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New Ipswich

Nisu, tying family, friends

Finnish traditional bread made for special gathering times

  • Eileen Haavisto of New Ipswich makes a batch of nisu, a Finnish sweet bread, in her kitchen.
  • Eileen Haavisto of New Ipswich makes a batch of nisu, a Finnish sweet bread, in her kitchen.
  • Eileen Haavisto of New Ipswich makes a batch of nisu, a Finnish sweet bread, in her kitchen.
  • Eileen Haavisto of New Ipswich makes a batch of nisu, a Finnish sweet bread, in her kitchen.
  • Eileen Haavisto of New Ipswich makes a batch of nisu, a Finnish sweet bread, in her kitchen.
  • Eileen Haavisto of New Ipswich makes a batch of nisu, a Finnish sweet bread, in her kitchen.
  • Eileen Haavisto of New Ipswich makes a batch of nisu, a Finnish sweet bread, in her kitchen.
  • Eileen Haavisto of New Ipswich makes a batch of nisu, a Finnish sweet bread, in her kitchen.

Nisu, a Finnish coffee bread, once graced the tables of Finnish folks in the region on a weekly basis. But now it’s made much less frequently, says Eileen Haavisto of New Ipswich, mostly just for special occasions and holidays.

Haavisto inherited her recipe from her Aunt Ida Hakala, who Haavisto says always seemed to have it on hand in her day. “I kind of took over from her,” Haavisto says.

But Haavisto doesn’t make the dessert bread quite so often. “It takes all day, it has two risings,” she notes. “It’s an all-day project.”

But when there’s something to celebrate, Haavisto is expected to bring the bread. “I usually make one big batch, and it makes five to six loaves,” she says.

Nisu is a traditional food, a braided sweet bread that’s symbolic of getting together with friends and family. “In Finnish culture, coffee is a big thing,” Haavisto explains. “They used to come over for coffee and sauna, and they would usually serve it there along with everything else.”

People use to visit more in Haavisto’s aunt’s day, Haavisto says. “[Nisu] was part of a visiting culture.”

Aunt Ida’s nisu recipe

First create a “sponge” in a small bowl by mixing 1/2 cup of warm water with 2 tablespoons of sugar and two yeast cakes. Add about 1/4 cup of flour to make a runny batter. Place the bowl containing the sponge into a larger bowl filled with warm water, and place in a warm place to rise. Tip: Cover the bowls with a warm, wet tea towel to speed up the rising. When the top layer is covered in bubbles, the sponge is ready.

While sponge is rising, in a separate saucepan add 2 cups of milk, 1/2 cup of butter, 1 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt. Heat on stovetop until butter dissolves. Add about 2 tablespoons of crushed cardamom and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Allow mixture to cool. Add three eggs, beaten.

Add the sponge to the contents of saucepan in a large bowl and mix. Slowly add approximately 8 cups of flour, sifted. Start with about 4 cups of flour and gradually add the rest until the dough is no longer sticky. Tip: The less flour you can use, the better your bread will turn out.

Let your dough rise until it’s about double in size. Knead the dough (do not use a rolling pin) and let rise again. Divide the dough into five or six equal portions, depending on the final size of your dough. Split those portions into three. Braid the dough into five or six small loaves. Leave on a greased pan to rise for a final time.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes for small loaves.

Ida’s buttercream frosting for nisu

Mix 3 cups powdered sugar, 1/3 cup of softened butter and 11/2 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 to 2 tablespoons of milk for a buttercream frosting to top the loaves.

If desired, chop walnuts to top. Slice cherries in half and place on the top of the bread for a festive touch.

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