Monthly Archives: October 2013

A pie by any other name

Karelian Pies

The Karelian pie is everywhere and – by my observation – eaten at all times of the day. It even holds Traditional Specialty Guaranteed status in the EU. That’s a big deal!

I like to imagine weather-hardened Finns in far eastern Karelia (now divided and split between Russia) toiling on their frost-gripped land with a couple of karjalanpiirakat stowed away beneath their fur-lined coats for a wholesome meal between felling trees, chopping wood and herding reindeer.

These tasty savoury pies became a staple for us in living in Finland. We seriously ate them all the time. Sometimes for dinner with beer air-chilled from our balcony – and that was enough.

Karelian Pies

To the horror of our onlooking relatives the traditional Finnish way of eating them was pushed aside for the traditional Australian way: covered in tomato sauce. It’s seriously good, despite the protests.

In times past the dough was made with just rye flour, but as tastes and access to food evolved the addition of wheat flour created a softer texture to the end result. I’ve also learnt that pies were also filled with a milled flour mixture called talkkuna, consisting of roasted barley, rye, oat and pea flour.

All variations are delicious, and while the two main filling these days are rice or potato the options are endless. I’ve even considered making a sweet variety – despite the protests.

I like these pies reheated in a pan with a little butter and then covered in tomato sauce, but if you’re more of a traditionalist they should be served with sliced boiled eggs or Finnish egg butter, a combination of mashed boiled eggs and butter that can be spread over the pies before devouring.

Spanish short grained rice

The Pantry

100 grams of rye flour

75 grams plain flour

15 grams of butter, melted

100 ml water

1/2 teaspoon of salt

The Filling

100 grams of short grain rice (risotto or paella rice works perfectly)

350 ml of water

500ml of milk

1/2 tablespoon of salt

The Glaze

20 grams of butter

75 ml of milk

The Topping

6 hard boiled eggs

2 tablespoons of salt reduced butter

Begin by making the savoury rice porridge. Place the rice, salt and water into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or so until the rice has absorbed almost all the water. Add the milk and cook for another 10-15 minutes until the rice is tender and the mixture is like a thick rice pudding. Once cooked, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool. Don’t panic if you sample the rice porridge and it tastes like sea water. In the end the salt balance is perfect for the whole pie. It’s a baking miracle.

Rye pastry

The dough takes hardly any time at all. Mix all ingredients together with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Knead gently a few times to bring it together, and it’s done.

Divide the dough in to eight even pieces and roll into balls. The dough is quite delicate and the rye flour can make it dry our so I place all the balls into a shallow bowl of rye flour to coat and wait their turn before rolling out.

When your filling is cool/warm you can begin.

Karelian Pies

Roll out each ball into a circle 12 cm across, dusting with extra flour if needed.

Place a heaped dessertspoon full of rice mixture into the centre of the dough sheet.

Fold the edges of the dough over towards the mixture leaving the centre exposed and then crimp or pinch the edges into a wavy pattern – you’ll get better with practice – trust me.

Bake at 200c for 20-25 minutes. You’ll know when they’re ready by the burnished gold the rice pudding develops and the darker hue to the rye pastry.

Once they’re cooked you’ll need to glaze them – or actually soak them in the butter and milk mixture to prevent the rye pastry from becoming teeth-shatteringly hard.

Heat the butter and milk until they combine then brush the mixture liberally over the pastry. Don’t be afraid to really soak them, the pastry will absorb the mixture and reward you with a soft and delicate result.

Serve warm or cold or reheated in a pan or even a microwave – these things can take anything. To make the egg butter: roughly mash the eggs and combine with the softened butter. Spread this tasty mixture atop the pies and devour.

Karelian Pie and salad

On consumption

The Finn: Munch munch…

The Baker: Munch

The Finn: Good job

The Baker: Thanks – are they just like Mummo (Finnish Grandmother) used to make?

The Finn: Umm… I don’t know, I think she used to buy them from the supermarket

The Baker: …right then…

I love the history of food like this. The fuel of our ancestors still relevant today and still celebrated daily as a tasty piece of living Finnish culture – found in supermarkets and kitchens across the land.

Long live the Karjalan Piirakka!

Map of Finland including Karelia

Map of Finland including Karelia (late 1800s).


Green is the colour of my true love

Finnish Cucumber Salad

It’s warming up this side of the hemisphere (too hot for the oven today) and our garden is galloping along head first into Spring. The cucumbers have grown from petite cornichons into heaving goliaths and are ready to pick within two weeks of appearing on the vine.

The poor salad is often considered the side dish, but this version of cucumber salad matches any competitor, bite for bite. While to some a cucumber salad may seem a little lacking, the combination of flavours in this concoction will have you coming back for more.

Freshly grown cucumbers

In my travels though Scandinavia I’ve noticed the locals like their salads clean and minimal, like their kitchens. Not too many ingredients and those included should really shine. Beetroot salad, mushroom salad, carrot salad…and this recipe is no different. The cucumber is the hero.

I’m often surprised when people tell me that cucumber is insipid or lacking in flavour. To me it’s one of the most flavourful of salad vegetables – with a heady freshness that instantly makes me think of summers by the lake, smoked fish and midnight paddles out and about in the old boat.

Essentially you’re creating a fresh pickle with this salad. The vinegar salt and sugar begin to cure the cucumbers, leaving them silky but still with a good crunch and mouth-watering tartness.

Golden caster sugar

The Pantry

3 cucumbers (Lebanese or continental)

1 thinly sliced fennel bulb

A good slug (3 tablespoons) of Apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon of sugar

1/2 tablespoon of salt flakes (or to taste)

A medium sized bunch of dill

Apple cider vinegar

Thinly slice the cucumber using a mandolin, food processor or as finely as you can by hand. If you’re making a large amount for guests go ahead and use the food processor, it’ll be worth it. It’s also quite lovely if you ribbonise the cucumbers with a vegetable peeler.

Repeat the process with the fennel bulb. You want these really thinly sliced. The addition of the slivers of aniseed flavour really adds to the freshness.

I hadn’t eaten a lot of fennel until moving to Scandinavia; and now I associate its fresh crunch with my memories of zipping through cities in Europe by train. Surprisingly fennel grows wild along railway lines in many European cities – so if you ever find yourself roaming the abandoned city limits foraging for wild food – there’s fennel aplenty.

Combine the vinegar, salt and sugar and pour over the cucumber and fennel. Allow this to sit in the fridge for up to an hour while you prepare the rest of your meal.

Remove from the fridge and serve cool. NOTE: If the salad is too filled with liquid lift the cucumber our and retain a little of the pickling liquid for dressing.

Serve with coriander and fennel seed encrusted salmon and an icy cold Hendricks’s Gin and tonic… with cucumber, of course.

Midnight on the lake

Slapped ears, buttery eyes and rosy cheeks


There’s nothing quite like a slapped ear in Finland, I’ll be honest. They’re everywhere. Old people with slapped ears, children, students, and tourists… the Finns are dishing them out to anyone who asks and some who don’t. It’s a national pass time.

I’m talking about Korvapuusti – Finnish cinnamon and cardamom buns. Translation – slapped ears.

Korvapuusti are just one of copious varieties of Finnish Pulla – sweet yeast-risen pastries that make their appearance throughout the day at breakfast, morning tea, afternoon tea, supper and late night snacks, both in the dead of winter or under the white night sky of summer. Rolled into a shape that resembles a slapped ear, they’re as Finnish as Sauna and a must-try when you visit.

While every family has a recipe, they’re so popular and essential to the day that they’re baked on a massive scale at bakeries across the country and sold in supermarkets.

I worked briefly in a bakery in Finland – at two actually; one small bakery in a picture-perfect neighbouring village and in a much larger industrial bakery in the next city over. Both were filled with the unmistakeable and comforting smell of Pulla baking away to be ready for the morning. Stepping from the snow outside into the warm sugary-smelling bakery was the best part of the night. (Cleaning the industrial frozen pizza conveyer belt was not the best part – although both smells were unmistakeable).

The Finn has grown up on these things – made of course by loving tradition-trained, sleigh-riding Finnish aunts (both related and acquired), so when I first got out the rolling pin the pressure was high.

The recipe below helped me tackle the traditional taste. It takes a bit of time, but mostly for raising the dough. Cooking, like life feels slower in Finland – there’s lot of time to kill on dark 23 hour long nights, hence the seemingly endless variations for Pulla – and births in August…

I’ve made two varieties from the same dough. Firstly Korvapuusti and secondly Voi-silma ( butter eye).

Cardamom seeds

Cardamom seeds

The Pantry 

250ml tepid milk
100 grams of raw caster sugar
2 packets of instant/dry yeast
1 egg
125 grams of soft unsalted butter
2 teaspoons of ground cardamom (plus a small amount of seeds, crushed roughly for texture and extra punch)
1 teaspoon of salt
650 grams of plain flour (Spelt flour also works really well and will give a slightly more dense result)

The Filling

2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
25 grams of caster sugar
50 grams of butter

25 grams of caster sugar
50 grams of butter

NOTE: If you’re only making Korvapuusti, then combine all the filling ingredients (100g butter/50g sugar).  Leave out the cinnamon if just making Voi-silma.

Use the dough hook tool on your mixer. Combine milk, sugar and yeast in your mixing bowl. Allow to activate for 5 minutes. Add the softened butter, egg, cardamom and salt and combine. With the mixer on low gradually add the flour until combined. Once the dough comes together you can kneed by hand until you reach a soft elastic dough, although I use the mixer to do this with equal results – approximately 5 minutes in my mixer.

Once smooth and elastic, allow to rest for a couple of hours until at least doubled in size.

To make the filling I break with tradition here – mix the cinnamon and butter into a paste. You’ll use this later on to spread across the rolled out dough.

Divide the dough into four portions. Here you can decide what to do; two for korvapuusti and two for voi-silma, or keep all four for the ear slap.

Pulla rising


Pre heat your oven to 180c degrees.

Roll the dough into two rectangles, (30x25cm, 3-5mm thick). Spread an even portion of the dark spiced butter across the dough and sprinkle with some of the sugar. Roll into a sausage and set aside. Repeat.

Line the dough sausages up and cut them on the diagonal. You want to end up with v shaped pieces with the point about 2cm across. Place the pieces point side up on a baking tray and press down on the point with your finger – almost through to the tray. Brush with beaten egg and dust with sugar. Set these tasty ears aside to rise for another 30 mins to rise and then bake for 20 minutes until golden.

Voi-silma pulla


Take your remaining dough and divide further in to four pieces each – eight in total. Roll each piece in to a golf ball size and place on a baking tray to rise for 30 minutes. (These make super-tasty plain Pulla as well). In the meantime, take the remaining butter and sugar and mix together to form a paste.

Once risen, gently press a hole into each bun and place or pipe a teaspoonful of the filling into each one and brush with beaten egg. Bake for 20 minutes until golden.

Voila! Two decidedly tasty varieties of Pulla. Serve them warm with coffee for a classic Finnish experience. They’re sure to put a rose in every cheek… (wait, that’s vegemite)

Finnish morning tea

This recipe is based on one from Tessa Kiros, a cook whose recipes I love; also with a heart in two places.

Forests and fruit stands

Blueberry pie

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).

Kauppatori fruit stands

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.

Forest floor and blueberries

Forest floor and blueberries

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.

The Pantry

1 pack instant yeast
1/4 cup of warm water
1 egg
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)

The Filling

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.

Blueberry pie

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.

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