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).
250ml tepid milk
100 grams of raw caster sugar
2 packets of instant/dry yeast
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)
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.
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.
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)
This recipe is based on one from Tessa Kiros, a cook whose recipes I love; also with a heart in two places.