The rain is lashing the windows and the wind is howling round our little cottage here in Somerset, so – clearly – the only thing to do is to fill the house with warm and cozy baking smells. There’s a traditional Scandinavian bread called pulla, which I’ve always wanted to try making – it’s a standard bread dough enriched with butter and eggs and a little extra sugar and infused with cardamom, my favourite spice.
For the bread:
2 1/2 cups warm milk
1/4 cup melted butter
2 packages of fast acting dried yeast
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 – 8 cups flour
20 green cardamom pods
Demerara sugar, to sprinkle
Mix the yeast into the warm milk (not hot milk or you’ll kill the yeast. You should be able to dip your finger in it comfortably) Allow to stand until it starts to bubble, which should take about 5 minutes. Shell the cardamom pods and grind the pungent seeds to a coarse powder.
Add cardamom powder, butter, eggs, sugar and salt to the milk and beat together. Add the first four cups of flour and mix well. Knead in more flour until you have a soft, still slightly sticky dough.
Butter your hands and a work surface and knead the bread for about five minutes. Shape into a smooth ball and place in a bowl – the mixing bowl you used earlier will do. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in size (about an hour).
Divide the dough in half. Split each half into three, and shape into long fat snakes. Squish three ends together and plait the bread. Place in a generously buttered loaf pan if you have one big enough, or just use a baking tray. Repeat for the second loaf. Cover with tea towels again and put the loaves back in a warm place to rise by half or so – this took about 40 minutes on a warm radiator.
Mix the egg and the sugar together to make the glaze, and brush all over your loaves. Sprinkle with demerara. Heat the oven to 180 degrees and bake the loaves for 30 – 50 minutes until done. An old bakers trick: to get the best crust on your loaf, fill your oven with steam at the start. I heat a cast iron pan in the oven and then pour boiling water into it when I put the loaves in. To tell if the loaves are done, either use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature is over 80 degrees Celsius, or tap the bottom of the loaf – it should sound slightly hollow.
Devour toasted and thickly buttered, or (oddly) it is very good with cheese.