chocolate made with my best homemade hot chocolate mix recipe. So delicious together!
Cardamom in Scandinavian Baking:
It is said that cardamom is Scandinavia’s favorite spice. You will find it many sweet breads, cakes, cookies, and pastries in Finland and Scandinavian countries.
Cardamom is actually native to India, so it is far from being an indigenous Nordic ingredient. It is believed that Vikings encountered this spice while trading with the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) about 1,000 years ago.
Over the years, cardamom has become a staple in the Scandinavian kitchen, so much so that Nordic countries make up one of the most significant markets for cardamom export.
How is this Pulla recipe different?
The Pulla recipe I got from my mother-in-law has a unique method for preparing the bread dough. Most Pulla recipes call for either melted butter or softened butter to be added to the dough in the middle of kneading process.
In contrast, her recipe starts with creaming the butter and eggs together first, then adding flour later – just like making cookie dough. I really like the outcome of this recipe. The bread has a certain heft to it, but still maintains an unbelievably soft, light, and fluffy texture.
This recipe includes raisins, which add a lovely bite to the bread. You can omit the raisins if you don’t care for them.
I made a couple of additional changes to the original recipe, including with respect to the type of yeast and the amount of cardamom. I always use instant yeast for my sweet bread recipes. With instant yeast, you can mix it with flour directly without proofing it in advance. If you are using active dry yeast, you will need to proof the yeast with a little amount of milk before adding it to the rest of wet ingredients.
The original recipe also calls for 3 tablespoons of cardamom to go with 8 cups of flour, which I think it is too much for me. But if you love the scent of cardamom and don’t mind the intense taste of it, use it all.
What You’ll Need:
- butter – softened unsalted butter
- eggs – room temperature
- milk – heated to lukewarm (If milk is too cold, it will curdle the butter. If too hot, it will kill the yeast.)
- instant yeast – no need to proof (add with flour)
- cardamom – freshly ground or store-bought spice
- all-purpose flour
- raisin – optional
Make sure the milk is heated to lukewarm and the rest ingredients are at room temperature to avoid the curdling when the milk is added to the butter mixture.
I like to grind my own cardamom from the pods. Prepared spice in jars generally loses its fragrance over time. Freshly ground cardamom has a stronger fragrance, so you won’t need as much as you would with jarred cardamom. Grinding cardamom pods is easy using a mortar and pestle.
How to make Finnish cardamom bread
Step 1: Ground cardamom pods (or use jarred ground cardamom)
Put cardamom pods in the mortar and pound them a few times to separate the skin from the seeds. Pick out and discard the skin.
Continue pounding the seeds with the pestle until they are finely grounded. Set 2 teaspoons of ground cardamom aside for later.
Step 2: Prepare the dough
In a stand mixer with flat attachment, or in a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Then mix in milk, yeast, salt, and cardamom.
Gradually add 7 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing until smooth, on medium low speed, about 4-5 minutes. Add the raisins and the last 1 cup of flour. Change the flat attachment to a dough hook.
Continue kneading the dough for 2-3 minutes over low speed until the dough frees itself from the sides of bowl.
Step 3: First rise
Cover the dough and let it rise until double in volume, about 1-2 hours. Punch down. This recipe makes 2 extra-large loaves.
Divide the dough in half. Then, divide each half into equal pieces depending on how many braids you desire (3 is too simple and 5 is a bit complicated, so I suggest 4).
Step 4: Braiding (4 strands pulla)
Roll each piece into long ropes about 1 1/2-inches thick (about 20 inch long). Braid the ropes loosely using 4 strands technique – watch the tutorial video for braiding. Tuck under the ends.
Step 5: Second rise
Place the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the loaves with the egg wash, and let rise again until nearly doubled, about 30-45 minutes.
Step 6: Egg wash, pearl sugar, and bake
Brush the loaves with egg wash again and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Place in a preheated 375˚F degree oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
Take the loaves out of the oven and let them cool for 10 minutes. This bread is best served warm with a slather of butter. To cool, transfer the loaves onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
How to store Pulla
Once completely cooled, store in a plastic bag. Pulla will stay fresh at room temperature up to 3 days. When it starts to go stale after that, pulla makes a great French toast! Try this orange French toast recipe with this pulla.
Pulla freezes well. Put sliced Pulla bread in a zip bag and freeze up to 3 months.
Traditional Cardamom Bread Recipe Video (Full Version)
Need more sweet treats?
Check out my sweet bread recipes for ideas. Some of my favorites are;
Traditional Finnish Cardamom Bread Recipe (Pulla)
- 30 cardamom pods, or 1 tbsp jarred ground cardamom
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 eggs, room temperature
- 2 cup warm milk
- 4 tsp instant yeast
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 8 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup raisin, optional
- 4 tbsp pearl sugar
For freshly ground cardamom
- Put cardamom pods in the mortar and pound them a few times to separate the skin from the seeds. Pick out and discard the skin. Continue pounding the seeds with the pestle until they are finely grounded. Set 2 teaspoons of freshly ground cardamom aside for later.
To Prepare the Pulla dough
- In a stand mixer with flat attachment, or in a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Then mix in milk, yeast, salt, and cardamom.
- Gradually add 7 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing until smooth, on medium low speed, about 4-5 minutes. Add the raisins and the last 1 cup of flour. Change the flat attachment to a dough hook. Continue kneading the dough for 2-3 minutes over low speed until the dough frees itself from the sides of bowl.
- Cover the dough and let it rise until double in volume, about 1-2 hours. Punch down. This recipe makes 2 extra-large loaves.
Braiding with 4 strands
- Divide the dough in half. Then, divide each half into equal pieces depending on how many strands you desire (3 is too simple and 5 is a bit complicated, so I prefer 4 strands).
- Roll each piece into long ropes about 1 1/2-inches thick (about 20 inch long). Braid the ropes loosely using 4 strands technique – watch the tutorial video for this. Tuck under the ends.
- Place the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the loaves with the egg wash, and let rise again until nearly doubled, about 30-45 minutes.
Baking Pulla loaves
- Brush the loaves with egg wash again and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Place in a preheated 375˚F degree oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Take the loaves out of the oven and let them cool for 10 minutes.
- This bread is best served warm with a slather of butter. To cool, transfer the loaves onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
I love non-Finns making pulla. We make a similar pulla recipe with no raisins. So good with a cup of coffee. Just thought you’d like an historical point. The Ugric-Finns were nomadic, maybe originally from the Ural river valleys. Some settled Finland. Others went to Hungary and still other to India. So it’s not a surprise Finns love cardamom. Must be in their DNA.
Very nice to see Finnish pulla in this blog, where I find great Korean recipes very often!
This is the first time I have ever used yeast. It turned out really well! The recipe and video were very helpful for a beginner and the bread tastes amazing. My kids and husband loved it and the bread was gone in a day!
I am so happy that you made my Pulla recipe and glad that your family loved it. Thanks for sharing your experience and leaving a comment. I appreciate it.
Forgot to rate.
Made 1/2 of this recipe without a mixer and it turned out great. Light, fluffy and delicious. 1/2 recipe made a large braided loaf and 6 small cinnamon rolls.
I grew up with pulla and in the 1950s was cooked in a wood stove oven, bread along with pulla and cinnimon buns was a weekly thing in our home and at grammas , not far away… I make pulla several times a year and wish I had time to make it more often, soon one day that will come..
I use a similar receipe which is fairly standard and grind cardamon pods if available as it has better flavor, I dont use raisins as was not used in pulla often, love this bread …..
I can only imagine how good homemade pulla baked in a wood stove would be. What a sweet memory of this amazing bread! Thanks for your comment.
I love Nordic baked goods for their use of cardamom – one of my favourite spices. It’s so cozy and festive in my book. And this bread look and sounds splendid!
Holly thanks for documenting this family holiday tradition. Over the years I’ve ran into a few neighbors, classmates, etc from Finland. I’ve made this bread for them and they have always been so shocked to receive a gift that reminded them of home in appearance and taste. Some of them have mentioned that their families turned the braid into a wreath so I’ve done that as well.