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What is Pulla?

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  • Written By: A.E. Freeman
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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Pulla is a Finnish dessert bread. It is commonly eaten with coffee in Finland. The bread is yeasted, and its primary flavor comes from cardamom, a spice commonly used in Scandinavian baked goods as well as in Indian cooking.

People in Finland typically eat pulla around the Christmas season. They also eat the bread during coffee time in the middle of the day. While some people do make pulla on their own at home, it is just as frequently purchased from a store or bakery.

Cardamom is the defining flavor of pulla. The spice comes from India and other parts of southeast Asia. Cardamom first made its way to Scandinavia after some Vikings purchased it from Constantinople. It has a fruity flavor similar to citrus.

While cardamom is used to flavor savory dishes and tea elsewhere in the world, in Finland and other Scandinavian countries it is used almost exclusively in baking. Other Scandinavian countries have breads that are similar to pulla and that contain cardamom. In Sweden, the bread is known as vetebrod, while in Norway it is known as hvetebrod, both of which mean wheat bread.

Cardamom is available ground or in whole seed form. Like many spices, a baker will get the best flavor if he grinds the seeds as he needs them instead of using a pre-ground spice. Most pulla recipes call for between a teaspoon and two teaspoons of ground cardamom.

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In terms of texture and taste, pulla is very similar to challah bread and brioche. It is a very rich bread, usually made with butter, egg, and egg yolks and milk. Some recipes call for heavy cream in addition to the milk.

Like challah bread, pulla may be braided before it is baked. To braid the bread, the baker must divide the dough into three equally sized ropes. He should gather the ropes together on one end and then braid them as if braiding someone's hair. The bread can also be shaped into a ring or into rolls.

The bread is usually glazed with an egg and some milk before being baked. Some bakers sprinkle sliced almonds or raw sugar on top of the dough as well. The dough contains a lot of sugar for bread, which contributes to its sweet taste. The baker can adjust the amount of sugar in a recipe depending on how sweet he wants the final bread to be. Recipes usually call for between a third and one full cup of sugar.

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ceilingcat
Post 11

Pulla is one kind of pastry I've never seen in the United States, which is actually kind of surprising. We have so many other international foods, pastries included!

Most bakeries have a wide variety of breads from different areas, like pumpernickel bread, Italian bread, and French bread. And of course croissants are available everywhere, even though they are traditionally French.

Hopefully pulla will catch on here in the US too! I would really like to try it, but I'm just not patient enough to make my own at home!

indemnifyme
Post 10

@SZapper - I love chai tea also. I bet it would go well with pulla. I wonder if anyone in Finland does this? A lot of foods these days are international, so I'm sure they have chai tea in Finland!

Anyway, I'm not surprised to hear that pulla is primarily eaten during the holiday season. It seems like it would fit right in with other holiday season foods, like gingerbread and pumpkin pie. Cardamom has the same type of flavor, in my opinion. In fact, I think cardamom might be part of the traditional pumpkin pie spice recipe!

SZapper
Post 9

I've been looking for some new recipes to try at home, and I think I'm going to have to try pulla. It sounds just delicious from the description in the article.

I'm already pretty sure I will like it, because I happen to love chai tea. For those who don't know, chai tea is Indian (although you can get it at almost any coffee shop these days) and is primarily made from cardamon.

In fact, I think chai tea would actually be the best drink to compliment pulla. It would be like a Finnish/Indian fusion breakfast!

Mor
Post 8

@Iluviaporos - It's not difficult to make pulla, and there are plenty of recipes online. Or maybe you should ask your friend for her recipe? Often they are passed down from mother to daughter and they are very good.

Although if you want to travel to Finland for an authentic taste, that would be fun as well!

lluviaporos
Post 7

One of my friends is Finnish and she recently wrote a novel examining the experience of Finnish immigrants to New Zealand in the 1950s.

One of the things she was very good at was describing the food and I remember she wrote about how the immigrants desperately missed the spices they needed to make pulla.

It's kind of difficult to imagine a world in which spices aren't available in the supermarket, but even 50 years ago, spices from India would have been considered very exotic in most places.

I'm hoping I can get to try this bread one day in real life, rather than living vicariously through her characters!

lighth0se33
Post 6

In my opinion, there is nothing better than coffee and sweet bread. Pulla is extra enjoyable with a cup of coffee that has just a hint of creamer or milk in it.

I love taking a bite of the bread and following it with a swig of coffee. The warm liquid washes down the wonderful flavor and rehydrates my mouth.

I even find myself dipping the pulla in the coffee like a donut. This makes it taste even better, though I am careful not to get pulla crumbs in my coffee. Drinking it is a little weird, but eating it slightly moistened is amazing.

orangey03
Post 5

@anamur – So, does cardamom taste more like a lemon or an orange? I love orange flavored foods, but the taste of lemon reminds me too much of cleaning sprays.

I certainly hope pulla doesn't taste anything like fruit cake. That is one of the worst types of bread I have ever tried, and I know it contains bits of citrus fruit.

Pulla could either be really delicious or very repulsive to me. I am curious, but since I live in the United States, I don't know if I will ever have the chance to try it.

OeKc05
Post 4

Pulla sounds delicious! I am a sucker for any type of bread, and if it is sweet and full of flavor, I find it even more irresistible.

Something about a braided bread makes it more appealing. I think it adds to the texture. When you have more than one surface interlocking, you get extra crispy crusts to enjoy.

I like bread that is glazed with egg before baking, because it turns out shinier, and appearance really does affect taste. I am really interested in this type of bread now, and I would love to find a bakery that sells it.

serenesurface
Post 3

@turquoise-- I think this is a relatively common recipe for bread. I have a Finnish coworker and she brought us homemade pulla one time. I thought that it was a French brioche at first sight too!

But really, it's not the same. I think what makes pulla special from the rest is the cardamom. My coworker was telling me that she order fresh green cardamoms and grounded them herself at home for the bread. The first thing that hit me about this bread was the scent of the cardamom. I think it's partly also what makes this bread sweet.

The butter is an amazing addition to the bread too. Pulla literally flakes in your mouth thanks to it. I love it! I've been trying to get my coworker to make another loaf for us!

turquoise
Post 2
Wow, pulla sounds very much like challa -- a Jewish staple bread. I grew up eating challa which sounds and looks exactly like pulla bread described here. I'm sure this isn't a coincidence. Cultures must have shared recipes with one another. Even the names have a similar sound to them.

Challa is a staple at our house and is made especially during religious holidays. We don't ever cut our challa with a knife. We always tear it with our hands.

I think the only difference between pulla and challa is that challa doesn't have cardamom or any other spice in it. All the other ingredients are same however. My mom also likes to top her challa with sesame seeds, so that could be one other difference.

I'm sure both pulla and challa are pretty similar in taste though. Any beaded, braided sweet buttery bread has to be good in my opinion.

bear78
Post 1

I don't have any Finnish origins, but I absolutely love this bread. I first discovered it in a gourmet cookbook and made it on a Sunday afternoon on whim. It turned out so good that I make it pretty regularly now.

The best part about pulla is that it's not overly sweet. I'm not much of a sweet eater, and I certainly wouldn't be a fan of pulla if it had been a dessert pastry. But it's not, it's bread and the sugar in it makes it only slightly sweet.

I also love the fact that it has cardamom in it, one of my favorite spices ever. I do use a light hand with it though because cardamom

can be kind overpowering when it's freshly grinded. I also love adding some extra ingredients- maybe some raisins or a little bit of cinnamon. Pulla goes great with tea, and I think it's a must on a rainy Sunday afternoon at home.

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