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).


2 Responses to “A pie by any other name”

  1. Cousin Happo Cousin Happo said ...

    Tomato sauce! That’s odd but can be forgiven to a foreigner. BUT NOBODY IN OUR FAMILY IS ALLOWED TO USE THE TERRIBLE WORD “SALT-REDUCED”! Nothing REDUCED in Carelian Pies. That’s the way we like it and that’s the way it’s gonna be!

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