Finnish Coffee Bread (Nisu or Pulla)

This is my great-grandmother’s recipe. We call it “nisu” but modern Finns call this “pulla” and Swedes know it as “bolla.” Our family came four generations ago from the far north of Finland, and in 1880 there it was still called “nisu” so in our family it is nisu. There are many other ways to take the dough and shape it, add cinnamon and nuts, etc. The traditional braided loaves are the ones we bake and serve at my annual Downers Grove, IL, Saturday after Thanksgiving concert.


  • 1 c. milk, scalded
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/4 lb. butter
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 pkg. yeast
  • 1/2 c. warm water
  • 6-10 cardamom pods, seeds removed & crushed or 3/4-1 tsp. “decorticated” cardamom seeds. “Do not use already ground cardamom, the flavor is very volatile and disappears soon after grinding.”
  • 2 c. flour and some for kneading (we use Ceresota brand)
  • Melted butter
  • Maraschino cherries – cut in half or thirds


  1. In bowl mix sugar, butter and salt. Pour scalded milk over mixture to dissolve & melt. Let cool.
  2. In another bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and add finely crushed cardamon seeds and beaten eggs.
  3. Stir in 2 cups flour and mix until smooth. “The dough is very wet, almost like pancake batter. I usually beat it with a wooden spoon until most of the lumps have disappeared, and you can see some streaking behind the movement of the spoon. This develops the gluten in the batter and makes for a finer texture in the bread.”
  4. Gradually add more flour, using enough to prevent sticking. “That’s my grandmother’s wording. I add flour until it goes from batter to dough. It is still very sticky at this point.”
  5. Turn dough out onto floured board & knead until smooth and elastic. “Do not add too much flour, the dough should still be quite moist but not sticky. As you knead it, the gluten develops further and it does become smooth and elastic, like a baby’s skin.”
  6. Return the dough to the bowl and let rise until doubled in size.
  7. When ready, turn dough out onto floured board & knead again. Use more flour if necessary.
  8. Cut dough in half, and each half into 3 pieces.
  9. Roll the pieces into ropes 12 to 18 inches long and make 2 braids.
  10. Put the braids on a greased cookie sheet and brush with melted butter.
  11. Tuck a maraschino cherry piece into each crossing of the braid.
  12. Let rise while the oven heats to 350 degrees.
  13. Bake for about 30 minutes then remove from the cookie sheets and cool on a rack.
  14. When cool, drizzle with a simple icing (confectioner’s sugar, a couple of drops of almond extract, and a bit of water or milk to get a thin but not runny icing).
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