Lake Isle Press

Nisua (Finnish Cardamom Bread)

Aromatic Finnish cardamom bread that is braided into firm-textured, decorative loaves.

Nisua (Finnish Cardamom Bread)


  • One 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • Two 1/4-ounce envelopes active dry yeast
  • 12 to 14 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom seeds
  • Glaze and Topping
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon milk
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar


1. In a heavy medium-sized saucepan combine the milk and butter with 2 1/2 cups of water; place over low heat and, stirring occasionally, warm to 105°F to 115°F. If liquid overheats, cool to the correct temperature. Turn into a large bowl and add 1 tablespoon of the sugar; sprinkle the yeast over the top and stir to dissolve. Stir in 4 cups of the flour to make a thin paste. Cover and let this “sponge” rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, 30 minutes to 1 hour.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the eggs until light, 1 to 2 minutes. Add to the sponge along with the salt, cardamom, and the remaining sugar, stirring to blend. Beat in enough of the remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, beating until blended between additions, to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 10 to 15 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Lightly oil a large bowl and add the dough, turning once to oil the top. Cover and let rise in a warm draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

3. Generously grease five 8-by-4-inch bread pans or two baking sheets. Punch down the dough and let it rest for 5 minutes.

4. Divide the dough into five equal parts. Working with one piece at a time, braid the dough. This can be done with four strands as the Finns do, or by using the conventional method with three ropes.To braid the Finnish way, divide one portion of the dough in half and roll each into a 18-inch rope. Cross the two ropes in the center to make an X. Bring the two upper ends forward so they are even with the other two ends (the spot where they are joined - the original X - becomes the top end of the braid). Braid the four ends by weaving them up from under and from the outside in, tucking the ends under as you complete the braid. Place it in a bread pan or on a baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining four pieces of dough. If using the conventional braiding technique, divide one portion of dough into three pieces and roll each into a 12-inch rope; pinch the top ends together and then braid with the three ropes; pinch the bottom ends together to seal and place in a bread pan, tucking the pinched ends under, or arrange the braids three across on one sheet and two on the second. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean linen towel and let rise in a warm draft-free place until almost doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

5. Evenly space two racks in the oven and preheat to 325°F about 15 minutes before the braids have completed their rise.

6. Glaze the braids: In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks and milk until blended.Brush the tops of the loaves liberally with the glaze, letting it run into the crevices of the braids; sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 45 minutes, reversing the position of the sheets after 20 minutes so that loaves brown evenly; the are done when the sound hollo when the bottoms are tapped. Cool in the pans or on the sheets for 10 minutes; remove and cool on racks. Slice and serve as is or lightly toasted, with butter.

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