Each time we return to Finland, the Finn and I have the same routine. Once we’re settled and showered and partially recovered from what is possibly the longest distance you can travel in a day, we set out for a walk.
Usually it’s in the forest – which is not as unusual as its sounds. Finland is a small place; small cities, towns and villages dotted between lakes – none very far from its own patch of forest. It’s the perfect antidote to jet-lag and ensures for a great night’s sleep and usually delicious hand-foraged dinner.
The last time we visited, we stayed in Helsinki overnight instead of travelling to family. While the city is small, we weren’t up to trekking to the outskirts to find dinner, so it was down to the water’s edge and Kauppatori – the stunning harbour side market. This was the last place we visited before we left Finland and moved home, so it felt right to make it the first port of call.
For weeks the Finn had been describing how this would be the first stop – drop off the travel bags and pick up the bags filled with fresh local berries. That’s exactly how it happened; perched on the water’s edge, sun in our eyes, berries in our bellies (crazy oversized 1 litre beer can in our hands – yikes).
There’s no shortage of fresh berries in Finland during the summer. They’re everywhere at town square markets and street-side fruit stands across every town. The smell is intoxicating and the trade bustling.
Too late for the market, I once bought frozen berries to our cousin’s house for dinner and was dutifully mocked. If the fruit stand is closed, simply step outside and look down into a forest filled with blueberries. In parts the entire forest floor is covered with them. No kidding – it’s kind of like Narnia.
Mustikkapiirakka – Blueberry Pie
This pie screams Finland to me. My sister-in-law makes a seriously great version, and the one below does a pretty good job replicating it. It’s not your traditional type of pie; it’s open-faced and uses dough for a base rather than a pastry. You won’t be disappointed.
1 pack instant yeast
1/4 cup of warm water
1/2 cup of raw caster sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of lukewarm milk
1/2 cup or approx 115g of softened butter
3 1/4 cups of Spelt flour (regular plain flour is also fine)
3-4 cups of blueberries (frozen is fine – but allow to get to room temperature)
1/2 cup of sugar
1 heaped tablespoon of corn flour
Into your mixing bowl place the yeast and warm water and allow to sit for a few minutes until it activates. Add the egg, milk, sugar and salt and switch on to mix. (I used my cake batter blade initially, as the mix is very wet, then swapped to the dough hook to finish). Add 2 cups of the flour and mix until smooth. Add the rest of the flour and knead until smooth and elastic. It’s going to be soft. Try not to over mix, it should come together easily.
That’s it – leave the dough to rise until doubled in size – 1-2 hours or so depending on the temperature.
Place the berries and sugar into a bowl and allow to macerate while the dough is rising.
Turn on the oven and pre-heat to 190c.
When the dough has risen, turn it into a lamington pan (shallow rectangular pan 25cm wide) and press it out to fit.
Take the berries and sprinkle over the corn flour and mix. Pour the berry mixture onto the dough and press down gently. If your berries have lost a lot of juice, allow a little to go in, but don’t over soak it. Allow to rise for 30 minutes, the straight into the oven. The baking time for this can vary a lot depending on your berries, your oven, the whim of the pastry, so give it 25 minutes and check the progress – adding 5-10 minutes as you go (mine took almost 40). The dough should be risen and golden around the edges and the blueberries jammy and bubbling.
Allow to cool and set further before serving straight from the pan in large squares, to weary travellers from faraway lands.