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How To Make Pulla (Finnish Cardamom Bread)

Recipe At-A-Glance
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Holiday Recipe3 hours, 30 min
In Scandinavia, there is a tradition of baking a cardamom-filled bread called pulla. Find out how to make this comforting Finnish cardamom bread at home!
Top view of two braided loaves of finnish cardamom bread.

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I was very fortunate to marry into a Finnish-Canadian family, and we’ve adopted many of my husband’s family’s Finlander traditions in our home—and baking fresh loaves of pulla at Christmas is a big one!

Pulla (or nisu—a name used less frequently) is a Finnish cardamom bread (also known as just “coffee bread” up in the Finnish immigrant communities in Canada) that is lightly sweet, studded with almonds and cranberries or raisins, and flavored with rich, spicy cardamom. It’s truly perfect sliced thickly, toasted, and served fireside with a slather of salted butter and a—non-negotiable—cup of strong coffee.

While I wouldn’t consider pulla a beginner’s bread recipe, it is an easy bake if you have even just a basic knowledge of working with yeast breads—and trust me, it’s worth the time. Let’s get baking!

A hand holds up two torn pieces of finnish cardamom bread.

What is pulla?

The word “pulla” encompasses all kinds of sweet breads and rolls in Finnish cuisine—the common factor being a lightly sweetened yeast bread flavored with cardamom.

We’re using “pulla” here though to refer to the most traditional of the large braided loaves (pitko)—a soft, braided loaf of white yeast bread that is flavored with cardamom and studded with cranberries or raisins and almonds.

That being said, there are as many different variations on pulla as there are Finn families! So while this is the kind of coffee bread we eat in my family, you might want to do some research on traditional recipes and do some experimentation.

Close view of the perfectly browned top of a braided loaf of bread with sliced almonds.

What kind of bread is pulla?

Pulla is a white flour yeast bread that is made using an enriched brioche-style dough. Enriching a dough means that you add fat to the dough (butter, in this case), which results in a super soft interior and a tender crumb. It is lightly sweetened—making it perfect for serving alongside coffee in the morning for breakfast or as an afternoon pick-me-up.

Where did pulla originate?

Cardamom breads are common in many cultures, but pulla itself originates from Finland. It is also common in areas throughout the globe with heavy Finnish immigrant populations, like Northwestern Ontario (where my husband is from).

Close view of the soft interior of a loaf of pulla bread.

What do I need to make Finnish cardamom bread?

Most of the ingredients are exactly what you’d expect to need for a rich bread: active dry yeast, whole milk, soft butter, eggs, flour, and salt. There’s no need for bread flour or another specialty flour—we use unbleached all-purpose flour.

In addition to those basic bread ingredients, you’ll also need:

  • Sugar—Our family recipe calls for superfine sugar (which is about halfway between granulated sugar and powdered sugar), and while that definitely provides the best results, we’ve also had fine luck making the recipe with regular ol’ granulated sugar.
  • Cardamom—This provides the signature flavor of pulla! For the best, most complex flavor, we highly recommend crushing whole cardamom pods yourself just before mixing them into the dough. You can grid the cardamom seeds with a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. Cardamom loses its flavor and scent very quickly once ground, so the ground cardamom in the jars at the store just won’t do.
  • Raisins (or dried cranberries) and blanched almonds for texture and flavor—These are technically optional, but they are such a wonderful addition, we recommend you toss them in!

What kind of yeast do I need?

We just use regular active dry yeast here. Our original family recipe calls for fresh wild yeast (similar to a sourdough starter), but we adjusted this recipe years ago to use dried yeast to make it more convenient for us.

Birdseye view of a braided loaf of scandanavian pulla.

Teach me how to make pulla!

If you’re already familiar with making bread, you’ll be well prepared to make pulla!

 

  1. Proof the yeast in warm milk. Make sure you use warm, but not hot, milk. Set the mixture aside for about five minutes to proof, or activate, the yeast. By then, the mixture should look foamy like the head of a beer—that’s when your yeast is ready!
  2. Combine the dry ingredients. Whisk together the flour, sugar, cardamom, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Add in the butter, eggs, raisins, and almonds. Mix all these into the yeast mixture.
  4. Mix it all together. Mix the dry ingredients into the yeast mixture until it just comes together.
  5. Knead it! Knead on a floured surface for about 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.
  6. First rise. Return the dough to its mixing bowl, and cover with a clean tea towel. Set in a warm spot to rise. After about an hour, the dough should be about doubled in size.
  7. Second rise. Punch the dough down, and then cover it again and let it have another short rise.
  8. Braid the bread. Traditional Finnish pulla is presented in braided loaves. It’s just like braiding hair! Easy.
  9. Garnish and bake. Set the loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, allow the bread to rise for another 30 minutes, and then brush with beaten egg. Garnish with almonds, and bake until golden.

How do you braid Finnish cardamom bread?

If you can braid hair, you can braid pulla! Each loaf gets first formed into a long rectangle, and then you cut the rectangle into three strips. Braid the three strips together, and then tuck under both ends and squeeze to seal. Done!

Overhead of a single braided loaf of pulla bread on a white linen.

How do you eat pulla?

Pulla is great fresh out of the oven, but it really shines when served sliced, toasted, and buttered (with a mug of strong, hot coffee).

For those feeling adventurous, in a true North American immigrant mash-up, my husband’s Finnish-Canadian family eats their pulla sliced and topped with a big slather of Cheez Whiz! Whatever floats your boat.

 
Top view of two braided loaves of finnish cardamom bread.

Finnish Pulla Bread Recipe

Yield: 2 large loaves—about 16 servings each
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes

In Scandinavia, there is a tradition of baking a cardamom-filled bread called pulla. Find out how to make this comforting Finnish cardamom bread at home!

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup raisins or dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet or 1 ounce) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup lukewarm whole milk
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour, sifted (plus more for forming the loaf)
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar or granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon dried cardamom seeds, crushed into a fine powder in a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder
  • 7 tablespoons softened butter, cut into 1/2” chunks
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten (plus another for brushing)
  • 1 cup blanched slivered or sliced almonds, chopped (plus more whole for sprinkling on top)

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, combine the raisins or dried cranberries and the boiling water. Set aside to plump the dried fruit for about 5 minutes. Strain the dried fruit, reserving the water.
  2. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the yeast and milk. Set the mixture aside for about five minutes to proof, or activate, the yeast. The mixture should look foamy like the head of a beer.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and ground cardamom. Whisk until well combined
  4. Add in the butter, eggs, raisins or cranberries, and almonds to the yeast mixture.
  5. Then, add in the dry ingredients and mix up until it just comes together. If the dough seems too dry, add in a tablespoon at a time of the dried fruit water until the dough comes together.
  6. If making the bread by hand, knead the dough on a well-floured surface for 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. If making the bread in a stand mixer, turn speed to medium-low, and knead for 3 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  7. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in volume (around an hour in most cases, but can vary based on the warmth of your rising spot).
  8. Punch down the dough, cover it again, and let it rise for a short 30 minute rise until just puffy. 
  9. On a floured surface, divide the dough into equal halves. Form one half into a large rectangular shape—about 1-2” thick. Cut the rectangle into three long strips—keeping the top of the rectangle connected. Braid the three strips together, folding under the end and pressing it together to seal. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
  10. Place both loaves on a large baking sheet covered in parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Cover again with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray, and let rise until quite puffy (about 30-45 minutes in my kitchen, but can vary based on the warmth of your rising spot).
  11. Toward the end of the rise time, preheat the oven to 400°F.
  12. Brush the loaves with beaten egg, and sprinkle with almonds. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Notes

Since this is an enriched dough with added fruit and nuts, rise times might be longer than what you’d be used to with straight yeast bread. No worries if it’s taking a while to puff up!

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 32 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 147Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 19mgSodium: 80mgCarbohydrates: 22gFiber: 1gSugar: 6gProtein: 4g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

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Hello. My name is Cassie, and I’m a healthy home cooking expert.

I'm a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and I've been developing healthy recipes professionally for over 15 years. Food is my love language, and my kitchen tips and nourishing recipes are my love letter to you!

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