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Cardamom (Recipe: Finnish pulla bread)

Pulla bread slices

Ten things I know about cardamom (you'll be glad to know them, too):


  1. The fruit of a large bush that grows wild in the Cardamom Hills in southern India, cardamom is cultivated in Tanzania, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea -- and Guatemala, which is the world's largest exporter.
  2. Traders carried cardamom along the spice routes from India. The Vikings brought it from Constantinople to Scandinavia, where it's still popular, but used almost exclusively in baking. (I can't quite picture a Viking baker. Can you?)
  3. Cardamom is the world’s third most expensive spice, after saffron and vanilla, because it too must be harvested by hand, when the pods are only three-quarters ripe, or the pods will split open and spill their seeds.
  4. The paler the green husk, the older the 15-20 small, dark brown seeds inside. The seeds should be sticky; if they aren't sticky, they aren't fresh.
  5. From ancient Rome, three facts about cardamom that might be related: it was used in perfume-making, as an aphrodisiac, and to cure bad breath.
  6. In India, cardamom often flavors tea; in Arab cultures, it flavors coffee. Bedouins will first show the cardamom pods to their guests, as a sign of respect, before pouring coffee over them (the pods, not the guests).
  7. Two popular spice blends -- Ethiopian berbere and Syrian baharat -- often include cardamom. Many curry powders and masalas do, too.
  8. The warm, musky overtones and lemon undertones of cardamom combine well with sweets (baked apples, fruit salads) or savories (duck, chicken, mulled wine, sweet potatoes, lentils).
  9. As with most spices, you want to buy whole rather than ground. But I like the convenience of having all three forms of cardamom -- green pods, seeds, and ground seeds -- on hand. Be sure to buy from a reputable spice vendor, so you know that the ground cardamom you get is pure. Ten green cardamom pods equals approximately 1-1/2 teaspoons of ground cardamom.
  10. Ssshhh... it's the secret ingredient in Swedish meatballs.

Pulla bread

Finnish pulla bread (made in the bread machine)

This recipe, and the beautiful loaf of pulla, was given to me by Patti Folsom, assistant librarian at the Harmony Library in our town. Patti got the recipe from the late Mim Pellinen, who was an integral member of the Finnish American Heritage Society in Canterbury, CT, and the bread machine adaptation from Mary Ellen Harmon. Now, if you can't trust a librarian to find a great recipe, who can you trust? Makes 2 loaves.


2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
1 stick butter, minus one tablespoon
1 heaping tsp ground cardamom (more or less, to taste)
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
4 cups flour (preferably King Arthur)
2 tsp yeast (not rapid-rise type)


Beat eggs with sugar. In a small saucepan (or in the microwave), warm the milk, and melt the butter in the warm milk. Add cardamom, vanilla and salt. Mix above ingredients until well blended and pour liquids in bottom of the bread machine pan. (Note: Follow your individual bread machine instructions as to adding ingredients. But do not mix salt with yeast. Salt will negate the action of the yeast.)

Add the flour, make a small dent in flour and place yeast in dent. Set machine on dough setting.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

When cycle is finished, remove dough and cut into two pieces. Cut each of the two pieces into three pieces for braids. Braid dough and shape. Let rise until about double.

Mary Ellen's note: I brush on Eggbeaters and sprinkle with coarse sugar. (My note: make an egg wash by beating one egg with one teaspoon of water. Brush on, then sprinkle with sugar.)

Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until bread has risen and the loaves are golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Masalawali chai
Cardamom shortbread
Prawn fried rice

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thanks for the history lesson! I hope my local wegmans has cardamom. If not, I'll have to order from peskeys, oops penzeys. I'm going to do the meatballs though instead of the bread.

thanks again

I love cardamom! And the bread looks really good!

May be there are two facts you don't know about Cardamon.
1. Jewish Yamanite make a condiment named "Schoog" which includes Cardamon. It's very popular in Israel.

2. One who eats Cardamon regulary tends to smell "Cardamonic".

3. And one more. Cardamon helps keep clean breath if one holds the pod in mouth and sucks it.

I know a dozen garlic eaters I will now give cardamom to. I love making bread - this sounds delicious.

Hmm.. interesting. That is not how I (or my mother) makes pulla. Looks about the same in the picture, but the ingredients are a bit off. It's always weird seeing "foreign" takes on a few one grew up on. :)

Cardomom is also a great complement to peaches and I add whole cardomom pods to my chicken curry.

Mmmm, I love cardamom. This is my favorite use for it: http://foodisyummy42.blogspot.com/2006/08/cardamom-coffee-cake_12.html

How lovely, I love cardamom in baking. It's one of my faves.

bought a bottle of mccormick.....yikes! this stuff ain't cheap....$12 for a bottle

my meatballs are going to rock with this secret ingredient LOL

cardamom has got to be one of the most sensational spices. what i love about this bread is that only the cardamom plays the star role so it looks totally good to me!

The bread looks really good. I had to look to see if my recipe for Swedish meatballs had cardamom. (Check, it does!)

I love cardamom. I'm going to try your recipe for cardamom shortbread cookies. Sounds yummy! The bread looks great, too. I bet my family would like it for a holiday breakfast.

Oh I would love this bread!
hehe a Viking baker ... that's a picture!

Oh what a delightful bread! I had no idea cardamom is so expensive and precious...um, no wonder I haven't tried it yet, lol.
How would you eat this bread? Toasted? With savory toppings?

My introduction to cardamom was the recipe for Finnish pulla bread and it has been one of my "go to" spices since. I make also a summer tea with it.

Veredgy, I love adding to the list of things we know about cardamom. Thanks for your tidbits.

Heli, please share your favorite pulla recipe. I'd love to know how it differs from this one.

Kevin, Deena, Kim: thanks so much for ideas for more ways to use cardamom.

Milton, cardamom is expensive, though I suspect you bought a large amount (Penzeys sells 4 ounces for $11.29; I usually buy much less at a time)?

Sophia, toasted with some nice sweet butter and jam would be my favorite way to enjoy it, with a cup of tea.

There's actually a book about Viking women if you are interested:
The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown

Guatemala, who would have thought? Thanks for the facts, very interesting.

Pulla has many forms, some times richer, some times rich with saffron. It's a sweet, no topping required. It's a staple on all Finnish kahvi poyta - coffee tables, a kind of menu. When you're gifted a loaf, the response is "kiitos paljon"!

I want to compare this recipe to the many recipes I researched a couple of years ago when I got on a Swedish meatball kick! :)It is too early in a.m. to remember if they called for cardamom!

I've never seen cardamom in seed form before. This bread sounds wonderful. Cardamom is so fragrant that it seems like a natural with bread.

I must try this. My mother-in-law loves cardamom, so it would make a nice Christmas gift down the road.

I don't use cardamom enough. Thanks for letting us in on the swedish meatball tip. ;)

Mae, now I'm curious -- did Viking women bake? Thanks for letting us know about this book.

RM, isn't it fun to learn things like where this spice is cultivated? Who would have thought that it would be in Central America?

Alanna, I'm hoping that means "thank you for the bread"! And thank you, for adding to our knowledge of pulla.

TW, if cardamom pods are fresh, then getting the seeds out is truly sticky business. Much easier to buy the seed from a reputable spice merchant.

Melanie, adding cardamom to shortbread makes a nice cookie for a gift, too.

I love the flavor of cardamom!

I blogged it MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2008 --
"A Viking Hearth in Iceland, Greenland, and Vineland"
THe woman in the book owned a kneading trough, so maybe she baked bread.

Beautiful recipe. I love cardamom, and your 10 facts were fascinating!

I love your 10 facts about cardamom. I would just like to add that the more common secret ingredient in Swedish Meatballs would be allspice but I will try cardamom next time. I sell these "Pullas" as Swedish Cardamom Bread at my cafe' in Toronto as well as Swedish Cinnamon Rolls with Cardamom- very popular!

Mae, thanks for the link.

Anna, I'm guessing those cinnamon rolls with cardamom are a big hit at your cafe. Next time I'm in Toronto, I'll stop in and try one.

Thank you for the tips on cardamom. I think my favorite dish that involves cardamom is Kheer, an Indian rice pudding. Mmmm...

last night I took about 1.5/lbs of chopped meat and added some salt pepper worster sauce and a large teaspoon of cardamom, mixed it all up by hand, formed three hamburger patties and threw them on the grill. The subtle change in taste due to the cardamom is worth writing about. From now on when i make burgers this is the way I'm going to prepare them. My guests gave the burgers two thumbs up too :)

Guatemala, is and has been the leading exporter of Cardamom in the world. If you want quality cardamon, insist that it be Guatemalan. It is sad most of the cardamom sold in the USA is old. Fresh Cardamom is an incredibly good spice. Fun in all sorts of cookeing. Enjoy.


Go to an Indian spice store and get the green cardamom, whole. Its a little work but totally worth it. Price is better there.

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