Finnish Cardamom-Coffee Bread (Nisu)

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes:

Nisu is crusty on the outside, flaky on the inside; crowned with thick, coffee-tempered sugar; perfectly rectangular on the bottom, with peaks so voluminously rounded they threaten to spill down the sides of the loaf pan. Each bite infused with the sharp sweetness of cardamom.

Kate Willsky

Makes: 3 loaves
Prep time: 4 hrs
Cook time: 40 min


  • 2 packets yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups lukewarm milk
  • 15-18 cardamom pods
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 pound butter, plus more for greasing
  • 6-8 cups white flour
  • 1 shot strong black coffee
In This Recipe


  1. Dissolve two yeast packets in the warm milk.
  2. Open 15-18 cardamom pods and grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle. It’s okay to have a few larger pieces. Add the cardamom to the beaten eggs along with the salt.
  3. Cream the sugar and butter.
  4. Add the cardamom/egg mixture to the creamed butter and sugar, and mix well. Next, add the milk and yeast and mix until combined.
  5. Add the flour one cup at a time until you can knead the dough on a floured breadboard, continuing to add flour until the dough, in my grandfather’s words, “feels like a baby’s bottom.” It should be soft and satiny to the touch, with no stickiness.
  6. Place the dough into a large, buttered bowl. Let it rise until it’s doubled in bulk, about two hours.
  7. Punch down the dough (flour your fist first!), then divide it into three equal parts.
  8. Take one of the three sections and divide it again into three parts, rolling each piece into a rope about 12-15 inches long. Once you have three equal ropes, braid the loaf, tucking the ends underneath when you’re finished. Place in a buttered and floured loaf pan and repeat with the other two sections.
  9. Let the braided dough rise in the loaf pans until doubled in bulk, about 1 ½ hours.
  10. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  11. Bake loaves for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn out onto cooling racks that have been placed on a sheet of waxed paper. If the bottom feels too mushy, put back in the pan and give it a while longer. (You can also test for doneness by knocking on the top of the loaf to see if it sounds a bit hollow.)
  12. Brush the nisu with strong black coffee, sprinkling sugar as you go (this is where the waxed paper will save you a lot of cleanup).
  13. Let cool, and try to not to eat the whole loaf!

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Reviews (24) Questions (2)

24 Reviews

Dave L. November 18, 2018
Hi, If I want to use decorticated cardamom instead of the pods, how much should I use? Thanks.
Erik May 27, 2018
Does anyone have a number of cups of flower they lean towards. Baking being pretty precise at times, 6-8 cups of flour is a wide range. Thanks in advance!
Steph May 27, 2018
Hmm. I don’t know if I’ve ever counted cups of flour. (Maybe I should start;) I’d say start w a smaller amount (6). When you transfer dough to a surface to kneed, add a bit more till it looks ready. Not too sticky but nice n soft:) best of luck!
Debz May 27, 2018
The directions as published in the recipe state, "Add the flour one cup at a time until you can knead the dough on a floured breadboard, continuing to add flour until the dough, in my grandfather’s words, 'feels like a baby’s bottom.' It should be soft and satiny to the touch, with no stickiness." <br /><br />I would say that is our guide on the exact amount (and it might vary based on our location/elevation, etc.)
Author Comment
Kate W. May 28, 2018
I find that I usually end up using all 8 cups, but as Debz says, it may vary based on certain factors. Definitely pay attention to how the texture changes as you add, as that's your best guide.
vlampson May 19, 2018
I made this to the letter and loved the texture of the bread, the amount of cardamom (I would even add more next time!) and how quickly it all came together. However, I would definitely skip the coffee next time - I didn't use much but still ended up with an impossibly soggy bread bottom that didn't get better over time. Maybe there's a better way to incorporate coffee flavor, like a maple-coffee-cardamom glaze?
Author Comment
Kate W. May 20, 2018
Strange! I've never had that happen before. Did you put the loaves on a wire rack while you brushed with coffee? That should keep the coffee from pooling and soaking the bottom.
valn August 31, 2018
I have always brushed water on my Limpa with no resulting sogginess. Yes, you need to do this on a wire rack and while the bread is hot out of the oven. By the way, I thought using black coffee was brilliant.
Arlene K. May 15, 2018
Yum, looks awesome! My momma made pulla with cardamom pods but her recipe has no mention of coffee.. However, I like the sound of it, as we always had it fresh with a strong cup of coffee on the side! Thank you so much for the recipe. Also loved reading all the great comments! Kitos pellio😘😋
Steph May 14, 2018
I’ve been making this for 19 years;) pulla to us Finns:) I’ve used cardamom pods and the pre ground stuff. From the pods and fresh ground is best. Also, if you kneed butter in at the end, pulla is best. Messy and more time consuming but worth it!
Author Comment
Kate W. May 14, 2018
Ooh I'll have to try that! Sounds delish.
Debz May 13, 2018
Thank you for the wonderful story, and for this yummy-looking recipe. Can't wait to take it out for a spin, because I love cardamom, and also in honor of my recently-proven Swedish heritage!
Author Comment
Kate W. May 14, 2018
You're welcome! I hope you enjoy!
Lloyd L. May 13, 2018
Very popular in the various Finnish communities in Canada where it is called pulla.
Judy M. May 8, 2018
This looks divine! How big are the loaf pans you use?<br />
Author Comment
Kate W. May 8, 2018
Thank you! I've used a variety of different sizes, but a standard-sized loaf pan should work (approx 10" x 5", and 3" high).
Greg May 8, 2018
Cardamon pods:<br />Black or Green?<br />Is cardamon powder and acceptable substitute and if so, how much?<br />Can you bake all three loaves at once? (it appears that is the way the recipe is posted but I wanted to be sure.) <br />Did you move/rotate the loaves in the oven?<br />The recipe looks great, thank you for sharing it, Greg
Author Comment
Kate W. May 8, 2018
Green cardamom pods. I'm sure you can use cardamom powder — I never have, as I love the pungent freshness of the freshly ground cardamom, as well as the unevenness of the chunks. <br />Yes, you can bake all 3 at one if your oven is big enough, and no need to rotate!
valn August 31, 2018
If you *really* like cardamom, and only have a bottle of ground cardamom, then I would suggest about 1/4 teaspoon per loaf. This recipe is for three loaves.
Stephanie A. May 8, 2018
I am thrilled to see this! My Swedish great aunt took her recipe to the grave!
RachelJ May 8, 2018
Could I use this for French toast or would that be an abomination?
Author Comment
Kate W. May 8, 2018
I never have, but I bet it would be delicious! Just make sure you eat a few slices in the style described above first :) <br /><br />Also I'd say you'd definitely want to wait until it's a little stale, since the nisu can be very fluffy and airy inside so it could get soggy very fast otherwise.
Mike P. May 8, 2018
This is an unbelievably good idea. The structure of the bread would hold up very well!
Linda C. May 7, 2018
Our family has been making a similar coffee bread my entire life. Basic ingredients are the same but quantities differ slightly. Being of Finnish and Swedish heritage the recipe came over with the family. Nice to see a different application...will have to try it with the coffee on top. Linda Laning, Tempe AZ