The wonderful aroma of this bread being toasted carries a wealth of memories of Christmas. As a young teenager learning from Mummu (a Finnish term of endearment for grandma, great grandma in this case) how to grind the cardamom seed with the back of a spoon in a wooden bowl, then building the dough and bread; these are all part of the tapestry of family cooking tradition.
The process for this bread is very similar to brioche. It is rich with eggs, butter and sugar built together to make a fun attractive loaf that will become a favorite in your house. It uses cardamom to add flavor. You can buy whole seeds or ground. The difference is that you will notice a more aromatic flavor from whole seeds. When you peel the relatively soft shell off the seed, it should have a very dark color with light white webbing. If it is reddish that usually means it has dried up and won’t have much flavor. The seeds are hard and a mortar and pestle became the tool of choice to grind them down.
Finnish Bread recipe
Slice two cubes of butter, separately, into ½ inch pieces. Place one cube into your mixing bowl. Scald two cups of milk either in a saucepan or microwave, and pour over the butter. Put the other cube into the warmed milk dish and set aside to soften.
Add to the butter and milk in the bowl;
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom seed
Let cool until under 100 degrees. Add;
- 1 Tablespoon, or one packet, instant yeast.
- 1 cup sugar
Let sit for 10 minutes. Add and mix with the paddle;
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
When well mixed, switch to a dough hook and add;
- 3 cups flour
Churn until well mixed and pulling from the sides, set to low speed to knead. The remaining cube of butter should be well softened, if not, warm it until just starting to melt. Add roughly one third at a time to the dough as it kneads, until all the butter has been incorporated. Continue to knead another couple minutes until the dough is smooth. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 90 minutes.
This is where this recipe gets fun. After the rise, cut the dough into four of five equal pieces. The number depends partly on your loaf pan size, five is right for a standard pan, just under 9×5 inches, but they vary somewhat. Then cut each piece into thirds. Roll those pieces in your hands to make equal length ‘snakes’ of dough. Pinch them together at the top and braid them down, pinching the ends together. Place each braided loaf into a lightly oiled pan. Let rise again until doubled, 60-90 minutes
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the loaves in the oven, allowing enough room for proper air circulation. Bake about 25 minutes, until they sound hollow when the bottom is tapped, or until they have an internal temperature of 190 degrees. When done, remove from the pans and let them cool on a rack until they have reached room temperature…although we have been known to cut one open when warm, for quality control purposes of course.
For the finishing glaze, in a bowl add;
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- Cold coffee, not quite covering the sugar
When mixed, this should make a runny paste. For this step, we recommend leaving the bread on racks and placing them on a surface covered with plastic film or parchment. It will make clean up much easier. Brush each loaf well with the sugar mixture and allow to dry. Slice and serve, or toast and butter for a new Christmas memory.