I baked cardamom bread and cooked rice pudding on the day of the Finland Minnesota Historical Society's Finnish Christmas party called Pikku Joulu.
In the past years I don't think I would have considered contributing my homely loaf of cardamom bread to the Pikku Joulu. This year I had a feeling my tray of cardamom bread might be the only cardamom bread on the pot luck table. It was.
Cardamom bread in my neighborhood is often referred to as biscuit or Finnish biscuit. I remember Finns telling me about the biscuit made every Saturday and how it was served with coffee after the Saturday night sauna.
I learned about making cardamom bread from two ladies from Finland, Minnesota, Mary Nikolai and her sister-in-law Tynne Nikolai. Both ladies passed on in recent years and left Finland's cardamom bread baking to some skilled bakers and some rookies like me.
A good hefty slice of the goodwill on earth that Mary Nikolai gave our community came in the form of cardamom bread braided wreaths. Her creations were carefully braided, frosted and decorated with maraschino cherries. She made sure the boys at Northshore Mining feasted on her cardamom bread at Christmas and other occasions.
It was a special occasion when Mary called our family to let us know her Christmas cardamom bread wreath was ready for us. I will never forget the taste of Mary's cardamom bread. Mary was the Picasso of the cardamom bread world in my mind.
Some people might resist learning the fine art of cardamom bread making because they can't duplicate the complexity of braiding and frosting their creation. A good loaf can be made without frosting or braiding the bread.
Forgive yourself for not being the Picasso or Sibelius of the cardamom bread making world and follow these gentle suggestions and you'll bake good cardamom bread.
It's perfectly acceptable to not braid cardamom bread. I use it for caramel rolls. Or just form it like a regular loaf of bread. I often freeze the dough into loaf pan amounts. I don't keep it frozen for more than a week.
I usually slice and butter the cardamom bread before I bring it someplace where my poor skills at braiding would be discovered. I braid my loaves and put in greased loaf pans. I braid loosely. If you have a teenage daughter, enlist her in the job.
I brush a little coffee mixed with powdered sugar on the hot loaves.
Pearl sugar (found in the Scandinavian section at Cub) is a good addition. King Arthur flour or organic unbleached white flour, free range eggs, fresh cardamom, fresh yeast and sweet cream butter will improve the taste of the bread.
When I asked Mary Nikolai what the secret of her bread making was, she said she used Beatrice Ojakangas' recipes for bread making. What she learned from Ojakangas is the importance of stirring the bread 300 strokes, adding the flour slowly. You'll find you don't have to knead the bread so much.
I started out on my path to cardamom bread making from a recipe culled from Tynne Nikolai circa 1995. She braided her bread into loaf pans and baked the bread in a hot oven. I am too forgetful and distracted to bake in a hot oven so I bake my bread at 350 degrees for around 40 minutes. Watch the bread carefully because it burns easily.
Tynne's Cardamom Bread
Two cups whole milk, scalded and cooled
One teaspoon salt
12 or more cardamom pods, seeds crushed with a hammer or pestle
One half cup butter
One cup sugar
Four beaten eggs
Flour--maybe six cups or more
Two or three packets yeast with one tablespoon sugar in one half cup warm water.
Put sugar, butter into scalded milk. When milk is cooled down, add beaten eggs. Let yeast mixture do its thing for about five minutes. Place yeast mixture and milk mixture together in large bread bowl.
Mix salt and ground cardamom into one cup flour. Beat, adding additional flour, with a wooden spoon for 300 strokes. When you can no longer beat mixture, knead and add flour slowly. Mixing bread in a large bowl saves clean up.
After bread flour is fully incorporated, and the dough is soft and not sticky, take it out of the bowl. Wash the bowl in hot water and dry the bowl. Grease the bowl and place the dough in the bowl and cover with dish towels.
Let the bread raise until double. Form into loaves, rolls or braids. Let the bread raise again.
Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes if you are mindful.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 or so minutes if you are not so mindful.