Christmas Cinnamon Bun aka Joulu Korvapuusti aka Star Bun

I belong to a Facebook group called Finnish Cooking, and there were so many people posting pictures of this beautiful bread during the holidays, I felt compelled to try making it myself. I found a recipe on the site, however the recipe was written in Finnish. My first challenge. My Finnish vocabulary is limited . I know that muna is egg, voita is butter, and maito is milk. Much beyond that and I am guessing, a particularly bad idea when you’re baking. I have a friend that figured out how to get a copy of the recipe translated to English which was extremely helpful. The remaining challenges were measurements and my daughter helped me with the conversions. The first time I made this I think that a few things were lost in the translations and the bread over baked and was dry. Today I reviewed the recipe and compared it to my pulla recipe and my cinnamon roll recipe and made some modifications going in. The dough felt much better and the end result was much more eye appealing. And best of all, the bread is moist and tastes wonderful, especially fresh out of the oven.

This bread has the distinct taste and aroma of cardamom. There is cardamom in the dough and in the filling. While it was in the oven, the aroma was reminiscent of my grandmother’s kitchen when she was baking her cardamom bread. We all loved that bread. It made wonderful toast or French toast and was great dunked in your coffee with a good smear of butter. It just evokes the best memories.

The ingredients listed below reflect my modification of the original recipe.

Ingredients:

2 1/4 tsp dry yeast

4 T sugar

4 T melted butter

3/4 cup whole milk

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tsp cardamom

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg

4 cups flour

Combine the milk and buttermilk and warm to hand temperature. In a large mixing bowl combine yeast, melted butter, sugar, salt, egg, warm milk and cardamom along with 1 cup flour beating for a minute or two. Continue stirring, adding 1/2 cup of flour at a time. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead until you have a soft smooth dough. About 8-10 minutes. If necessary add a little additional flour. You can also do this in a stand mixer using a dough hook, but I like kneading dough by hand. Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl covered with a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise until it is double in size, 1 hour or so depending on how warm your kitchen is.

I like to use my grandmother’s bread bowls because I believe there is still some of her magic in those bowls. While your bread is rising you can make your filling. The original recipe called for hazelnuts but I used pecans. Pecans are one of my favorites for baking and hazelnuts are sometimes difficult to find.

Filling Ingredients:

5 T melted butter

3 oz sugar

1 T gingerbread seasoning

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground cardamom

3.5 oz ground pecans

Combine all of the filling ingredients and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 380 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Once the dough has risen punch it down, and dump it onto your baking mat. Divide the dough into four equal parts. I weighed mine and tried to keep the discs equal in size. Roll out your first disc of dough into about a 9-10 inch circle. Put the dough on the prepared baking pan and spread 1/3 of the filling on it.

Continue rolling, stacking, and spreading the filling until you have used all of the dough. Place a circular mold of some kind on the top center of the circle. Using a sharp knife cut into 4 quarters and cut each quarter into 3 wedges taking care not to cut past the mold in the center.

You should have a total of 16 cuts. Taking 2 claws at a time twist them outward 2 or 3 turns and pinch and bottom edges together. Repeat all the way around.

Cover the bread with your kitchen towel and allow it to rise for 20-30 minutes. Brush the bread with an egg wash and sprinkle a few chopped nuts in the center. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack. The bread tears easily into individual servings. Enjoy!!

NOTE: I did not have gingerbread spice so I had to make my own. 2 T allspice, 2 T cinnamon, 2 T ginger, 1 T cloves, 1 T nutmeg, and a pinch of fresh ground black pepper.

The first time I made this I over-baked it. Each oven is different, but be careful not to leave it in too long.

Note to self, I need to brush up on my Finnish.

Challah

Challah is a special bread in Jewish cuisine.  It’s usually braided and is typically eaten on Jewish holidays and the sabbath.  I am told that the three strands of the braid symbolize truth, peace, and justice.  And the poppy seeds are said to symbolize the manna that fell from heaven.  Challah is very similar to a Finnish bread called Pulla which is what I grew up eating.  In fact, in one of my very favorite bread books, the breads are listed together along with the exchanges.  For pulla milk vs. water, sugar vs. honey, and the addition of cardamom seed.  Since this pandemic started, and as we have sheltered at home, I’ve been doing a lot more baking than usual.  There are only two of us sheltering in this house and I’m working on my fifth five pound bag of flour.  My daughter and son-in-law, also sheltering at home, have been doing as much bread baking as me, maybe more.  I recently had a copy of my fav bread book sent to them.

My grandmother made the best pulla.  She would make several loaves at a time and whenever anyone came to visit she would put the coffee on and slice some pulla.  It was a staple at her house.  When we were kids we called her bread biscuite…some kind of bad  Finnglish.  Actually, maybe not Finnish at all, but it’s what we called it.  My mother-in-law, Goldie, made the best challah.  All of her baked goods were amazing.  My husband remembers his mother making challah every Friday, covering the braids with a towel while they proofed, and saying a prayer over them.  Whenever we would visit her there was always challah.  I would never profess to baking like my grandmother or my mother-in-law but I sure love making the effort.

Ingredients:

2 tsp dry yeast

3/4 cup plus 2 T of warm water

3 1/2 cups unbleached AP flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 T honey

2 eggs beaten

4 T butter melted

poppy seeds (optional)

In a small bowl sprinkle the yeast into the water and allow about 5 minutes for it to dissolve.  Mix the flour and salt in a larger mixing bowl making a well in the center.  Once the yeast has dissolved pour it into the well and draw just enough flour into the water and yeast to form a soft paste.

Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and allow it to sponge for about 20 minutes until it’s frothy and risen.

Add the honey, beaten eggs, and melted butter to the flour well. Mix in the flour to form a soft dough.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic and shiny.  About 10 minutes.

From shaggy to smooth and shiny.

Put the dough into a lightly buttered bowl turning the dough once to coat the top.  Cover with your towel and allow the dough to rise until it is doubled in size, one and a half to two hours.

Once the dough has risen, punch it down and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes.  Divide the dough into three equal balls and, with your hands, roll each piece to form a rope about 16 inches long.  I weigh my dough sections out in an attempt to make them more equal in size.  Otherwise I end up with a fat strand and a skinny one.  Braid the strands together tucking in both ends.  Put the braid on a lightly buttered baking sheet or use a sheet of parchment paper.

Cover the braid with a towel and allow it to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.  Whisk together one egg yolk and 1 T of water and brush the egg wash over the braid.  Sprinkle with poppy seeds if you choose.  Preheat your oven to 350.

Bake for 35-45 minutes until golden and hollow  sounding when tapped underneath.

Cool on a wire rack, slice, and enjoy.  This bread makes excellent toast and French toast.

NOTE:  I think I have a little edge in the bread baking department because I always use my grandmother’s bread bowls.  I think she would be happy about that.

If anyone is interested in the bread book I referenced, the authors are Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno and the title of the book is Ultimate Bread.  Happy bread baking.