One of the things I love most about cooking & baking is how both have the potential to broaden your culinary horizons. Cardamom is an excellent example of this capacity. While I’ve been an avid baker for a while now, it was only during these past few weeks that I began to use cardamom in something other than homemade chai or as a supporting player in Indian spice mixes. I knew that it was a member of the ginger family, that it is commonly used in Middle Eastern coffee, and that Cleopatra used it to perfume her palace apartments – but if you asked me, “What does cardamom taste like?”, I couldn’t answer you with confidence.
That changed when I began making Scandinavian treats in my kitchen. Cardamom is used more frequently in Scandinavia than cinnamon and is featured in many of the recipes in The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, from whence the pulla recipe in this post comes. By the time I tried my second recipe from this book I recognized the distinctive, slightly floral aroma of cardamom. And when a fifth recipe made an appearance in my kitchen the citrus-like, warming flavor of the spice was forever recorded in my mind. In this way cardamom left the more abstract, historical realm and leaped into my life. I now like cardamom so much that I made cardamom ice cream, and have even began putting it in my coffee with a dash of cinnamon, a teaspoon of sugar and a generous helping of whipped cream. If you haven’t become acquainted with cardamom I highly recommend you change that, and there’s my bit of unsolicited advice for the day.
Cardamom is the world’s third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla. The reason it’s so pricey is that cardamom seeds sprout in clusters of fibrous capsules that ripen at different times, so in order for cardamom to be harvested the capsules must be picked by hand, one at a time, slightly before each capsule reaches maturity. Cardamom has long been used in hot Middle Eastern drinks like gahwa, which is a drink made by brewing freshly roasted/ground coffee beans with split green cardamom pods. Beverages like this are so popular in the Middle East that Arab countries consume 80% of the world’s cardamom supply, while Scandinavia consumes 10%. Pulla, a basic yeasted coffee bread, is one example of the many scrumptious treats Scandinavians make with the spice. Pulla is the Finnish name for the bread, while the Swedes call it vetebrod, Norwegians call it hvetebrod, the Danes call it hvedebrod, and the Icelandics call it hveitibraud – all of which mean, “wheat bread.” (source) Pulla’s sweetness and often braided appearance reminds me very much of challah, the main difference being the use of evaporated milk (which I suppose could also be used in challah) and cardamom (which could definitely be used in challah, you know I love adding things to it). When I saw an extra half loaf of pulla sitting on my counter this similarity inspired me to use a few slices the way I would leftover challah – by making a Charlotte! Charlottes are traditionally made with apples or pears, and since the former is easier to come by this time of the year I went the Apple Charlotte route. The wonderful thing about this dish (aside from its exquisite flavor) is that it’s immensely simple to put together, but produces impressive looking results. The same can be said of pulla actually, and if you serve either of these treats to your friends they’ll be impressed. It’s times like this that the savvy baker just soaks up all the praise – “Oh no, it was nothing,” you’ll say – and you’ll mean it, but everyone else will think you’re just being humble.
Pulla (Cardamom Coffeebread)
Reprinted with permission from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas.
Ingredients: Makes 3 loaves
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water, 105 degrees F to 115 degrees F
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/2 cups (12 ounce can) undiluted evaporated milk, warmed
- 1/2 cup to 1 cup sugar (I used 1 cup)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom or seeds of 12 cardamom pods, crushed
- 4 eggs, room temperature
- 7 to 8 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 1 slightly beaten egg
- 2 tablespoons milk
For the glaze:
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water; add the 1 teaspoon sugar, stir, and let stand for 5 minutes until yeast foams. Empty the milk into a pan and warm just to between 105 degrees F and 115 degrees F. (If you don’t have a kitchen thermometer handy just dip your finger – carefully – into the milk. If it is about the right temperature for a warmed baby bottle then it’s good to go. I use the same test for warmed water when I don’t want to fuss with the thermometer.) Add milk, sugar according to sweetness desired, salt, cardamom, eggs, and half the flour. Beat with an electric mixer or spoon (I prefer a wooden spoon) until dough is smooth and shiny. Beat in the melted butter. Add remaining flour 1 cup at a time until dough is stiff but not dry. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead until satiny and smooth, about 10 minutes. (You can also do this in a mixer with a hook attachment.) Wash bowl, grease it (with about 1 tsp of olive oil or butter), and add dough to bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover (loosely, with saran wrap) and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Turn risen dough out onto breadboard or counter top and divide into 3 portions.
Divide each portion into 3 parts. Roll out to make strands about 24 inches long. Make 3 braids using 3 strands each. (If you are unsure how to do this, you can view my instructions for braiding dough here or here.) Place on lightly greased baking sheets. Cover (loosely, with saran wrap) and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix egg and milk to make glaze and brush braids with the mixture. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
The Great Scandinavian Baking Book is an addictive collection of recipes from author Beatrice Ojakangas. From Cardamom Coffeebread (Pulla) and Sweet Cream Waffles to Danish Strawberry Scones (Kraemmerhuse) and almond glazed Swedish Tea Rings (Vetekrans), once you start baking from this book you’ll have a hard time putting it away. I was delighted with everything I made and appreciated how Ojakangas introduced me to the many delectable ways Scandinavians use cardamom in their baking. Her recipes are easy to follow and accompanied by conversational intros that share cultural tidbits or serving tips. Although there are no photos in this book, when more complicated steps are required to complete a recipe the how-to portion is frequently illustrated with helpful diagrams. The lack of photographs is really the only thing about it I didn’t absolutely adore about the book, which will make a welcome addition to any kitchen and is appropriate for beginner and experienced bakers alike. You’ll revel in the heavenly aromas emanating from your oven, not to mention the baked goods you’ll soon be enjoying with a cup of hot coffee or tea.
Chapters: Breads for Meals, Breads for Coffeetime, Cookies and Little Cakes, Cakes and Tortes, Pastries and Pies, Savory Pies and Filled Breads. Chapters about mail order sources, baking tips and ingredients are also included.
Apple Charlotte (My Recipe)
Ingredients: Makes 1 large Charlotte or 2 small
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
- 1/2 cup sugar + 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- About 5 thin (1/2 inch thick) slices of pulla (you can also use challah), crusts removed
Places the apple slices, 1/2 cup of sugar, and cinnamon in a medium sized saucepan and cook over medium heat. Stir occasionally, until apples are soft and light golden, about 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon of sugar, set aside.
Remove the crusts from about 5 slices of pulla or challah, depending on the size of your ramekin. Measure the slices against the side of the ramekin, then cut eat slice into 1 1/2 inch wide strips that are as tall as your ramekin and 1/4 inch thick. Dip one side of each strip into the butter-sugar. Line the sides of the ramekins with the pulla strips, buttered sides pressed against the ramekin, overlapping the pieces of bread.
Spoon apple mixture into the mold – enough for the apples to reach the top of the ramekin, making sure that the apples are up against the pulla. Brush the tops of the pulla slices with butter. Put the ramekin on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown. Allow the charlotte to cool for 10 minutes, then gently run a butter knife around the edges. Place a small plate on top of the ramekin and, using oven mitts, invert the ramekin/plate so that the Charlotte falls onto the plate. Serve with creme anglaise (recipe here), vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream.