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Recipe for Finnish cardamom bread

Makes 2

Also called pulla or nisu, these braided loaves are scented with cardamom, used in pastries across many Nordic cultures. The sweet yeast dough can be braided and baked in loaf pans or made into a ring. Buy ground cardamom or green cardamom pods. Crush the pods and remove the little black seeds. Place them in a mortar and pestle and pulverize into a powder. It makes an aromatic addition to the bread, well worth the effort. Stale bread turns into delicious French toast, sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar. The bread comes from a good home baker in Milwaukee.

Canola oil (for the pans and bowl)
2packages active dry yeast
½cup warm water
1cup whole milk
½cup sugar
1teaspoon salt
½cup plus 1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
cups flour
2eggs, beaten to mix
1teaspoon ground or 12 whole cardamom pods, seeds removed and pulverized
Extra flour (for sprinkling)
1extra egg white
Extra sugar (for sprinkling)

1. Have on hand two 8½-by-4½-by-2½ loaf pans or 1 large baking sheet. Rub the pans or sheet with oil.

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2. In a small bowl, stir together yeast and water; set aside for several minutes.

3. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, sugar, salt, and ½ cup butter. Heat until the butter melts. Scrape into a large heatproof bowl. Cool to tepid.

4. Add the yeast mixture and 2 cups of flour. Using a wooden spoon, stir well. Stir in the eggs and cardamom. Gradually work in the remaining flour, ½ cup at a time. Stir until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is sticky, work in up to an additional ½ cup of flour.

5. Dust a work surface with flour. Turn the dough out and knead it for 8 minutes or until it is smooth.

6. Scrape out the bowl. Pour a little oil into it and add the dough. Turn to coat it all over with oil. Spread the remaining 1 tablespoon butter on the dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 1 hour or until the dough doubles in bulk.

7. Remove the plastic wrap and lightly compress the dough with your fingers. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Divide the dough in half. Cut each piece into 3 equal pieces. Roll each into a 14-inch rope. Form 2 braids, using 3 ropes for each. If you are making loaves, set them in the loaf pans, tucking under the edges. If you are making rings, place 2 circles on the baking sheet, pinching the ends so they hold together. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 1 hour or until the dough doubles in bulk.

8. Set the oven at 350 degrees.

9. Discard the wrap on the breads. Beat the egg white to break it up. Brush the breads with the white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

10. Transfer loaves or rings to a wire rack to cool. If you shaped loaves, cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then turn out and cool completely, right-side up, on the rack. Debra Samuels

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