With its elegant braided look and subtle hints of cardamom, this Braided Cardamom Pain au Lait is the Finnish version of the milk buns French kids love to devour for breakfast.
I am a huge fan of brioches! (What French isn’t?) And I feel it is safe to say that the French do own the craft of brioche-making, with as many delicious variations as there are French regions.
But today’s recipe is not French. What I call a “Braided Cardamom Pain Au Lait” is also known as a Finnish Pulla (pulla meaning “bun” in Finnish). I discovered this iconic Finnish bread when I was a University student in Vaasa, in Finland ten years ago, and I have been obsessed with it ever since. This pillowy braid is sold in most Finnish bakeries and is a home-baking staple, especially around Christmas time.
Although from Finland, I find this rich yeasted bread very reminiscent of French brioches, which is why I wanted to share this recipe here.
In texture, this Braided Cardamom Pain au Lait reminds me of the traditional French brioche from Vendee. They are both braided, pillowy and chewy inside. The brioche from Vendee is flavored with orange blossom extract, while this one is flavored with cardamom (but honestly, I couldn’t tell you which one tastes better!).
This Braided Cardamom Pain au Lait requires less sugar and fewer eggs than a classic brioche. The recipe relies mostly on milk to create the signature pillowy texture – which is actually the same method used for the French “pains au laits” (meaning “milk buns”).
So, if you are getting your hands wet in the art of French brioche, this recipe is one you should try. The texture is so soft, and the subtle hints of cardamom are simply wonderful. (Plus, the smell coming from the oven while it’s baking is the best!).
And because it is less sweet and rich than a classic brioche, this milk bun is perfect for breakfast with a pat of butter and jam. And the next day, it works great for making French toast.
- This is the recipe from Saveur, (it makes 2 loaves), which is the one I have been using for years and that has never failed me! The recipe here calls for the use of a stand mixer, but I have made this recipe by hand many times and it always turns out great (but be prepared for an arm work-out!)
- If you can, use fresh ground cardamom seeds. Discard about 20 cardamom pods and ground the seeds in a mortar and pestle, to obtain 4 tsp. You can also use store-bought ground cardamom (it will still be delicious, but not as fragrant and fresh-tasting).
- You can substitute the heavy cream with sour cream or Greek yogurt.
- Click here for a video on how to braid bread/brioches.
- After brushing the braid with the egg yolk, I like to sprinkle some white sugar on top. Although, in Finland, they often sprinkle some shaved almonds on top. Take your pick!
Braided Cardamom Pain au LaitPrint This
1 1⁄3 cups milk, heated to 115°
2⁄3 cup sugar
4 tsp. ground cardamom
3 eggs, lightly beaten
6 1⁄2 cups flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes, at room temperature
1 tbsp. heavy cream
2 (1⁄4-oz) packages active dry yeast
1 egg yolk
Crushed lump sugar, for garnish (optional)
Sliced almonds, for garnish (optional)
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine milk, sugar, 3 tsp. cardamom, and yeast; stir together and let sit until foamy, 10 minutes.
Add eggs; mix to combine. Add flour and salt; mix until a dough forms. Replace paddle with hook attachment; knead dough on medium speed for 2 minutes.
While kneading, slowly add butter in batches, mixing until incorporated before adding next batch, 3-4 minutes; continue kneading for 4 minutes more after last of butter is added.
Transfer dough to a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down dough; cover again with plastic wrap and let sit until fully risen, 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 375°.
Transfer dough to a work surface and divide into 2 equal pieces.
Set 1 piece aside and divide other piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each portion between your palms and work surface to create a 16-inch rope.
Braid ropes together to form a loaf, following the instructions below. Transfer loaf to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Repeat with second dough piece. Cover loaves with plastic wrap and let sit until slightly puffed up, about 20 minutes.
Whisk together remaining cardamom, cream, and egg yolk in a small bowl; brush over loaves. Sprinkle with sugar and almonds (if using); bake, one loaf at a time, until golden brown, 20–25 minutes.
Transfer to a rack; let cool 10 minutes before serving.