I have been looking forward so much to getting this post together, and the day is finally here! Two of my favorites, sourdough baking and Finnish baking, meet in this absolutely delicious, fragrant sourdough pulla loaf. If you’re not used to using sourdough to make sweet loaves, let this be your first. It is not “sour” at all, though it is completely naturally leavened with sourdough starter.
What is pulla?
If you’re a pulla newbie, I can’t wait to introduce you to this classic, rich Finnish bread. It is a moist, rich, buttery loaf, made flavorful and fragrant by cardamom. It is often, as in this recipe, baked in braided loaves, though it can be used as the base for a bunch of other delightful treats as well-find some here! Pulla is coffee’s best friend, and one of my absolute favorite things to have on hand.
The one tiny downside of this sourdough pulla loaf is that it’s a little harder to shape than its yeast-leavened counterpart. It’s still totally doable, though! After quite a bit of trial and error I found that I was unable to make it any easier to shape without drying it out. When you taste it, you’ll be glad I didn’t sacrifice the perfect moist texture!
If you are interested in beginning to bake sourdough and do not have a starter- you can get some from a friend, or check out this blog post on how to make your own! I made mine from scratch last year, after thoroughly neglecting my old one. Her name is Hiiva (Finnish for yeast) and we are baking some beautiful things together!
Make sure you take a close look at the timing of all the steps in this recipe, especially if you’re new to sourdough. Though the hands-on time is fairly minimal, the start-to-finish is a bit longer than a classic yeast loaf!
Tools & Equipment for Sourdough Pulla
- Measuring cups & spoons
- Liquid measuring cup
- Stand mixer with dough hook
- Small mixing bowl
- Baking sheet
- Spatula or bench scraper
- Kitchen scale: this is necessary at least for mixing the levain (see below) the rest of the recipe is provided in cup measurements as well.
- Pastry brush, for egg wash
Ingredients for Sourdough Pulla
- Ripe (fed) sourdough starter: usually a starter is ripe 4-10 hours after being fed, has a mild sour aroma, has grown and is very bubbly, but the bubbles have not begun to pop and recede yet!
- Whole milk, lukewarm
- Granulated sugar
- Fine sea salt
- Ground cardamom: you absolutely cannot beat fresh in either flavor or smell, but sometimes it’s too labor intensive and you’ve just got to use ground from the store. It will still be delicious!
- Eggs, beaten
- All purpose flour
- Unsalted butter
- Egg, for egg wash
- 1 Tbsp milk or cream, for egg wash
- Optional pearl sugar or sliced almonds for topping
This loaf is made using a levain, or pre-ferment. For more details on what a levain is, and how it differs from just using a whole bunch of starter, check out this article. This loaf uses a sweet levain, meaning some sugar is included in the levain. This helps counter the sourness. I’ve included some suggested times in this post, to help you time out your bake. In this case, the loaf will be come out of the oven by about 8:30 in the morning-please adjust to suit your schedule!
Feed your starter: around noon
You will want a ripe starter ready to use in your levain around 8 pm. Feed your starter whenever is appropriate to make that possible!
8 pm: Make the levain
For this sweet levain, you will mix together 15g ripe sourdough starter, 15g granulated sugar, 70g all purpose flour, and 70g water, at room temperature. Mix together in a glass jar or glass mixing bowl that has some extra room, as the levain will grow overnight. Lightly cover and leave at room temperature to ferment for twelve hours.
8 am: Make the dough
First, check your levain for ripeness. It should have grown, have a mild sour aroma, be slightly loose and have bubbles throughout. If these signs are not present, leave to ferment for 30 more minutes.
Prep your butter: remove from the fridge and slice into pats about 1/2 inch thick. Place on a plate. You want the pats at a cool room temperature. Microwave for a few seconds if needed.
To the bowl of a stand mixer, add milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs, flour, and entire ripe levain. Fit stand mixer with the dough hook and mix on low speed until combined. Scrape sides of bowl as needed and continue to mix until all ingredients are totally incorporated.
With the mixer running on low speed, add the butter 1-2 pats at a time until fully blended. Repeat until all butter is fully incorporated, 5 minutes or so. Increase mixer speed to medium and continue to mix until dough is beginning to leave the sides of the bowl and ball around the dough hook, 5-7 minutes or so.
Scrape the sides of the bowl. You may leave the dough in the stand mixer or transfer to another container for bulk fermentation. Lightly cover the dough and leave to stand at a warm room temperature.
8:30-12:30: Bulk fermentation
The bulk fermentation part of the process is similar to the initial rise time of a yeast dough, only slower. The wild yeasts and bacteria in the levain will leaven the dough. Set a timer for 30 minutes after beginning bulk fermentation, and at the 30-minute mark, perform a series of stretch-and-folds. Lift up one corner of the dough and fold it into itself. Moving around the dough in a circle, repeat until all sides of the dough have been folded inward. This process strengthens the dough. Repeat at 30-minute intervals twice more, for a total of three rounds of stretch-and-folds. Re-cover the dough and allow to stand for the remaining 2 hours and 30 minutes of the bulk fermentation window.
If you’d like more detail on the stretch and fold process, check out this article.
12:30: Shape dough
At the end of the bulk fermentation window, assess dough for signs of fermentation. If you are new to sourdough, it can seem like the dough has not risen enough, since it doesn’t have the dramatic rise effect that yeast does. You should be able to spot some bubbles at the sides; the dough should have a “domed” look on the edges, sloping down to the bowl; it should look smooth, instead of shaggy. If you pull gently on the dough with wet fingers, it should slightly resist being pulled. If the dough is shaggy, flat, extremely stretchy, leave to ferment for 30 more minutes and check again.
Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured work surface. This recipe can be used to make one large braided loaf or two medium ones. If you want to make one loaf, divide the dough into three equal pieces; if you’re making two, divide in half, then divide each half into thirds.
Form each piece of dough into a long cylinder. This dough is somewhat stickier than the active dry yeast version- I promise that when you taste the final product, you won’t mind the slight finicky-ness!
Take three pieces of sourdough pulla dough and join them together at one end. Braid the pieces together and join them together at the other end as well. Tuck the ends under. Repeat with the other pieces of dough if making two loaves. Transfer the loaves to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover loaves and transfer baking sheet to the fridge for cold proof.
1:00 pm-6 am: Cold proof in fridge
For best results cold proof for 12-24 hours.
6:00-8:00 am: Warm proof
Remove baking sheet from the fridge and place on the counter to proof at warm room temperature for two hours. Keep the dough lightly covered to prevent drying out, but be careful: If you have plastic wrap sitting directly on the loaf, it will stick (ask me how I know!)
Again, visible rise will be relatively minimal, but the dough will be very soft. You may see a few visible bubbles.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Beat an egg with a tablespoon of whole milk or cream, and use a pastry brush to brush egg wash onto loaf. If desired, sprinkle with pearl sugar, sliced almonds, or both. Alternatively, leave it un-topped, and frost it later! Pulla also makes absolutely amazing French toast.
Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 (small loaves) or 27-35 (large loaf) minutes. The loaf will be golden brown and fragrant. Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool at least partially before slicing.
Enjoy! Pulla is typically enjoyed un-buttered. In my opinion, this rich, flavorful bread doesn’t need much accompaniment, outside a cup of good coffee!
Can I bake sourdough pulla same day?
To bake this sourdough pulla loaf same day, you can skip the cold proof and move directly from shaping to the warm proof. Beware, though: The cold proof helps the bread hold its braid shape much better in the oven and deepens the flavor. It will still be tasty, but it won’t quite be the same.
- For the levain:
- 15g ripe sourdough starter
- 70g all-purpose flour
- 70g room temperature filtered water
- 15g granulated sugar
- For the dough:
- 1 cup lukewarm whole milk
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- 1/2 Tbsp ground cardamom (more or less if desired, to taste)
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 5 Tbsp unsalted butter
- For an optional topping:
- 1 Tbsp whole milk or cream
- Pearl sugar
- Sliced almonds
- Make the levain: In a medium glass jar or mixing bowl, combine ripe sourdough starter, granulated sugar, all purpose flour, and water. Mix well. Lightly cover and leave to ferment at room temperature for 12 hours.
- After 12 hours, check the levain for ripeness. It should be bubbly and risen with a mild sour aroma. If not ready, check again in 30 minutes. If ready, begin preparing the dough.
- Prep the butter: Remove from the fridge and cut into 1/2 inch pats. Allow to warm to cool room temp, microwaving for a few seconds if needed.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs, flour, and entire ripe levain. Fit the stand mixer with the dough hook and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined. The dough will be sticky.
- Keep the mixer running on low speed and add the butter 1-2 pats at a time, allowing to become completely incorporated between additions.
- Once all the butter is added, increase mixer speed to medium, and mix until dough starts to pull from sides of bowl and ball around the dough hook (it will remain a little sticky), about 5 minutes.
- Scrape the dough from the edges of the bowl. Place in a container for bulk fermentation. Cover lightly and leave to ferment on the counter.
- After thirty minutes, perform a set of stretch and folds on the dough. Repeat twice more at 30 minute intervals. Cover and leave to sit at warm room temperature for remaining bulk fermentation time, 2 hrs 30 minutes, for a total bulk fermentation time of 4 hours.
- At the end of four hours, assess for signs of readiness. This dough does not dramatically rise, but a few bubbles should be present, the top should be much smoother, the sides should have a slight "dome" shape sloping down to the bowl. If these signs are not present leave to ferment 30 more minutes and check again.
- Lightly flour a work surface and scrape dough out onto the surface. This recipe can make one large braided loaf or two medium ones. If making one loaf, divide dough into three pieces. If making two loaves, divide dough in half, then each half into thirds.
- Roll each piece of dough out into a long cylinder. Stick three pieces of dough together on one end and braid strands together. Join ends together. Turn each end under slightly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and transfer dough to prepared baking sheet. Repeat if making two loaves.
- Lightly cover loaves and place in the fridge for cold proof, 12-24 hours.
- Remove baking sheet from fridge and place on counter at warm room temp for warm proof. Allow to sit for two hours. Again, dough will not rise dramatically, but it will become very soft.
- Toward the end of proof time, preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.
- If desired, beat egg with 1 Tbsp milk or cream, and use a pastry brush to brush over loaf. Top with pearl sugar and/or sliced almonds or leave un-topped.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes if baking two loaves, 27-35 minutes if baking one large loaf. Remove from oven when golden brown and fragrant.
- Allow to at least partially cool before slicing. Enjoy at room temp or slightly warmed, with a cup of good coffee!
1. This is super delicious frosted with a simple vanilla frosting, or used to make French toast.
Pin for later
I’d love to hear what you think of your pulla: let me know in the comments!
Haven’t tried the original pulla yet? Go give it a shot!
Or if you’re ready for your next sourdough adventure, try: