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.
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.