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Pulla

Last weekend, a cousin reached out to see if I made pulla, a Finnish cardamom sweet bread. My experience with break making is limited as I’ve only made challah and a cranberry bread before. Breads take a lot of time. Longer bakes like breads are definitely harder to work into a schedule. After reading over the recipe she sent over, the pulla seemed simple enough to make and I already had the ingredients on hand. Sure! Let’s give it a go.

IMG_0109 slice
Pulla, a cardamom sweet bread

The recipe states that the prep takes 3 hours and the cook time is 25 mins. So you’re basically devoting half a day to the process, but it’s broken up as much of the time is waiting. The act of making the dough is quite easy and it came together really well. I had never heard of or tried pulla before, and as soon as I started to smell the aroma from the oven, I knew I would be in love! The flavor in this bread is so good! The cardamom isn’t overpowering, the structure of the bread is light, and the crust is golden perfection. After communicating my success, the cousin informed me that not only is this bread traditionally dunked in coffee (being a tea drinker, I opted for some chai to compliment the cardamom) but it can also be made as rolls with a sweet icing on top! I promise not to go crazy making pulla all the time now, but it is now one of my favorite breads.

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Pulla from Curious Cuisiniere
Makes one 15×6″ loaf, serves about 12

3/4 cups milk, warmed to 110°F
1/4 cup water, warmed to 110ºF
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 package)
4 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tsp ground cardamom
3/4 tsp salt (I always leave the salt out of recipes when I make them)
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg beaten w/1 Tbsp water (egg wash)
coarse sugar and sliced almonds (topping)

In a large bowl, combine milk, water, and sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and let stand for five minutes, until foaming. Add 2 cups of flour, the eggs, cardamom (and salt). Mix until smooth. Add the butter and mix until combined.

Knead the dough in the bowl, adding enough of the remaining flour to keep it from sticking, until the dough comes clean from the sides of the bowl and doesn’t stick to your hands. (I did not end up using all of my flour)

Shape the dough into a ball in the bowl and cover it with a damp tea towel. Let the bowl rise in a warm, draft-free place** for 1-1.5 hours, or until doubled. (Mine more than doubled in an hour.)

**To create your own proofing box, turn on your oven to 250ºF. Once the oven gets to that temperature, turn it off. Place a bowl of water in the oven to keep moisture in the air. Place your covered bowl of dough in the oven with the bowl of water. Close the oven door and wait.

Once risen, knock back (punch the dough down to knock air out of it) the dough and divide it into three strands for a braid. Roll each strand into a 20″ snake. Braid the strands and place the braided loaf on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash and sprinkle it with sugar and almonds, if desired. (You can get pretty heavy-handed with the sugar or you can go light. The extra sweetness is delicious!)

Braided pulla loaf
Braided pulla loaf ready to rise

Let the loaf rise for 30-40 mins or until doubled in bulk (30 mins did it for me). Near the end of the rise time, preheat your oven to 375ºF. Bake the bread for 25-30 mins, until golden and hollow sounding when tapped (25 mins did the trick in my oven).

Remove the loaf from the oven and let it cool slightly on a wire rack before cutting or tearing apart. Bread will keep for one week on the counter in an airtight container.

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Banana Nut Bread

Banana bread recipes are quite varied. When you find one that gives you the right texture and flavor, you tell everyone about it! My go-to recipe was introduced to me by a former coworker. This one comes from Cook’s Illustrated. The bread is soft inside with a just-right crunchy crust.
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Banana Nut Bread

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
3/4 cups of sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 very ripe, soft, darkly speckled large bananas, mashed well (about 1 1/2 cups)*
1/4 cups plain yogurt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle portion and heat the oven to 300F.

*to quickly prepare the bananas, use this kitchen hack. Space the bananas out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (the bananas might leak and this provides easy clean up). Place the bananas in the oven for 20-30 minutes. Check on them until they reach desired texture. For the most mashable, let them get black without burning. Take out of oven. Remove peels and mash bananas. Set aside to cool.

Raise oven temp to 350F. Carefully line the same baking sheet with a clean piece of parchment paper. Spread walnuts out onto sheet. Place in oven to toast until fragrant, around 5-10 mins. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 9×5 inch loaf pan; dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cooled walnuts. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla extract with a wooden spoon. Lightly fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until just combined and the batter looks thick and chunky. Do not over-mix! Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. The bread can be wrapped with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to three days. It can also be double wrapped with plastic wrap and double wrapped with foil and kept in the freezer for several weeks.

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