My sister spent two years in Finland. She shared some of the culture and cooking with us when she got back. I love this bread. It is a traditional holiday bread. Not too sweet, nice and chewy, and definitely rich, it really hits the spot when you want something fancy and showy for those holiday get-togethers.
This is the time to pull out your fancy braiding skills. This loaf is traditionally braided and the dough is so soft and easy to work with, go ahead and get all fancy. Try a four-strand braid. Or stack a couple of braids of different sizes on top of each other. Or do a braided wreath.
You really do need cardamom for this recipe. It's pricy, but I found a pinch added to most yeast breads really brings out the flavor of the bread. Plus it makes the bread smell amazing while it is baking. Cardamom also adds a great taste to pumpkin pie filling, blueberry cobbler, and baked apples. It's also great to add to curry seasoning mixes.
Finnish Sweet Bread
2 t. yeast
1/2 c. warm water
2 c. milk, warmed to room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 t. salt
1 1/2 t. cardamom
4 eggs, beaten
8 - 9 c. flour
1/2 c. melted butter
Dissolve yeast in water. Let sit for 5 minutes. Add milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs, and 3 c. flour. Beat until smooth, 3-5 minutes. Add 3 c. flour and beat again. Add butter. Beat until dough is glossy.
Stir in enough remaining flour to make a stiff dough, 2-3 cups. Cover with a bowl and let rest 15 minutes.
Knead until smooth.
Place in bowl and let rise until double, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Punch down. Let rise again, 30 minutes.
Punch down and divide into three pieces. Divide each piece into three equal size pieces. Braid loosely.
Place on greased baking sheet and let rise for 20 minutes.
Brush with additional beaten egg if you want a shiny crust.
Bake at 400° for 25 minutes, until golden brown. Use a toothpick to test for doneness. If it comes out sticky, the bread needs a few more minutes.
Cool and serve with plenty of berry jam and butter.