Pulla is ubiquitous in Finland, where my partner, Jani, was born. The daily ritual of having coffee (kahvia), often together with family or friends, would not be complete without a variety of sweet buns and cakes to accompany it. Not to mention the rarity of breakfast in the absence of a ‘pitko’, or braided loaf, slathered in butter. Jani even likes to save the ends, leaving them until they are stale and dry, so he can make ‘köyhät ritarit’ or ‘poor knights’, slices of week old pulla soaked in milk and then fried in butter. Yes, the Finns are renowned for their gargantuan consumption of both butter and sugar. The excuse touted by most is that they need lots of calories to survive the punishingly cold winters. Well I need no excuse to make a big batch of pulla once in a while. The great thing about it is that it is very versatile. At its base, it is a simple sweet bread dough, the addition of crushed cardamom seeds gives it its signature taste.
It was during one of our pulla-making sessions that this loaf was born. This recipe makes a very large batch, 5 or 6 medium braided loaves; or 2 or 3 loaves and a batch or 2 of ‘korva puustit’ or ‘beaten ears’ (small cinnamon buns). I had a bag of dark chocolate chips, half a large bar of dark chocolate and two-thirds of a packet of macadamia nuts left over from several recent baking exploits and these gave me all the inspiration I needed to transform this wonderful pulla recipe into something even more naughty and a just a bit special.
The recipe I am about to share with you has been passed down through Jani’s family for generations. As I have said, it yields a large batch, so feel free to halve or even quarter the quantities to suit your appetite!
To make traditional Pulla, add 3 teaspoons of crushed cardamom seeds to the mix before kneading. I have omitted them in the recipe itself, as they can overpower the taste of the chocolate (although you may prefer to leave them in).
- 1.5 kg Strong White Bread Flour
- 1.5 kg Plain White Flour
- 1350 g Caster Sugar
- 3 Eggs
- 1 litre Milk
- 100g Fresh Yeast
- 3 tsp Cardamom Pods, crushed (for traditional Finnish Pulla)
- Approx 200g Dark Chocolate Chips
- Approx 200g Dark Chocolate
- 100g Chocolate and Hazelnut Spread
- 200g Chopped Macadamia Nuts
To make the Bread
- Whisk the sugar and eggs in a large bowl until well incorporated.
- Heat the milk over a low heat until lukewarm. Remove from the heat and crumble in the yeast. Stir until dissolved. Too much heat here can kill the yeast so ensure that the milk is only just above hand temperature.
- I also melt the butter at this point, in a separate pan, and leave it to cool whilst I’m mixing the other ingredients.
- Add the milk and yeast mixture to the eggs and sugar and stir to combine. (Add the cardamom at this point, if required).
- Now, this is the part which is tricky without two people. If you are going solo, sieve the flours together into a separate bowl and then use one hand to tip the flour, little by little, into the wet ingredients, whilst kneading with the other.
- Since the mixture is extremely wet to begin with, I use a kind of grabbing or clenching action with my kneading hand to begin to incorporate the flour. Once all the flour is incorporated, add the melted butter and knead into the dough. I only begin to use my conventional kneading technique when the dough is firm enough to tip onto a lightly floured surface.
- It will take a while to develop the gluten since the amount of dough is so large, and also the recipe calls for plain flour as well as strong, which has a far lower gluten content. Hence you will be kneading for a good 20 minutes to achieve a cohesive dough with a nice sheen to it.
- Once kneaded, place the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl for its first rise. This will take 2-3 hours.
- Once the dough has doubled in size, it is time to shape it and add the filling. Fold the dough in on itself until most of the air has been knocked out and you have a rough oblong.
- Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough (giving it a quarter turn once and again) until it is approximately 5mm thick and, again, a large roughly rectangular shape. Depending on the size of your kitchen workspace, you may need to divide the dough into two or even three pieces before rolling.
- Spoon large mounds of the chocolate and hazelnut spread onto the dough and spread using a knife or the back of the spoon, almost to the edges.
- Scatter the chopped chocolate, chocolate chips and chopped nuts evenly over the dough.
- You may have seen Paul Hollywood ‘tacking’ one edge of his dough, about to be rolled up, to the surface so as to make it easier to make a tight roll. You could do this, although I managed fine without this method. As tightly as you can, roll the oblong starting from the longest edge, into a long sausage.
- Using a scotch scraper, cut off the two ends, as these will have less filling and may be strangely shaped if the oblong was slightly uneven (you can pop these on a tray and make some small buns out of them!)
- Then, start by cutting the sausage in half, then these two pieces in half again, then halving these, and so on and so on…Divide the sausage into small equal sections about 6cm in length.
- Arrange these in generously buttered tins, placing them first around the edges, leaving about 1.5cm gap between each on all sides as the buns will rise into each other whilst proving, then place more buns in a second ring within the outer one, and then maybe a couple in the centre (see photo of finished loaf for pointers).
- Cover each tin with a tea towel and leave the buns to prove for around an hour until doubled in size again.
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
- Once the buns have risen. Wash the tops generously with beaten egg and sprinkle liberally with caster sugar.
- Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the top is a luscious brown colour (keep a good eye on them as sometimes the sugar glaze can begin to catch) and the top feels firm but with a good spring beneath.
Enjoy this loaf still warm from the oven or the next morning with a big milky cup of coffee! Let me know how it goes 🙂 x