Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pulla - Finnish Cardamom Bread

Pulla. I used to love to come home after school to a house warm and smelling of fresh baked cinnamon rolls. A sure sign my Aiti, my father's mother, who spend a good part of the year with us, had a very productive afternoon. At Christmas, she would make little bread men with them, using currants for eyes and buttons, sometimes adding a little simple frosting. I have fondly sticky memories of sharing pulla and my grandmother's homemade raspberry freezer jam, chest puffed out in pride at having helped my grandmother make the jam, at my elementary school's Heritage Day. Although, admittedly, I grew rather tired of hearing "You're Finnish? Finn-ished? So you're done, right?" by the end of the day.

My grandmother passed away a few years ago, sadly, never writing down her own recipe for her cardamom bread. My dad has his own technique for making it (he's successfully adapted the dough-making portion for the bread machine!) and I've tried to recreate it as best I can, giving it my own spin of course. I always make multiple batches at once, as each batch is quite the labor of love. I do love the process of making it though - it always makes me feel closer to my grandmother - a woman who had a very large part in raising us but was no longer able to do much cooking by the time I was getting really interested in it. It also helps me feel a bit closer to my Finnish heritage - though only half of my ethnic makeup, is certainly a formative half. In our flawed but never-the-less melting pot of a society, it feels good to have something solid to hold onto when it comes to tradition and roots. Making pulla is a very grounding thing, especially when preparing it for your pulla-loving family. I don't think I've quite achieved her mastery, but I like to think that she's watching and nodding approvingly.

2 c milk
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c white sugar
1 Tbs. crushed cardamom seeds
2 pkgs. dry yeast (or 2 Tbs)
6 c unbleached white flou
2-3 c whole wheat flour
2/3 c butter1 tsp salt
1 egg yolk
1 Tbs waterplus about
1/4 c Turbinado sugar
Optional for Cinnamon Rolls:
2 Tbs melted butter
1/4 c white sugar
1/2 brown sugar
3 Tbs cinnamon

1. Scald milk with cardamom and 2 Tbs of sugar from 1/2 c of white sugar
2. Cool to lukewarm, and add yeast. let sit for 5 minutes or until doubled
3. In seperate bowl, add remaining white sugar and brown sugar, salt and 1 1/2 c white and 1 1/2c wheat flours
4. combine melted butter cooled to lukewarm, egg and milk/yeast mixture
5. add wet mixture to dry, adding remaining flour as necessary
6. knead for 10 minutes, then allow to rise about 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in greased bowl covered in a damp dish towel.
7. Shape into braids (2-3 depending on size) or rolls*, cover with dish towel and allow to rise 45 mins or until doubled8. For braids, brush with egg mixture and sprinkle with turbinado sugar9. bake in 350 degree oven for 15-25 minutes
*rolls option: roll dough flat into a rectangle to about 1/4" thick, spread melted butter till covered and sprinkle sugar mixture evenly accross it. Roll into a log and cut into 1/2-1" slices and place in buttered cake pan (round or rectangular). Allow to rise as mentioned above and then bake as described.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Blueberry Scones

I confess, I was right there with many young girls in the world when it came to tea parties. My sister and I were queens of them - and believe me, it took serious mastery to engender regency to mudpie making (and yes, I mean literal mud). Once we were old enough to be entrusted with slightly battered but shabbily elegant tea set from the thrift store, our parents were hard pressed not to find us taking tea when they came home from work. I'm sure the sticky remnants of cinnamon sugar toast only made our exuberant embraces of them all that more special - if perhaps contributing to increases in dry cleaning bills.

When I reached 5th grade, we once had the very special priveledge of taking high tea at the Four Seasons. Even now, I can perfectly recall the sheer delight at living out one of our favorite girlhood fantasies - the deep puice color and tangy flavor of the black currant tea I ordered (each of us got our own pot, amazing!) and the scones decadently smeared with Deveonshire Cream and topped with fresh strawberries. Oh! I'm salivating at the mere memory!

To this day, scones always taste a bit of wonder and evoke a sprinkling of that magic of childhood and imagination.

Blueberry and Lemon Scones
inspired by orangette

½ c half and half
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 Tbs unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
3 Tbs sugar
1/4-1/2 c frozen blueberries
2 tsp lemon zest

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat together the milk and the egg and then set aside. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Rub the butter into the flour mixture, working until you have no lumps bigger than a pea. Add the sugar blueberries and zest.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Bring dough together gently with a wooden spoon.Turn dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead it no more than 12 times. Pat dough into a round approximately ½-inch thick, and cut into 8 or 12 wedges. Place on an ungreased baking sheet or a Silpat, if you have one. Using a pastry brush, glaze wedges with a little extra half and half. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack.


This, friends, is how all mornings should begin. Licking sticky homemade strawberry jam off of your fingers after swallowing a delicious bite of still-warm-from-the-oven popovers your significant other made for you as you lazily slept in. Maybe a little almond butter on the next bite...

Birthday Cake for Mr. Pleasant

Each new year deserves quite the celebration - and for me that celebration needs cake. Great cake, make you wiggle your toes in culinary exstasy kind of good cake. The enjoyment of said birthday cake depends on a number of things of course - and I truly, honestly believe that the love put into a cake, no matter what the recipe, ingredients or skill, truly make the expereince the most rewarding. Perhaps nothing so dramatic as the magical realisim of Like Water for Chocolate, when the embittered cake baker pours all of her hurt, sorrow and anger into a wedding cake that makes all the guests suffer as she has. No, something more along the lines of sharing something with the people you care about. Birthday cake that my mom or grandmother made always tasted magical somehow. One of the first cakes I ever made all by myself as a kid, albeit from a mix, tasted really, really good to me - surely because of the hope and excitement I poured into it and pride I had in it. That said, I've also made some pretty awful things - no matter what feelings I was channeling at the moment - although in doing so, have good stories that my family still laugh about (ask my sister about the cinnamon bun that exploded the microwave sometime).
So yes, homemade, lovingly made and proudly displayed cake can be very tasty. It's even better when the cake is really, really amazingly delicious. Definitely a testament to Ms. Bernbaum here on the cake itself - such delicate crumb, velvety texture - something I admit to not always achieving with every cake I make. She broke down the basics to make a fool-proof, fabulous cake. It's a bold move to title one's cookbook the "Cake Bible" but Bernbaum does it credit!
Raspberry Chocolate Cake

Cake (from Bernbaum's Cake Bible)

1/2 c + 3 Tbs dutch process cocoa
1 c boiling water
3 large eggs
2 1/4 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 + 2 Tbs sifted cake flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1 Tbs baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 c unsalted butter, softened
Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 9 x 1 1/2 inch round pans and line with wax or parchment paper (also greased). Wisk together cocoa and boiling water, cool to lukewarm. In another bowl, lightly combine eggs, vanilla, 1/4 of cocoa mixture. In large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Add butter and remaining cocoa mixture. Mix on low until dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down sides. Gradually add egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addtion. Scrape batter into pans, bake for 25-35 minutes - until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and cake springs back when lightly pressed.
approx. 3/4 c raspberry jam ( I used a combo of black and red raspberry jam)
1/4-1/2c frozen raspberries, thawed and drained
dash (to taste) of raspberry rum (we had on hand) although framboise liquer would be lovely
basic vanilla buttercream
powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, milk
Finishing Touches
solid milk chocolate, warmed in hand then shaved. pressed lightly to sides of cake with wooden spoon