Thursday, May 21, 2009

Nisu (Finnish coffee bread)

My husband is Finnish and very proud of this fact. His grandfather was a first generation Finnish American who grew up in Gloucester, MA, a town with a large Finnish population. Back as far as when we were dating, he has talked about the wonder that is nisu, a traditional Finnish coffee bread. He soon insited that I learn how to make it and even gave me his mother's recipe as a not-so-subtle prod. There is still a Finnish bakery in Gloucester where his grandparents used to buy their nisu on the weekends and apparently this is the standard to which I was warned that my attempts would be scrutinized (no pressure!).

I have been trying occasionally for the past several years to make an acceptable nisu and for this most recent attempt, I was determined to combine all of the things that I had done wrong in the past and create the famous "bakery nisu" of my husband's childhood. Judging by his reaction, I'm apparently getting there, as this has been by far my best attempt ever. This bread is a labor of love, and is more involved than any other bread I make, but hey, it got a pretty great reaction from my husband, so I think it's well worth it!


3 3/4 cups bread flour
1 egg
4 tbls butter (softened)
2 1/2 tbls sugar + more for sprinkling
2 tsp cardamom + more for sprinkling
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup warm water
1 tbls milk
1 egg

Combine 1 tablespoon of sugar with the yeast, and add warm water. Stir to dissolve and let the yeast and sugar bloom together for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine all of the other bread ingredients (except 1 tbls butter) in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment and mix to combine. Slowly add the proofed yeast mixture and stir until combined, adding warm water and/or sprinkles of flour until the dough comes together and has a smooth consistency. Separate into three even portions and roll into ropes. Rub each rope with remaining tablespoon of butter and sprinkle with a little more sugar and cardamom. Braid the ropes as tightly as possible and place the bread onto a baking sheet. Cover lightly with plastic and leave in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes, or until almost golden. Remove from oven and brush with the beaten egg and milk mixture. Sprinkle with even more sugar and cardamom (my husband likes it sweet!). Put back in the oven and bake another 5-10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

The result is a dense, almost cake-like sugar-glazed bread that goes exceptionally well with coffee. Enjoy plain or toasted with...even more butter and sugar!


  1. This looks great. I am sure your husband appreciates you trying to recreate something he loves so much.

  2. Great job! My Finnish MIL would love this.

  3. This looks just like what we call pulla (also Finnish cardamom bread) - is it the same thing?

  4. Woops, also, I don't think you included how much yeast to use