Pulla is a rich, soft bread served with coffee in Finland. It gets its signature flavor and heavenly scent from cardamom, a mainstay spice of Finnish baking. In this post I’ll teach you to make pulla into traditional braided loaves (the recipe yields 3 loaves) but the dough is also very well suited to making cinnamon rolls and other delicious delicacies.
If you grew up in America with Finnish ancestry, you may have heard this called “nisu”; it’s the same thing! I have heard, though I don’t currently have link to back this up, that the word “nisu” went out of favor because it comes from the Swedish language initially, and Sweden has a history of conquest over Finland. Whether or not this is the case, if you travel to Finland you’ll need to order “pulla” (BUHL-LA).
Ingredients to make pulla
- active dry yeast
- warm water
- granulated sugar
- cardamom pods or ground cardamom
- white flour
- melted butter
- For a glaze, if desired: egg, pearl sugar, sliced almonds
Equipment you’ll want for pulla
- liquid and dry measuring cups and spoons
- stand mixer
- mortar and pestle if crushing cardamom pods; or you can use the back of a spoon
- baking sheets
- pastry brush
How to make pulla
Start by prepping a few ingredients: melt the butter, beat the eggs, and if you’re planning on using cardamom pods, crush those and set aside.
Stir the yeast into the water to dissolve. Place the yeast/water mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs and about 2 cups of flour. Beat into a smooth batter.
Add about 3 more cups flour and beat; then beat in melted butter. At this stage the dough will be shiny.
Beat in more flour until a stiff dough forms. At this point 5 cups have been added, so it should need 3-4 more. If too much flour is added, the pulla will be dry, so add it gradually to avoid this.
I don’t think I have ever found my pulla to need more than 8 cups of flour, but this varies by altitude.
Lightly flour a surface and turn the dough out onto it. If you have time, turn the bowl over it and let the dough rest for about 15 minutes, it will thank you for it! If you’re going to use the mixer to knead, simply turn it off for awhile and let the dough sit in there.
Knead the dough until smooth. It will have an extremely satisfying satiny texture.
Lightly grease a bowl, place the dough in it and turn. Cover lightly and leave to rise until doubled in size. This takes about 1.5 hours in my kitchen, which tends to be cool. If you have a warm spot, it will probably only take an hour. Punch down and let rise again about 30 more minutes, until very puffy again.
Without punching down again, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. For straight braided loaves, divide the dough into three, then divide each part into three again. I use a kitchen scale to make sure that each of these nine parts are the same size (or at least within about 10 grams or so of each other).
With your palms, roll out each piece into a long cylinder, about 16 inches long. Pinch three of the ends together and braid together.
Turn both pinched ends under. Once all three loaves are braided, lightly grease baking sheets and lift loaves on.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Let pulla braids rise for about 20 minutes, until puffy.
Brush each loaf with the beaten egg. If you want, sprinkle on pearl sugar and sliced almonds. I also love to bake them with just the egg wash and frost later, once they’re cooled.
Bake for 25-30 minutes. They will be golden brown and so fragrant. Let cool, slice, and serve with coffee!
- 1 package (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 2 cups lukewarm milk
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp fine salt
- 2 tsp crushed cardamom
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 8-9 cups white flour
- 1/2 cup (8 Tbsp, 1 stick) melted butter
- For Glaze, if desired:
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- 1/2 cup pearl sugar or crushed lump sugar
- Stir the yeast into the warm water to dissolve
- Place yeast/water mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs, and about two cups of flour.
- Stir until a batter is formed, then increase speed to beat until smooth
- Add about 3 cups more flour and beat, usually at this stage the dough looks smooth and glossy
- Stir in melted butter
- Stir in the remaining flour (enough to form a stiff dough).
- Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. You can rest the dough about 15 minutes at this point, and then knead until smooth.
- Place in a greased mixing bowl, cover and let rise until doubled-if your kitchen is warm, this will take about an hour, if it is cool, it may take longer.
- Punch down and let rise again about 30 minutes, it should be very puffy again
- WIthout punching down, turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into three equal parts, then divide each of these into three equal parts.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit
- Roll out each piece of dough into a long cylinder, about 16 inches
- Take 3 pieces, pinch the tops together, and braid together into a straight braid shape. Pinch the bottoms togehter as well, then turn each end under.
- Repeat with the other two loaves.
- Lightly grease baking sheets and lift the loaves onto them.
- Let rise until slightly puffy again, about 20 minutes.
- Brush loaves with the beaten egg. Add almonds and pearl sugar if you wish.
- Bake at 400 degrees for about 25-30 minutes. They will be fragrant and golden brown.
- Slice and serve with coffee!
1. I recommend whole milk.
2. I also recommend taking the time to crush your own cardamom pods. The fragrance and taste is unmatched! It will, however, be totally delicious with regular ground cardamom from the spice aisle. Use about 1/2Tbsp for this recipe in place of the crushed.
3. I always recommend checking the temperature of water before adding yeast. It should be 110-115 degrees.
4. If you prefer to knead in the kitchen aid with the dough hook attachment, that will work too! I still turn out onto a floured surface after and knead briefly to make sure it's all uniformly smooth.
5. If you prefer, skip the almonds and sugar, and frost your pulla with a simple vanilla frosting after it cools.
Coming soon: my absolute favorite way to use this basic pulla dough. For now, I hope you give these classic braided loaves a try- they also freeze really well to have on hand!
Try it? Questions? Let me know in the comments!