Swedish Cardamom Bread

18 Dec

During the summer after my first year at university, I spent four weeks working on a project run out of the University of Oulu, in Finland. I braved the northern wilds with four other McGill students, and we quickly became fast friends. Together we were exposed to the horrors of Finnish coffee (unspeakable), the mediocrity of Finnish beer (tolerable), and the surprisingly tasty, and ubiquitous Finnish breakfast pastry, a cardamom spiced sweet bread called pulla. Despite the inadequacy of the local beverages,  the experience was incredible and since then the scent of cardamom has been enough of an olfactory trigger to bring me back to that time.

Unsurprisingly, I was elated when I found this sweet bread recipe. Like the Finnish pulla, it’s a lightly sweetened breakfast offering, spiced with a touch of cardamom. This ‘coffee bread’ is basically a Scandinavian take on cinnamon rolls. You make a yeasted sweet bread dough, allow it to rise for an hour, roll it out, add your fillings and roll it back up. Then you do some moderately fancy scissor-work, which I found to be the most trying part of the ordeal – a closely guarded secret from my misspent youth is that I was forced to repeat Kindergarten because of scissor issues, and since then I have been particularly sensitive to my failings in this department.

Anyone who has made cinnamon rolls from scratch will attest to the fact that it’s not a simple process, what with the first rise and roll out and second rise, a baking saga that leaves your kitchen covered in a dusting of sugar, flour, cinnamon and melted butter. However, the results are always well worth the messy effort. Unless, of course, you screw up and burn the cinnamon rolls, which is understandably tragic.

Happily, the fillings for this cardamom bread are also quite versatile – I used a combination of brown sugar, cinnamon, slivered almonds and almond paste, but you could likely use jam or cream cheese in a pinch – pretty much anything you’d want to put in a breakfast pastry! While not as sweet as cinnamon rolls, the ‘christmas bread’ doesn’t suffer for it, and on the whole is lighter and less guilt inducing than most other glazed breakfast pastries. The lightly sweetened dough allows the flavor of the cardamom to take centre stage, while complementing the richest and most flavorful  elements of the filling – particularly the almond paste and toasted almonds. The recipe itself is filched entirely from Simply Recipes, but I’ve added a few tips that will make working with the dough a bit easier, and I’ve discovered that you can flash freeze the whole shebang after the second rise, which makes it a cinch to prepare in advance. Given that this recipe yields two ‘wreaths’ of cardamon bread, I would strongly recommend making one and freezing the second one.   So – on to the recipe!

Ingredients for Dough
  •  2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
  •  1 cup whole milk
  •  1/2 cup white sugar
  •  1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  •  1/2 tsp salt
  •  1 & 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 4 cups AP flour, + additional for flouring surface

To make the Dough

1. Heat the milk over medium-high heat until it steams, then remove from heat and stir in butter and sugar until the mixture is smooth.

2. In a large bowl, add the dissolved yeast/water mixture to the milk mixture. Stir in the egg, mixing until smooth.

3. Add the salt and cardamom.

4. Add three cups of the flour until the mixture has pulled together, adding up to one more cup as needed. The finished dough should be soft, but not overly sticky. I wound up using all four cups of dough, plus additional dough when flouring the counter. Knead the dough for 7 – 10 minutes, or until it has come together.

5. Place dough in an oiled, covered bowl and allow to rise for an hour or until it has doubled in size. While the dough is rising, assemble your fillings!


Filling Ingredients

  • Two tbsp melted butter
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1 tbsp white sugar + 2 tsp cinnamon, mixed together
  • 1/4 cup almond paste, chopped into small chunks
  • Half cup slivered almonds, toasted

After the dough has risen, I would recommend putting it in the freezer for ten minutes or so to make it easier to  handle and roll out!

To Make the Filling & Finish the Wreath

1. If you are baking the wreaths right away, preheat the oven to 350 F.

Lightly flour a broad surface (I used my kitchen table, for extra space). Dust a large rolling pin with flour. Take half of the dough and rolling into an 8″ x 16″ rectangle, trying to maintain a relatively even thickness across the entire dough.

2. Brush the rectangle with butter, leaving a 1/2 inch gap around the edges of the dough, to make it easier to work with.

3. Sprinkle buttered area evenly with sugar/cinnamon mixture.

4. Sprinkle on any additional toppings, including the almond paste and slivered almonds.

5. Carefully roll up the dough tightly, and join the ends together so that it forms a circle, making sure to seal the seams by pinching them together. If you find the two ends of the ‘log’ are pretty much just dough, lacking any filling, you can trim them (which I did).

6. After you have joined the ends of the dough together to form a circular log, take a pair of kitchen scissors and cut the wreath into even sections, cutting about 3/4 of the way through the dough,working from the outside of the circle to the inside. Use scissors to partition the entire circular log into such sections, pushing alternating sections to the right or the left as you go, to create the desired wreath shape. See below for desired outcome, or check the Simply Recipes post for more detailed guidance in the form of step-by-step photos.

7.  After shaping the dough into a wreath, cover lightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise for another forty minutes.

8. For each wreath, whisk together one egg yolk with one tbsp of cream and brush over the surface of the dough with a pastry brush. At this point, you can flash freeze the dough if you so desire (place it on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet in the freezer until frozen, and then store in a tupper ware or large ziploc bag until you are ready to bake it). If you flash freeze it, you may need to allow more time in the oven on baking day, but you won’t have to let the bread rise again, as it underwent both rises before being frozen.

9. If you want to bake it right away, do so at 350 for 20-25 minutes, or until the top of the wreath is golden brown. Careful not to over-bake, as I found that the bottoms of the wreaths began to brown rather aggressively towards the end – and mine had come out of the freezer.

10. Finally, a glaze nicely complements this bread once it has been removed from the oven and cooled. I whisked together 2 cups of powdered sugar, 1 & 1/2 tbsp milk, and 1/2 tsp vanilla to create a glaze of a consistency that was pourable, but not so liquid that it would slide right off the baked bread.


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