Cardamom Bread

I have this really sweet and adorable friend named Jen who lives on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Did you know that people who live up there are called Yoopers?  U.P. = Yoop = Yoopers!

She's Finnish, which is close enough to Swedish and Norwegian to call it good.  And like all good Scandinavians, she and I share a love of cardamom.  Do you know cardamom?  It's found in Indian cooking, too.  But oh! we Scandies love our cardamom.  It's a pod, that when crushed, releases a fragrant and floral spice that is sorta-kinda like cinnamon or nutmeg or allspice.  But altogether different.

Back to Jen.  When we had a visit last year, she gave me a little cookbook full of recipes from the U.P.  It's called "Yooper Recipes" and let me just tell you that if you've never had a pasty, get on it, will ya?  They are delicious pocket-turnover-hand-pie filled with meat and potato and rutabaga and other good things.  There's also a great mushroom soup recipe.  And then there's Cardamom Bread.

I've been using cardamom for a while.  And I've baked braided breads for a while, sort of like the Jewish Challah.  I'm also no stranger to sweet yeasty doughs (see the entry for Nana Rolls here).  So when I saw this recipe in the book, I just had had had to make it.  It's become a favorite here at the Sassy house.

Yes, it takes a bit of time to mix and knead the dough, let it rise once, punch down and portion and braid the loaves, rise again and then bake.  Yet I promise you that you will never regret the process nor the result.

The recipe says it makes three loaves.  I just make two, and they're a little bigger, but two fit better in my oven.  If for some odd reason there's any leftover a day or two after you bake it, it does make the most delicious french toast.  For an extra bit of tastiness, add a splash of almond extract to your french toast batter.  Almond and cardamom are very happy to be together.

You can surely use all white flour as the recipe calls for, but I generally do about half whole wheat and half white.  It doesn't change a thing except make it more nutritious.  I've changed a bit of the amounts from the Yooper cookbook, decreasing the sugar slightly and using whole milk instead of half and half.  The following recipe is mine.

Cardamom Bread

2 packages dry yeast (or one tablespoon if you use bulk)
1/4 cup lukewarm water (100-110 degrees) with 2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups whole milk, warmed
1 stick butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons ground cardamom
7-8 cups flour (all white, or half white and half whole wheat)
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk
sugar, for sprinkling

Add yeast to water/sugar and let sit for a few minutes until it's foamy.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar, salt, cardamom, milk, butter, yeast mixture and 4 cups flour, until smooth.  Gradually add the remaining flour until a workable dough is formed.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead, about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.  (At the Sassy house, we call it "Baby's Butt" and it should be just as smooth and nice and not at all sticky!)

  (That's what I mean by baby's butt)

Clean out the bowl you mixed the dough in, dry it, and grease it with butter.  Put the dough into the bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let rise in a warm and draft-free place until doubled, about 60-90 minutes.

Punch dough down and divide into 2 portions.  Divide each portion into 3 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into an 18 inch rope. 

(It's like making snakes with play-dough)

Braid the ropes and press and tuck under the ends.  Repeat with the other portion of dough.  Place each loaf on parchment-lined baking sheets, cover with the damp towel, and let rise again until doubled, about an hour.

(Braided and ready to rise)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Brush egg-milk mixture onto each loaf and sprinkle with the sugar.  Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, rotate loaves in oven, reduce heat to 325 and bake for 30 minutes more until the loaves are golden and sound hollow on the bottoms when tapped.

Cool on wire racks as long as you can stand it, then slice and spread with butter.  Yep.

Highly recommend serving with hot cocoa after outside play!
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