Easy Approach to Celebration Bread
Finnish Pulla bread has a soft, airy interior, a shiny brown exterior and a mild fragrance that comes from a mixture of cardamom, vanilla and walnuts.
Photos by Sarah Kieffer and Zoë François
Zoë François is a pastry chef and baker trained at the Culinary Institute of America. Jeff Hertzberg has been a physician, university professor, information technology consultant and ardent amateur baker. During medical residency, he started a years-long quest to figure out how to make dough that was convenient to use every day.
So how did these two with diverse backgrounds end up writing cookbooks together? It all started in their kids’ music class in 2003. “It was an unlikely place for co-authors to meet, but in the swirl of toddlers, musical chairs and xylophones, there was time for the grown-ups to talk,” they write in the intro to their latest book, “Celebration Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” which came out last month. As a result of those first chats, they worked diligently to come up with an approach to produce homemade bread without the enormous time investment required by the traditional artisanal method, and published their first book together in 2007, “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.”
After continued success with the approach, these Twin Cities authors have gone on to publish six more bread-baking books including “The New Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day” and “Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.” In this, their seventh book, they celebrate breads that different cultures enjoy throughout the year during special holidays, including the sweet treats that warm the kitchens in Minnesota during Christmas and into the snowy afternoons of the winter ahead. I highlight three recipes from the book here—Finnish Pulla, Stollen and Julekage (which is made with Stollen dough)—and share a little more about their approach and tips for bread-making.
“Baking is the greatest joy in my life and I really believe that food tastes better when you enjoy making it—so have fun,” says François.
Q&A With Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg
How does your approach, as noted in the intro to the book, “produce fantastic homemade loaves without the enormous time investment required by the traditional artisanal method”?
Jeff: “Easy one! We mix up a large batch of dough that makes up to four loaves, so when you decide to make bread, you’re spreading your initial investment of time assembling ingredients and mixing dough—over all those loaves. The extra dough goes back into the refrigerator and can be used over the next 5 to 14 days, depending on the recipe (egg and butter-enriched doughs need to be used sooner, or frozen). Mix once, bake many.”
What are some of your main tips for people who are hesitant to make their own bread?
Zoe: “Those are the folks we had in mind when we developed all of these recipes. We wanted to create a recipe that was fun, easy, quick and took all of the intimidation out of the process, so anyone, no matter their baking skills, could bake bread. If we could get the new baker excited about making bread, we knew they’d use it. What we hadn’t anticipated was that a whole lot of very experienced bakers were just as enthusiastic about our method and use it for their daily bread."
Any thoughts/tips on the Julekage, Stollen and Finnish Pulla breads?
Zoe: “These were some of the first recipe requests we received after writing our first book, ‘Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.’ We live in a community where these breads are a strong part of the tradition from Germany and Scandinavia. The recipes in our books reflect the traditions of adding dried fruit, spices, almond paste and shaping them in the classic ways, but the dough is just stirred and can be made in minutes. As is true with so many of these traditional breads, each family will have their signature flavor or shaping, so people should feel free to add that spice or flourish to make it more like home.”
Do you have a special memory about bread, especially around the holidays?
Zoe: “My maternal grandmother used to serve a giant challah for Shabbat dinner. The next day we’d slice the leftovers to make mashed potato sandwiches. It was the sandwich equivalent of a potato knish. She never met a carb she didn’t love and I got that from her.”
Jeff: “Sufganiyot, special jelly doughnuts for Hanukkah … my wife started making them when our kids were little, so they became a tradition for me only as an adult. They’re totally addictive.”
Some people who are not gluten intolerant or sensitive sometimes look to it as a “bad” food. As a physician can you speak to that idea?
Jeff: People who have celiac disease can’t eat wheat, barley, and rye, or any variants of those grains—those are definitely unhealthy for celiacs. But there’s no evidence that these foods are generally unhealthy for everyone (like the way we now understand trans fats). But there’s another group of people who feel better when they don’t eat gluten, but they don’t have celiac disease. Today’s science on this “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” is very incomplete--we really don’t have a clear understanding of what’s going on with those people, and I worry when people start eliminating food groups based on flimsy evidence. But I always say “don’t argue with success—if you feel better avoiding a food, don’t eat it.”
How do you think a collaboration between a trained pastry chef/baker and a physician has worked out well to come together in these recipes and books? What has been your greatest challenge in the collaboration?
Zoe: “Jeff and I have very different, but complementary skills, so our partnership made the process easier. He loves a spreadsheet and is a master at keeping things on schedule, which are not traits people typically use to describe me. I am so grateful he likes Excel! I’d say our biggest challenge is our opposing philosophies on butter. I find ways to put lots of it in and on everything. Jeff prefers olive oil.”
Jeff: “It worked out great! I never expected to have a chance to do something as creative as this once I committed to a career in science. I’m a lifelong food fanatic, so our books have been the perfect outlet for me. Cookbook-writing is the opposite of medicine, where you try to find the right way to do something, and keep doing it that way every time. Here, we’re looking for variation. How can we make it more interesting than the way we baked it last time? Our biggest challenge: What will the next book be about?”
Makes two 1½-pound loaves. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.
Pulla’s mild fragrance comes from a mixture of cardamom, vanilla, and walnuts. Native to Finland, pulla is a braided bread with a soft, airy interior and a shiny brown exterior. You can expect to be served a slice of pulla with your afternoon coffee in any Finnish household. Coffee culture is very important in Finland; almost everyone drinks coffee all day long, usually accompanied by pulla or another sweet bread. As the days get shorter and snow begins to fall, pulla’s comforting cardamom flavor is a perfect pick-me-up on a dark winter afternoon.
2½ cups whole milk
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon granulated yeast
1 tablespoon kosher salt
⅓ cup sugar
6¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup potato flour
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1½ cups walnuts, chopped
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water)
raw sugar, for sprinkling on the loaf
1. Mixing and storing the dough: Mix the milk, yeast, salt, and sugar in a 5-quart bowl or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour with the potato flour. Mix in the flours and butter with the milk mixture without kneading, using a heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle), a Danish dough whisk, or a spoon.
3. Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises for 2 hours.
4. The dough can be used as soon as it’s thoroughly chilled, at least 3 hours. Refrigerate the container and use over the next 5 days. To freeze dough, see Cook’s Note.
5. On baking day, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1½-pound (small cantaloupe-size) piece. Divide the dough into 3 smaller balls. Roll and stretch each ball into a ¾-inch-thick rope about 18 inches long and taper the ends. Form a braid on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
6. Pinch one end together and braid the ropes, pinching the other end together when you’re done.
7. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 90 minutes.
8. Preheat the oven to 350°F, with a rack placed in the center of the oven.
9. Just before baking, brush the top crust with egg wash. Sprinkle with raw sugar (or you can substitute regular granulated white sugar).
10. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
11. Make the icing: Mix together the confectioners’ sugar, cream, and almond extract.
12. Allow the bread to cool before drizzling with icing, and then scatter walnut halves over the top.
• Freezing Dough: The dough can be frozen as long as the initial rise has been completed. It’s best to divide it into loaf-sized portions, and then wrap it very well or seal it in airtight containers. Defrost in the refrigerator when ready to use, then shape, rest and bake as usual. For enriched dough such as these (that include eggs, dairy and high amounts of sweeteners or fats), about two to three weeks is a basic time guideline for freezing.
• Freezing bread: You can freeze the baked loaves before decorating with any icing, since it will get sloppy when it defrosts. Be sure to wrap the loaves very well, so they don't take on any flavors from the freezer. Bread is a great absorber of smells and flavor, so wrap it a couple of times. Let it defrost still wrapped, so the condensation stays on the plastic. Then decorate with the icing.
VARIATION: PULLA WREATH: Follow the recipe for Finnish Pulla and after forming the braid, stretch it slightly and shape into a circle, pinching the 2 ends together. Cover, allow to rest, and bake as directed.
Makes at least three loaves slightly larger than 1 ½ pounds each. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.
There is a large German population in Minnesota, and when our first book came out, a reader asked how to convert his grandmother’s stollen recipe to our five-minute method. We did just that and included a whole-grain version in “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” but here is a recipe for Christmas that’s more indulgent (and probably even closer to what grandma made). The bread’s shape is thought to resemble the baby Jesus’s swaddling clothes. After the loaf comes out of the oven, you dust it with confectioners’ sugar for extra sweetness—and it reminds us of a wintry blanket of snow. Stollen comes from the German city of Dresden, and the recipe dates back to at least the fifteenth century. To this day, Dresden celebrates its annual Stollenfest during Advent. This outdoor parade features an enormous stollen, which is large enough to be shared by thousands of attendees. Now that must be some oven! We assume you’ll want something a bit smaller, but you are welcome to bake all of this dough in one giant loaf.
1 ½ cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon granulated yeast
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup brandy
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon cardamom
1 ½ cups mixed dried or candied fruit (See Cook’s Note)
½ cup (per loaf) almond paste
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water) for brushing the loaf
confectioners’ sugar, for dusting the loaf
1. Mixing and storing the dough: Mix the water, yeast, salt, sugar, eggs, oil, brandy, and vanilla in a 6-quart bowl or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
2. Mix in the flour, cardamom, and dried fruit without kneading, using a heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle), a Danish dough whisk, or a spoon. If you’re not using a machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour. The dough will be loose but will firm up when chilled (don’t try to use it without chilling).
3. Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises for 2 hours.
4. The dough can be used as soon as it’s chilled after the initial rise, or frozen for later use. Refrigerate the container and use over the next 5 days. (To freeze dough see Cook’s Notes in Finnish Pulla recipe.)
5. On baking day, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1½-pound (small cantaloupe-size) piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.
6. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to ¼-inch thick oval. As you roll the dough, use enough flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface, but not so much as to make it dry.
7. Mold the almond paste into a log and place it across the short end of the dough about one-third of the way from the end. Lift and fold the remaining two-thirds of dough to form an S-shape over the almond filling. The end of the dough will lie near the middle of the top of the loaf. (See photos below.) Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 90 minutes.
8. Preheat oven to 350°F, with a rack placed in the center of the oven.
9. Remove the plastic wrap and brush the stollen with egg wash. Bake in the center of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown.
10. Allow to cool, and then dust generously with confectioners’ sugar and serve.
Cook’s Note: Golden raisins, dried pineapple, dried apricots, dried cherries, and candied citrus peel are a few fruits that we’ve tried and loved in this bread.
Makes 1 round loaf
Julekage or Julebrød, which literally means “Yule bread” in Norwegian, can be traced back to pagan times. In late autumn, a loaf of bread was baked using the last scraps of harvest, and then it was stored inside during winter. It gained associations with Christmas because it spent the season decorating the home. When spring finally arrived, the stale bread was taken out and shared among the workers and their horses, and then the crumbs, which supposedly had powers of fertility, were mixed in with the new seeds to be planted. Nowadays, this raisin bread is meant to be eaten fresh, preferably with butter and raspberry jam.
1½ pounds (small cantaloupe-size portion) Stollen dough (see recipe above), with ¾ cup raisins kneaded into it
all-purpose flour, for dusting
Egg yolk glaze (1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon milk and a pinch salt), for brushing the loaf
1½ teaspoons milk
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon pure almond extract
¼ cup slivered or sliced almonds, toasted, for sprinkling on the loaf (optional)
1. To bake: Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1½-pound (small cantaloupe-size) piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.
2. Place the dough ball on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 90 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F, with a rack placed in the center of the oven.
4. Brush the loaf with egg glaze. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
5. Make the icing: While the bread cools, whisk together the milk, sugar, and almond extract.
6. When the Julekage is cooled, spoon the icing on the top, and sprinkle with the almonds (if using). Allow to cool before serving.
Meet the Authors
December 11, 2018, 6–8:30 p.m.
Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg will be doing three 15-minute demos, and then talking bakeware at Cooks of Crocus Hill in St. Paul (877 Grand Ave). The class is $45 and includes a glass of wine and a copy of “Holiday and Celebration Bread in Five Minutes a Day.” More information and register here.
For more information and to put the new bakers at ease, Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg have photos, videos and are available to answer questions on their website, breadin5.com.