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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nisu (Cardamom Bread)

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.
This post was submitted to: Mother's Kitchen: March Spice Rack Challenge: Cardamom


  1. Sounds delicious and looks lovely!!I love baking bread so i will try this this weekend!!

  2. Beautiful photo of the bread. My son makes a braided bread that looks similar but without the cardamon. I would like to try yours.

  3. I must be receiving transmission of your thought waves, or maybe just food blogging minds think alike -I have been thinking about cardamom bread the past few days! Your absolutely gorgeous photos have motivated me to get into the kitchen and bake a loaf -now! Thanks!

  4. The bread look fantastic!! I love these type of bread!! gloria

  5. I'm so excited to make this bread. My childhood friends mother used to make a bread with cardamom. I was just telling my family about how wonderful it was and I wish I had a recipe...

  6. Modern Country Lady- Let me know how it turns out.

    Beyond My Garden- Thanks. Braided bread is definitely fun to photograph.

    Shepherdess- I love when that happens! I hope it turns out well for you.


    Janet- So glad you found your recipe. Let me know how it goes if you decide to make it.

  7. I love your photos. So beautiful. Looking forward to giving this a try.

  8. Now that I have finally found Cardamom I will be trying this! I've been loving your Irish drink posts!!

  9. I saw your post on Sweets for a Saturday. This bread is beautiful. I love cardamom but have never heard of or thought of putting it in bread. Thanks for sharing a great recipe.

  10. I made soup today and was looking for a new bread I found it, thanks :)

  11. It's so pretty! I saw a recipe for this in A Baker's Odyssey - also 2 different swedish breads with cardamom as well as waffles, and some Norwegian fried dough/cookies, and... The author explains that cardamom became common in Scandanavia because of the Hanseatic League.

  12. great pics and the recipe sounds delicious. seattle also has a few elements of its scandinavian past still present, and cardamom is used in a lot of breads here. this looks great!

  13. Mmm! I briefly considered making Pulla/Nisu for the Spice Rack Challenge, but decided to go the savory route instead. Now I'm wishing I had gone with that first impulse >sigh<. :) Those loaves are absolutely gorgeous!

  14. Your braids are so perfect and beautiful! I tried to make braided breads but they don't always turn out even or perfect like yours! Some braids even bread apart during 2nd proofing. hm...guess I gotta try out your recipe. Thanks for sharing.


  15. Allison- Thanks :)

    Daisy- I have been enjoying them too. Thanks.

    Pastry Chef- Thank you.

    Sage Trifle- Cardamom is pretty common in Scandinavian breads, not so common in the U.S.

    Lisa-Hope you like it. I'd probably go with a minimal amount of sugar if you are looking for a savory bread.

    Tricia- I checked out the cookbook online. Looks like a good one. Just what I need another cookbook. ;)

    ohbriggsy- I'll have to check for cardamom bread the next time I am there. I pass through every now and again.

    mla- Thank you. I say make it anyway.

    Amy- One thing I noticed is you really have to tuck the ends in tight with braided bread. If you look closely you will notice one of my loaves came apart at the end. I cut that part off in most of the photos though.

  16. Oh boy, just one look at your gorgeous braided loaves and I have the greatest desire to make this right away. Plus, I love cardamom. I will definitely do so when my family comes up to visit.

  17. My mistake on not including your post, Nicole! Copy and paste error on my part. You're doing everything bad. Sorry! I fixed it now. Check it out

  18. I'm having another Themed Baker's Sunday linky party! The theme this week is bread! I'd love for you to join!


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