Finnish Cardamom-Coffee Bread (Nisu)

By Kate Willsky
May 7, 2018
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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
  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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