Karelian Pies

Karelian Pies

These rich, buttery, rice-filled pies are a Finnish staple. They originated, as their name suggests, in Karelia (Karjala), a region of eastern Finland; where my partner Jani grew up. Now they are in every Finnish supermarket, sold both fresh and frozen, and are eaten for lunch or as a snack topped with anything from the traditional ‘egg-butter’ or munavoi, to ham, cheese or just a thin layer of unsalted butter. There are two traditional fillings: rice, as my recipe contains, or mashed potato. If you have some left over mash, whip in some extra butter and salt and use it to fill these crisp, wholesome pastry cases – another delicious way to eat these!

When I first came across karjalan riisipiirakat, on holiday in Finland, I found it really strange eating pastry with a starchy filling topped, as if it were bread, with ham or cheese. Jani maintains that because of the harsh winters in Finland they needed as many calories and as much energy as they could cram into one small pie, and this is how Karelian Pies came about! I don’t know, but they certainly taste amazing and add some extra sustenance to lunchtime if there are slim-pickings in the fridge.

So here goes…

Ingredients:

for the pastry:

  • 250g Rye Flour
  • 1 Tsp Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 200ml Water
  • Plain Flour for dusting
  • 75g Unsalted Butter

for the filling:

  • 150g Pudding Rice (Short-grain)
  • 250ml Water
  • 750ml Milk
  • 1 Tsp Sea-Salt

To make the Pies:

  1. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  2. Start by making the filling. Place the rice in a saucepan and cover with the water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add the milk and continue to cook over a low heat for 30-40 minutes until most of the milk has been absorbed and the mixture has the consistency of thick rice pudding. Don’t forget to stir occasionally, as the rice may stick if left untouched.
  4. Add the salt and stir well before setting aside to cool whilst you make the pastry.
  5. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
  6. Put the rye flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and add the oil.
  7. Gradually add the water, mixing by hand until the ingredients come together to form a dough.
  8. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a long sausage shape.
  9. Using a Scottish Scraper (or a large knife), divide the dough into 20 pieces and roll each piece into a ball.
  10. Using a floured rolling pin, roll each into a thin round, roughly 10cm in diameter.
  11. Place two tablespoons of the rice filling into the centre of each round, leaving about 2cm of pastry around the edge.
  12. Using both hands, begin to lift the edges of the pastry in towards the filling and pinch together with your thumb and forefinger. Repeat this until the edges of the pastry are upstanding and are encasing the filling (see picture above).
  13. Pour the melted butter into a wide shallow bowl (I used a large Tupperware tub for this), and, using a slotted spoon, lower each pie into the butter so it is fully immersed, then place on one of the prepared baking trays.
  14. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and crispy around the edges.

I really hope you love these as much as I do! Please let me know how you get one making these and what you think 🙂

A Finnish Birthday Cake

Finnish Cream Cake

A Traditional Finnish Birthday Cake

I baked this for my wonderful boy’s first birthday. I chose this cake, not only because my partner is Finnish and this is a traditional Finnish cake (as the title of this post suggests!), but because it is full of fresh fruit sandwiched between layers of light, moist sponge; without the thick layer of gloopy white icing we have all come to expect from supermarket cakes aimed at young children.

I was first taught to bake this by my partner’s cousin, Sanna, who introduced me to a wonderfully simple way of measuring out the ingredients for this fatless sponge. At the time, I assumed it was a family recipe but I have since seen it crop up in a number of Scandinavian and Nordic cookbooks; so I guess it is the traditional way of making it!

So here you go, you will see that I have omitted the quantities of fruit in this recipe. This is because the amount of fruit you will need depends on how you wish to decorate your cake. Similarly, the amount of fruit required for the filling is a matter of personal taste.

Ingredients:

For Cake:

Equal quantities (in volume not weight) of:

  • Eggs (use half an egg per person)
  • Caster Sugar
  • Self-raising flour
  • Orange juice (for moistening after baking)

I usually use one of my glass tumblers (of which I have many) filled to a certain point with the eggs. Then use another, filled to the same point with the sugar and then the flour.

For topping and filling:

  • Approx. 800ml whipping cream
  • 200g Icing sugar
  • Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Kiwi

To make the Cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
  2. Follow the instructions above for measuring the eggs, sugar and flour.
  3. Place the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat vigorously until the colour lightens slightly and the mixture is light and frothy.
  4. Add the flour, little by little, folding in gently to retain the air.
  5. Bake in a tin lined with greaseproof paper for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer, inserted into the centre, comes out clean.
  6. Once the cake is baked, leave in the tin and make several small holes in the surface using a cocktail stick or fork.
  7. Using a small jug, pour the orange juice generously into the holes and let it soak into the cake while you get started on the filling and topping…

To make the filling and topping:

  1. Mix the cream with the icing sugar and whist until firm and spreadable.
  2. Crush some of the strawberries to a pulp, leaving behind enough to decorate your cake.
  3. Mash 2 or 3 bananas and mix with the crushed strawberries.
  4. Thinly slice the remaining strawberries from top to bottom for decoration later.
  5. Once your cake is completely cooled, turn out onto a wire wrack and, using a palate knife, slice evenly through the middle.
  6. Use a broad metal spatula to lift off the top layer and transfer the bottom layer carefully onto a serving plate.
  7. Spread the strawberry and banana mixture onto the base of your cake and sandwich on the top layer.
  8. Again using a palate knife, spread the sweetened whipped cream evenly over the top and sides of the cake. You could use the knife to create a peaked or wavy effect.
  9. Decorate with the thinly sliced strawberries and other fruit to finish.

Enjoy! This is a true celebration cake both in look and taste. I sometimes add a layer of butter cream to the filling. As well as balancing out the acidity of the fruit, it prevents the bottom layer of cake from becoming soggy over time. This is not a traditional addition, however, and I have left it out of the main recipe for fear of reprisals from Finns, who will undoubtedly claim that this is certainly not how their grandmothers used to make it! As well as for birthdays, this is an unashamedly summery cake, light and fresh and covered in summer berries, which wouldn’t look out of place as the centrepiece for any Summertime soiree.

Baking Books: An Obsession.

Just a few!

Just a few!

I have already hinted at my uncontrollable cookbook-buying habit. The delivery man from Amazon can actually be heard saying “you again!” as I open the door, hand eagerly outstretched ready to snatch at the plastic toothpick; scrawling my name whilst simultaneously tearing the package to shreds to reveal my new purchase.

I’ve bought some cracking new baking books recently. ‘How to Bake’ by the Silver Fox himself, Paul Hollywood is a winner for me. I love the layout of this book. The preamble to each chapter is absorbing and I appreciate the fact he includes the little details which make all the difference, like the number of loaves, preparation and baking time clearly at the top of each recipe. Some argue that this is a book for the amateur baker, but I disagree. For me, there can never be too many hints and tips about baking, even if they do concern the basics like how to knead and prove your dough. All bakers have a slightly different slant on how to conduct these elemental tasks. Therefore I collect hints and tips just as I collect the recipes themselves. They change the fabric of my baking experience; as I test out the ones I like the sound of, discarding those which bring nothing to my endeavor and incorporating the morsels which will enhance the taste and beauty of my future bakes.

Another book I am wholly impressed with is ‘Nordic Bakery’ by Miisa Mink. Now this may not appeal to the more mainstream bakers among you, as this is, as the title suggests, a collection of traditional (mainly Finnish) Nordic recipes. I won’t go too far into why I have a fervent interest in the baking of our Northern European friends (see future posts…), but I was specifically looking for traditional Finnish recipes which I could practice and replicate in order to evoke many a happy memory of the country. This book certainly delivers. It contains recipes for many of the traditional treats you see in cafes and homes all over Finland. My mother-in-law (who is Finnish), even commented that her Mummo (grandmother) used to bake many of the recipes for her when she was a child. I have tried the Karelian Pies, Potato Flatbreads and the Date Cake and all are out of this world! A definite must-have for anyone wanting  to discover more about Nordic baking or indeed anyone who enjoys delicious baked goodies!

When I first started baking, in my naivety, I believed that when you buy a new book and follow one of the, often beautifully presented and well laid out, recipes therein, the fruits of your labour will necessarily match up to the mouth-watering picture nestled attractively beside it. Surely any recipe which boasts a product, the following of which (without tampering) it will never produce is an issue for Trading Standards? After all, if I knew beforehand that the recipes in a given book were almost without exception full of errors, typos and untested claims; there isn’t a yeast-spore’s chance in a bag of salt that I would give up my hard earned cash in exchange for it! My veil of ignorance has since been lifted! Let’s start with Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’. Now it is, among other things, Nigella’s gift of the gab which most entices me to buy each new book she releases; but after ‘How to Eat’, I have also come to expect well tested, trustworthy recipes. Certainly not in this case! This book is full of unforgivable typos (whoever added 1 tablespoon of salt to a 500g loaf?) which will sadly lead to the unsuspecting baker wasting good ingredients and suffering unpalatable results. I will red-flag more books which are the audacious ambassadors of untested recipes soon (see future posts).

In the meantime, my advice to anyone afflicted with this cookbook obsession is twofold:

1) Read the reviews before you buy! If there are shameless errors in a book, the brigade of trusty reviewers are sure to tell us! And become a reviewer yourself – the more of us who air our opinions, the more rounded a picture we will be privy to when we put our buyers hat on – and hence the better value for money we will receive!

2) If your pockets aren’t as deep as Mary Poppins’ bag, steer clear of Amazon’s ‘One-Click’ feature! Should you have the misfortune to be as bedeviled as I am by the baking-book-bug you will surely bankrupt yourself within a year!