One Easter when I was a kid, I remember my mom baking pulla buns in the shape of birds. Genius! What could be better than fat, adorable birds made from Finnish cardamom coffeebread and fresh from the oven?
I decided to give it a try this year, with the help of my son, and I would call our experiment a qualified success. We got some interesting variations—some ended up looking more like turtles, baby seals, or snails—but the majority of them actually looked like birds. And they all tasted equally delicious.
This pulla recipe is from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatice Ojakangas, but any basic yeast coffee bread recipe would work.
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water, 105 degrees to 115 degrees Fahrenheit
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups (12-ounce can) undiluted evaporated milk
1/2 cup to 1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom or seeds of 12 cardamom pods, crushed
4 eggs, room temperature
7 to 8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup melted butter
1 slightly beaten egg
2 tablespoons milk
black currants or chopped raisins
Make the dough
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water; add 1 teaspoon sugar, stir, and let stand for 5 minutes until the yeast foams. Into a saucepan, warm the evaporated milk to between 105 and 115 degrees F. Add the warmed milk to the yeast mixture, along with the sugar (according to desired sweetness), salt, cardamom, eggs, and half the flour.
Beat with an electric mixer or spoon until dough is smooth and shiny. Beat in the melted butter. Add remaining flour 1 cup at a time until dough is stiff but not dry. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until satiny and smooth, about 10 minutes. Wash and grease the bowl, and return the dough to bowl, turning it to the grease top. Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
Shape the birds
Turn the dough out onto a breadboard and divide it into three equal parts. Divide one section of dough into a dozen equal pieces, keeping the rest of the dough covered until you’re ready to work with it. Roll each chunk into a “snake,” about six inches long. Now tie the snake into a knot. One end of the knot forms the bird’s head. Use a slivered almond as a beak and black currants or chopped raisins for the eyes. (You’ll need to press these in firmly, so they don’t fall off during the baking process.) The other end of the knot will be the bird’s tail. Flatten the end a bit and use a sharp knife make two small cuts to create the tail feathers. Put the birds on a lightly greased baking pan. Cover with a clean towel and set in a warm place for about 30 minutes so the bird-shaped buns can rise.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Before baking, brush the birds with the egg mixture. Sprinkle their “wings” with pearl sugar, if desired. Bake for 15–20 minutes until golden, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Makes 36 buns.