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Cardamom Bread, Pulla Pitko, Nisu, Vetebröd, Kardemummabullar, Julekake…

December 18, 2010

Don’t let the long list of photos discourage you! This slightly sweet, brilliantly aromatic bread is deceptively easy to make.  I promise first time bread makers will enjoy success with this ten step recipe made of only seven ingredients.

This bread is a ubiquitous Scandinavian holiday treat, but can be made year round to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.  In Finland, this bread is known as Pulla or sometimes Nisu depending on the region and often formed into pitko, a braid shaped loaf.  In Sweden, this bread may be referred to simply as Vetebröd or specifically as Kardemummabullar (bullar for buns) or Kardemummabröd (bröd for bread loaf).  In Norway, this bread is called Julekake (direct translation yule cake) and is almost always made with raisins.

The whole bread making process takes about four hours, but only about an hour of actual work.  The time line breaks into an initial nearly one hour of work, two hours for the dough to rise, then about 10 minutes of work, 20 more minutes of rising and then 20-30 minutes in the oven.  During the two hour rising period, you are free to do as you please, maybe do some chores, get groceries, watch a movie, have a meal, or even take a nap, just remember to put a timer on.


5 cups flour

1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup sugar, plus one spoonful for glaze

1/4 cup butter

2 eggs

2 teaspoons cardamom, preferably seeds but may substitute powder if desperate

4 1/2 teaspoons yeast (or 2 packets)

Makes 2 loaves or 24 buns.

Let’s start with the cardamom seeds.  You can substitute powdered cardamom if absolutely necessary, but using crushed seeds will give a more authentic appearance and taste to the bread.  It is absolutely worth the search for seeds.  I was not able to find them at any grocery store in town, but I was able to find them at my favorite local organic grocer where they specialize in spices, aptly named Herb & Spice.  Thank goodness for Herb & Spice, they always have what I’m looking for!

Crack your cardamom seeds anyway you can.  I placed 2 teaspoons of seeds in a folded piece of parchment, but a plastic lunch baggie works too, and then I used a hammer on them.  This works great, but I am curious as to whether a mortar and pestle would do the trick as well.  I am also tempted to try throwing the seeds in a pepper grinder…

Here is what the crushed cardamom seeds should look like.

Now to start the bread.  Timing is a bit important, as yeast only survives for a few hours and you want it to be as happy as possible so your bread comes out fluffy.  So don’t plan to start this recipe and then stop halfway through and try to pick it up the next day.  You need a somewhat undisturbed four hour window to complete the process.

Yeast is happiest when it is warm, but not too warm!  Heat 1 1/2 cups of milk to a little over lukewarm.  I put my milk in the microwave for 30 seconds or 1 minute.  I like to use a glass dish to maintain the convenience of using the microwave or the oven.

Add at least 1/2 cup of sugar.  More is okay if you have a sweet tooth.  Sugar is yeast’s favorite food.

Add the 2 teaspoons of previously cracked cardamom seeds.

Stir to dissolve the sugar.  Stir with a big wooden spoon if you have one.  Wooden spoons are nice because they are antibacterial, strong, clean easily and won’t react with anything.

Add 4 1/2 teaspoons or 2 packets of yeast to your slightly warm, sugary milk.  Your yeast is going to be very happy!

Stir gently to dissolve the yeast.

Beat one egg, add to the mixture and stir gently.

Add the flour, starting with about 3 cups worth.

After the 3 cups of flour are mixed in with a spoon, you will have to start using your hands to knead in the last 2 cups.  Kneading takes a bit of energy.  Just keep pressing the dough down as hard as you can, then folding in half and pressing down as hard as you can over and over again until the dough is more elastic than crumbly.

Once your dough is well kneaded, melt 1/4 cup of butter and pour over the dough. I melted in mine in the microwave.  This is a good time to turn on your oven to 200 degrees.  You want to preheat the oven to 200 degrees and then turn it off.  This is where your bread is going to rise for the next two hours.

Knead some more to integrate all the melted butter.  This step may also help integrate the last of the flour if you are having a hard time kneading, as I do.  I’m a weakling.  That’s fine.

You should end up with a nice ball of elastic-y dough that looks like it will barely make one loaf of bread.

Hopefully by now, your oven is preheated to 200 degrees.  Turn the oven off.  Very important.  You don’t want to upset the yeast.  You just want to keep it from getting the chills.  The oven should be little more than lukewarm.  Leave the glass dish in your unheated oven for about two hours.  Or you can take it out a little earlier if easier for you, let’s say 1 1/2 hours, but then you should try to make up that 1/2 hour on the other side of the next step before baking.  After two hours, your ball of dough should be giant!  Now you can see it will make two loaves.

Punch down into the ball of dough and knead a few more times.  It will deflate slightly when you punch it down in the middle.  Not to worry, it will rise again!  To make braided pulla, cut the dough in half for your two loaves, then cut each half in three.  Don’t worry about getting it even.  It’s almost easier if they aren’t.

For braided pulla, roll each third (or really sixth for two loaves worth) into long strands.  This does not have the be perfect.

Braid three strands together to form a loaf shape.

Braid both loaves.  Place on parchment or silicon mats on a cookie sheet.  Let sit for about 20 minutes to continue rising.  Or add up to half an hour to that if you interrupted the rise earlier in the process.  Don’t let it sit for longer though because it will start to deflate as the yeast dies (remember they only live for a few hours) and then the bread will end up small and tough.

I also like to make pull-a-way buns!  Divide your dough in half (as though you are making two loaves).  Each half will make 12 buns.  I divide the half of dough into 12 pieces, break each piece into three and place them into a muffin tin in those sets of three.  When they are done baking, they will fill out the rest of the tin and look like round buns, but they will easily pull-a-way into three!  Fun for everyone!

To glaze your cardamom bread, beat an egg and brush on right before baking.  Sprinkle with a spoonful of sugar, or any topping you prefer, such as sliced almonds.  Glazing is an essential step for all cardamom breads in every region, whether you call it Pulla, Nisu, Vetebröd, Kardemummabullar, Julekake or something else.  The glaze turns the bread into a shining work of art.

Here are two pulla pitko with egg glaze and a sprinkle of sugar.

Bake loaves or buns for 20-30 minutes at 375 degrees.  These loaves are slightly over done.  Bread browns easily, so keep an eye on it.  When you are able to stick a tooth pick in the bread and have it come out clean, the bread is done.

A few pull-a-away buns from an also slightly over done and under kneaded batch.  Remember: never worry about perfection, the bread will taste the same no matter how it turns out!  Just have fun.

Cardamom bread, butter optional.  (Those who know me well know this is a giant compliment to cardamom bread!  I am a butter hound!)

Tea anyone?  Do you know of any other names cardamom bread is known as?  Jump up.


From → Breakfast, Dessert

  1. thank you for this. I remembered it from years ago and
    would love to make it. you explain it very well.

  2. My family just calls it Swedish coffee bread, since we eat
    it on Christmas morning with coffee. We loop the braids around into
    a wreath (the center gets nice and gooey), and then decorate with
    an almond glaze and candied cherries for Christmasy cheer. We cut
    it into wedges to eat. My recipe is slightly different (same gist,
    though), so that each batch makes four loaves, and we generally do
    2-3 batches so there’s plenty to give to friends/neighbors. Also, I
    use a kitchenaid mixer for forming the dough, and a coffee grinder
    for the cardamom. (It’s an old cast-off grinder – at this point
    only used for spices. Takes seconds, but still gives the kitchen
    that delicious cardamom smell…)

    • A for-spices-only coffee grinder, how smart! I knew there had to be a better alternative to a hammer, smiles! Although it gets all the extra holiday angst out, giggles!

  3. p.s. Finished breads:

    • Everybody simply must look at the photo of Kate’s bread! So absolutely Christmas, I’ll have to use this idea for next year. Love the shoes as well by the way!

  4. SISU gal permalink

    Great instructions, *very* nice photos, exactly as it should look. I’m offering a slightly different procedure taught to us by my grandmother, who immigrated from Finland in the early 1900’s. She made pulla all the time, to first have with breakfast — and as long as it would last that day — though I never recall a time when it was not available. As you noted, the whole rather than powdered cardamon much more desirable. I use a deep mortar and pestle to crack and only slightly break up the cardamon seeds; that aroma is one of my oldest olfactory memories! I find that gives the bread a more piquant flavor and aroma than finely ground. I also put a bit more in than called for in the recipe.

    Start with a generous cup of sugar, beaten with two eggs and the cardamon (I must confess that I too have come to use my stand mixer with a dough hook. I feel my grandmother and mother looking askance. But since it’s much easier, it means I make it more often — a good tradeoff, I think.

    Warm the milk to melt the butter, and proof the yeast in some warm water (I try to use cake yeast rather than powdered if I can get it). I was taught to use the inside of my wrist to check the water, as if testing the temperature of a baby’s bottle. If you burn the yeast, as my sister and I did the first time we made it on our own, you will know it! Awful smell. Whole Foods’ bakery used to give away a wonderful chunk for free, then they would charge a little bit for some, then stopped offering it at all. :-(( Since they appear to still use it regularly, I wish they would sell it. Most grocery stores here in lower Montgomery County, MD, no longer carry the fresh cakes.

    Setting the yeast aside for a little bit, add the ~5 cups of flour to the egg/sugar mix, one at a time, beating after each. (Check on the yeast, stirring it if needed (assuming cakes). The yeast goes in next, followed by the additional flour, one cup at a time. This can be an approximation; judge for yourself if you think the dough is still a bit too wet — it should be a bit shiny, and elastic as in the previous pictures, but not dry. You want to go by feel, not exact measurements. If You can poke a finger into the dough, and it comes out quite clean without sticky dough clinging to it, it’s ready. Kneading it will add a bit more flour to it.

    I use a big old yellowware bowl from my mother for rising the dough. I saved the wrapper from the butter, and use it to lightly grease the inside of bowl. Pat one side of the ball of dough, turning it into the bowl, then setting it to rise. I also pat the bottom of the dough and. I drape a clean cotton dish towel over the bowl, set it in a warm place, and leave it to rise.

    The initial recipe uses the same steps for the rest . . . I’ll just add two things. My mother would either break off a bit of dough from one half the batch, and give it to me to braid my own mini loaf. If more of us wanted to, she’d just use all of one big loaf.

    We would crumble (again in the mortar and pestle) sugar cubes into small chunks–but much grainier than regular sugar to sprinkle on the loaves on top of the beaten egg.

    Mmmmmm — just might have to make some today!

  5. darlene juntunen permalink

    Finish (pulla) cardamom bread. My Husband mother made all the time too. So good. Made the recipe today. It Came out wonderful.

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