The bread I always make at Christmas and Easter.
In 1999, my older sister gave me Baking With Julia. It’s an amazing cookbook filled with all kinds of fancy things that guest bakers made with Julia Child on the companion PBS show and the book is filled to the brim with beautiful photographs by the amazing (and married) team of Gentl and Hyres.
I keep the birthday card as a bookmark in my favorite page, that of the cardamom bread called “pulla” by Beatrice Ojakangas. Here’s the 1.5x recipe I use twice each year to make 2 very large or 3 regular braided loaves. (One or two for the occasion, one for eating fresh from the oven.)
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 Tablespoons dry active yeast
3/8 cup warm water
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom (freshly ground in a mortar and pestle is best…)
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs, beaten
7 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, melted
1 large egg beaten with 1 Tbsp water or milk
sliced almonds and pearl sugar for topping
Scald the milk in a big skillet till small bubbles appear around the edges. Cool to between 105-115F.
In a mixer bowl, whisk the yeast and water and let proof for 5 minutes. Add in the milk, sugar, cardamom, salt, and eggs. Beat in 3 cups of the flour until very smooth. Mix in the butter. Add the rest of the flour, a cup at a time, until a firm dough is formed. Let it rest 15 minutes. Using the dough hook, knead for 10 minutes until dough is smooth and shiny.
Let it rise, covered, until doubled: about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. Deflate the dough, divide into 2 parts for 2 loaves or 3 parts for 3. Further divide each part into 3, pulling the parts into long ropes. Braid the three ropes on the baking sheet, tucking ends under. Repeat for other loaves. Cover and let rise again for 45 minutes.
With the oven rack to the center, preheat the oven to 375F. Brush the egg glaze over each loaf, sprinkle with almonds and sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes, taking care not to over-bake. Cool on a rack. This bread can be wrapped airtight and frozen. Thaw, wrapped, at room temperature. Optional but highly recommended: serve with homemade strawberry or raspberry freezer jam.