December 26, 2014 — Tradition and ritual are cornerstones of human culture. They enrich our lives beyond measure.
My wife is 100 percent Finnish. Within her family’s rich Christmas tradition was a braided yellow egg bread called nisu. For years as we traveled around the world for various military assignments, her mother would send us nisu in time for the holidays. In time it became part of our family tradition.
Unfortunately, nisu dries out quickly and it often arrived in too poor a condition to fully enjoy. The solution, since I like to bake, was to learn how to make it myself.
I asked for and received hand written baking instructions from my wife’s mother.
Try as I might, I could never get my nisu to turn out the same way twice. Of course, I soul searched. What was I doing wrong? Before long I realized that I was making a different mistake every year. Whether is was inconsistent dough or runny frosting, it was always something.
Now you have to understand that the preparation process for nisu, from the first cracked egg to the perfect comfort food, takes more than six hours. Baking nisu is not for the impatient. Since being impatient is one of my great virtues, the recipe for disaster wasn’t scribbled on paper. I was me.
One year my wife and I discussed how I might be more consistent. (We’re talking Six Sigma project here; and yes I am Six Sigma certified.) So, as a reward for my annual failures I got the best Christmas present I’ve ever received and still have. What guy gets a KitchenAid mixer for Christmas and is over the moon? Yours truly, that’s who.
The mixer’s a beast. With its industrial strength motor and metal armor, the thing must weigh 25 lbs. I’d even bet you could bolt it on the front of your Jeep and use it for a winch! I love it! The best part about it is this: Unlike my arms, it doesn’t get tired. As an added bonus, it also has the patience of Job.
With the dough hook firmly attached, my KitchenAid kneads bread dough all day – and night if needed. The dough now comes out the same each and every time. Yea!!! Now to fix operator head space and all my baking problems would disappear.
Nisu has to rise no less than thrice for 90 minutes each time. Add 45 minutes for mixing the ingredients, plus the time to roll it out and braid the two loaves, and it adds up to a honking long time.
I used to get up at 2 a.m. to have nisu ready in time to open the presents Christmas morning. Now that there are no children at home, I make nisu Christmas Eve starting just after lunch in order to have it ready by seven in the evening when we score the loot … I mean open our presents.
Baking time is 35 minutes in a 350*F oven. Cinnamon and sugar are sprinkled on the raw dough. The frosting, walnuts, almonds and cherries are applied right after baking so that the bread can be eaten warm. It’s excellent on the second day too. After day two, not so much.
I hope your rituals and traditions are as rewarding as preparing and munching down on fresh nisu. Hauskaa Joulua!