I grew up in an area of Northern Michigan with a strong Finnish culture. So strong that the city of Hancock, Michigan has their street signs in both English and Finnish. They even have a Finnish University (Finlandia), which was called Suomi College when I was growing up.When most people were busy getting ready for St. Patrick's Day, we actually had two days of celebration due to the Finnish holiday the day before (March 16). What holiday you ask? St. Urho's day of course. It is a long story, that you can read here or here, but basically the Finn's created a holiday to upstage the Irish St. Patrick. Hence, St. Urho the Patron Saint of Finnish Vineyard workers was born. This is why the day is celebrated by wearing first green to drive out the grasshoppers (or the frogs depending on the version you read) and then purple to celebrate the grape "juice".
Of course there is a huge difference between the traditions of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and those of Finland. It is evident in this cardamom bread that is a tradition in the Finnish bakeries where I grew up. Sunday mornings still find the Suomi cafe packed with old men drinking coffee, eating Nisu toast, and for lack of a better term "shooting the shit".
Nisu is a traditional yeasted coffee bread of the Scandinavian countries, each country calling it something different. Originally, the Finnish called the bread Nisu and the name carried over with the Finnish Immigrants to the United States. Sometime after that the Finn's decided to make their language more Finnish and eliminated words they felt were too Swedish including Nisu, and changed the name of this bread to Pulla. This change obviously did not take place in the Upper Peninsula and all the local bakeries still refer to this bread as Nisu. No matter what you call it, it is a soft and lightly scented cardamom bread that is perfect for a lazy Sunday morning with coffee, no matter where you live or what your heritage.
Baking Note: My version calls for the least amount of sugar, a little less flour and more cardamom than the original recipe. Form me this turns out a ever so slightly sweet, super soft loaf, with a cardamom scent that it present, but not overpowering. Feel free to stick your nose right in (your slice) it after cutting and inhale deeply. Oh, and also adjust the spices, flour, and sugar to your liking.
adapted from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas
4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (2 packages)
1/2 cup warm water, 105 to 115 degrees
1/2 cup sugar (you may add up to 1 1/2 cups for a sweeter bread), plus one teaspoon for activating the yeast
1 12 ounce can evaporated milk warmed, 105 to 115 degrees
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
4 eggs, room temperature
7-8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup melted butter
For the glaze:
1 slightly beaten egg
2 tablespoons milk
In the bowl of your stand mixer; mix together warm water yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar, and let stand for 5 minutes until yeast foams. Add warm milk, remaining sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs, and half the flour. Beat until the dough is smooth and shiny. Beat in the melted butter. Add remaining flour, one cup at a time until dough is stiff, but not dry. I went with a slightly stickier dough and 7 cups of flour as I like my bread on the softer side. Let dough rest for 15 minutes. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes. If you have an industrial mixer you can use it to knead the dough. My standard Kitchen Aid was not up to the job.
Wash bowl, grease it, and add dough to the bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Turn risen dough out on a bread board and divide into three portions.
Divide each portion into three parts. Roll each part out to a strand about 24 inches long. Make three braids, using three strands each. Place each braid on a separate baking sheet lined with parchment. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix milk and eggs and brush each braid with the glaze. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until golden. Allow to cool for 10 minutes on cooling or bread rack. Serve warm with butter.
Mother's Kitchen: March Spice Rack Challenge: Cardamom