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Easter Baskets and a No Knead Finnish Cardamom Bread

April 5, 2012

Pulla: Finnish Cardamom Bread

I was raised Catholic, sort of. Dad didn’t practice any religion or profess any belief in a god. Given his passive nature and spineless tendencies, he was probably an agnostic as opposed to an atheist. Mom believed in God, sort of. Her faith was steeped in an “oh what the hell, it can’t hurt to believe” kind of attitude. Her fear of what might be if she didn’t believe in God prevailed though it didn’t translate into a pious life. Mom broke more of the Ten Commandments than she followed.

As a kid, mom pushed me out the door to CCD classes every Saturday morning; on Sundays she sent me back to the same church for mass. I never dared to ask her why she didn’t go herself.

How I hated those Sunday mornings. I bit my lip as I walked into the cold, damp church, silently challenging God to prove his existence by making me invisible. I kept my head down until I found a seat not wanting to meet the pitying glances of the people I passed. Blending in was impossible; I was a tomboy forcefully dolled-up in a hand-me-down dress two sizes too big and finished off with ruffled white bobby socks. Years would pass before I understood that the stares had little to do with my awkward dress and everything to do with a ten-year-old going to church alone.

A few months into my Catholic “education” I realized that I didn’t need to spend an hour in an icy church on a bright summer day. Mom just needed to believe that’s what I’d been doing. So instead of slinking to my seat in church, I picked up a copy of the weekly bulletin from the table in the back. With my proof of attendance in hand, I turned and ran to the playground a few blocks away, where I’d swing and smoke stolen cigarettes until the church bells rang letting everyone, including mom, know that church had ended.

Commandment #5: Honor your father and your mother.
Commandment #8: Thou shall not steal.

This is a long, irreverent way of saying that my Easter has always been deeply rooted in the commercial aspects–the baskets, the rabbits, the eggs, the candy. I believed in the Easter Bunny long before I believed in any god. Church was seldom a part of our Easter celebration. While my friends were in church marveling over the Resurrection, I was at home hunting for my over-loaded Easter basket. It had a magic all its own with its pillowy pink and yellow peeps, peanut butter and chocolate eggs the size of baseballs, and always a giant white chocolate rabbit with tempting ears that I couldn’t wait to sink my silver filling-laden teeth into.

Mom and dad hid my basket the night before Easter. The next morning I waited for what felt like hours until I could hear their voices–my signal that I could leave my room and hunt for my basket. Mom was the mastermind behind the hiding; she never made it easy. Dad would offer clues if mom was out of earshot, eager to see the joy the heaping basket would bring me. I squealed when I finally found it. Mom loved to watch me unpack it, layer by layer, stopping only to nosh on a black jelly bean or four as I worked. Later our tiny house would fill with family and the sweet smells of a roasting ham. Kraft Mac and Cheese casseroles and Jesus were far from our minds.

The baskets continued until I left for college. After that Easter as I knew it faded away. Today, it’s the one holiday that I haven’t managed to build a fulfilling tradition around. For the last twenty years I’ve tried on traditions like they were Easter dresses, and like the pretty but over-sized church dress I wore as a kid, they were often awkward and just not me. We’ve shared the day with Greg’s family, with my family, with our friends. During the best of times we agree to do it again the next year, but that notion yields to ever changing schedules, both ours and theirs. Some years we drop in for egg coloring at my in-laws and watch our nieces and nephews splash around in the inky water. I often consider how my Easter ambivalence might change if I had a toddler of my own in the mix, elbow deep in purple egg dye.

Longing to fill the void that remained, I gravitated to what I know best: food. And being the mutt that I am, I borrowed from the traditions of others. Last year it was Russian Kulich and Polish pierogies, and the year before that, hot cross buns. This year Greg and I are spending Easter alone for the first year in a very long time. I’m baking up a nod to Finland with a delicately sweet loaf of Pulla, and I’m bringing back the Easter basket. That’s right, I’m going to find the biggest basket we have and fill it with Greg’s favorite treats–pistachios, bananas, cookies, peanut butter eggs, crossword puzzles, maybe a new garden book. And, I’m planning to hide it.

Pulla: Finnish Cardamom Bread
Pulla: Finnish Cardamom Bread

No-Knead Pulla: Finnish Cardamom Sweet Bread

    Lately, I’ve been experimenting with no-knead egg breads with some exciting results. I don’t mind labor-intensive baked goods especially for delicious, once-a-year, holiday treats, but I know plenty of people who think this fact alone makes me crazy. This pretty, little, no-knead Pulla, adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe at The Guardian, is my testament that bread making can be easy and even fun. It requires just twenty minutes of active time–the yeast does the real work.

Ingredients

    2 1/4 cups bread flour
    1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 teaspoons instant yeast
    1 3/4 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom
    1/4 cup butter, melted
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    3/4 cup milk
    1 egg, 1 yolk
    1 egg white
    1 tablespoon cream
    2 teaspoons coarse sugar (I used turbinado.)
    2 tablespoons sliced almonds

Preparation

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, yeast, and 1-1/2 teaspoons cardamom. Make a well in the center.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine the melted butter and sugar. Whisk in the milk, egg, and egg yolk. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour. Bring the dough together with your hands when it gets too stiff to stir. It should be soft and slightly tacky, resembling a shaggy ball. If it’s too sticky, add flour a little at a time.
  3. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled. (Mine took about four hours in a 65°F room.)
  4. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper.
  5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board. Divide into three equal sections. Roll each piece into a rope 18-inches long. Pinch the ropes together at one end. Braid them together from the pinched end to form a loaf. Pinch the opposite ends together. Tuck both pinched ends under to make a neat loaf. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Cover again and leave to rise until doubled in size. (About an hour in the same 65°F room.)
  6. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  7. Whisk together the remaining 1/4 teaspoon cardamom, egg white, and cream; brush on the loaf. Sprinkle with sugar and almonds.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

Makes 1 loaf.



Don’t wait for a special occasion to try these no-knead breads: Overnight No-Knead Multi-Grain Bread and No-Knead Spelt Bread with Muesli

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. Carrie permalink
    April 5, 2012 4:37 pm

    I was right there with you in the playground. Bulletin in hand. I hope Greg enjoys the hunt!

  2. April 5, 2012 4:39 pm

    Oh I think your Easter this year sounds sweet. It’s so much harder for me to create my own traditions because somehow they don’t always stack up to my childhood memories. It’s funny because when I think of Easter, I think of Stations of the Cross, painful as they may have been. Enjoy your day!

    • April 6, 2012 9:30 am

      Thanks Flannery. Yes, traditions are hard sometimes, whether you’re honoring ones from your past or creating new ones. It’s tricky too because I think we romanticize our memories as time passes.

      Yes, yes, those Stations of the Cross…was it me or did they last for HOURS?

  3. April 5, 2012 9:39 pm

    So glad I wasn’t the only lying 10 year old!! When I was that age, my mother sent my older sister and I off to tennis lessons. We tried one lesson and hated it, so we would get off at the subway stop before the tennis courts and hang out at the variety store eating candy. Then we would go home and lie to our mom about how great our lesson was!

    The basket for Greg sounds perfect! Have fun.

    Oh, and the bread looks so pretty! Great photos.

    • April 6, 2012 9:27 am

      Hilarious! Did your mom ever figure it out? Did she wonder why you were so lousy at tennis?

  4. herbgrl permalink
    April 6, 2012 3:28 am

    Was I the only one who really went to church when she said to? I’ve lately thought that it would have been clever to not go….how would she know? She would know! No Knead breads are my favorite! I’m going to try this one…..

    • April 6, 2012 9:25 am

      You always did what she said. And you’re right, she always seemed to find things out–it was kind of creepy sometimes. Big Mother was watching!

  5. April 6, 2012 1:37 pm

    This bread is delightfully fluffy – I Iove it 😀

    Happy Easter!
    Choc Chip Uru

  6. April 6, 2012 6:15 pm

    This looks wonderful – pinned for perhaps making this Sunday. Gorgeous photos!

  7. susan permalink
    April 8, 2012 4:35 pm

    I believe your recipe calls for ‘rapid rise’ instant yeast, rather than simply instant dry yeast. I followed your recipe, and instant yeast will never yield a nice loaf.

    • April 9, 2012 2:18 pm

      Hi Susan, I’m sorry to hear that your loaf was disappointing. I use SAF instant yeast (I put the link at the bottom of this note.) in all of my bread recipes, including this one. Is it possible that your dough was too stiff? My personal experience working with no-knead breads is that a dough that’s too stiff won’t rise properly, and that’s especially true if you’re using whole grain flours. I made two more loaves this weekend using the recipe above–both were fine, although the rise time for the second loaf was under 3 hours because the kitchen was so warm.

      One other thought–how recently did you purchase your yeast? Old yeast or yeast that hasn’t been stored in a cool, dry place is less effective.

      http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/saf-red-instant-yeast-16-oz

  8. Judy Judy Judy permalink
    February 20, 2013 1:15 pm

    My mother, who is full-blooded Swedish, requested Cardamom Bread yesterday, so today I’m in the kitchen. And I found your recipe on line to try, since I’m afraid I think her recipe from the ‘Old Country’ leaves a little to be desired.

    It’s February…the temps are in the teens today (considerably warmer than last night)….I live in a 90+ year old house with inadequate baseboard heat. Getting bread to rise is always a challenge…..so I turn on the electric blanket on the bed and lovingly wrap the bowl of dough in it to rise. Shortens the time a good bit.

    Just make sure you shut the door if you have a dog or cat that can jump up on the bed.

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