Finland summary

I was looking back on my posts in May and realised just how many Finnish, or Finnish inspired, baked goods I made.  Perhaps (obviously?), my favourite would be the cardamom and coffee macarons.  Though give me anything sweet with cardamom and I am a happy girl.

My faithful baking companion, The Great Scandinavian Baking Bookby Beatrice Ojakangas, may be returned to the shelf for now but I am sure she will make an appearance again soon.

In the meantime, here is a quick re-cap of what I made last month during my Finnish baking adventures.  This list surely now includes some of my new favourites.

1. Cardamom macarons with coffee cream
2. Hannatädinkakut :: Aunt Hanna’s Cookies (p138)
3. Karjalanpiirakat:: Karelian Rice Pasties (p272)
4. Mustikkapiiraat :: Blueberry Filled Buns (p237)
5. Omenapiirakka :: Finnish Apple Pie (p240)
6. Pulla :: Finnish Cardamom Bread (p70)

Blueberry buns single

When my partner and I were in Helsinki last year, we visited the vibrant markets at Market Square near the water (see below).  The market was full of vendors selling gloriously fresh fruit and vegetables.  We wandered around for a little while so I could take in all the piles of dazzling food on offer.  Rich colours and smells filled my every turn.

After some observation, I was puzzled by one interesting habit.  The Finns work with the metric system.  But at these markets, many items are measured in volume rather than weight.  It was quite an approach.

I greedily wanted to try all the berries I could get my hands on.  Particularly raspberries and blueberries that can cost close to $10 in Australia for practically a small handful.  I asked for “half a litre” of various berries and watched as the lady gently transferred each berry selection into a tin mug, then into a brown paper bag (the cups I saw were ¼, ½ and 1 litre sizes).  After paying, I actually felt like I got the best bargain in the world.  Even with the exchange for the Euro!  Then after tasting, I knew I got the best bargain in the world.  They were just divine.  I think they lasted less than ten minutes between us.

Separately, I noticed a number of people eating fresh peas.  They were huge.  I automatically thought they may be less tasty given the size, so knew I had to also test for myself.  They were amazing.  Sweet, firm and morish.  I ate each pea pod in quick succession.

So for my next Finnish baking month adventure, I wanted to incorporate some inspiration of Helsinki’s Market Square … or Kauppatori.

Once again, flicking through my Scandinavian baking bible by Beatrice Ojakangas, I found Mustikkapiiraat.  A blueberry filled bun.  It was quite an easy decision to make these as they included not only the obligatory berries, but also had a cardamom flavoured dough (well, the cardamom is apparently optional, but not in my eyes!).

They were easy to make and smelled wonderful coming out of the oven.  I almost clapped my hands in delight when I saw the gooey berry drizzle running down the side of a bun or two.  It was hard to wait for them too cool slightly so I could eat them.  I iced a few buns to devour straight away but also ended up freezing the remaining buns (un-iced) in packets of two to have as a quick breakfast treat.  Slightly re-warmed, they taste almost as good as straight out of the oven.  I like to tease my fellow co-workers who are snacking on the usual vegemite on toast, with my tasty alternative. 

Big blueberries

{ Blueberry Filled Buns }

* Ingredients *

Pastry:
1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water, 105-115F or 40-45C
½ cup milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ cup raisins
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup softened butter
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Filling:
1 pint or 450g fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch / cornflour
2 tablespoons sugar

Glaze:
1 slightly beaten egg
2 tablespoons milk

* Directions *

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water; add the milk.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Add the sugar, egg, cardamom, raisins, and salt.  Add the softened butter and 1 cup of the flour; beat until smooth and satiny.  Gradually add the remaining flour, mixing until dough is smooth and satiny, not quite stiff enough to knead.  Cover and let rise for 1 to 2 hours until doubled.  Meanwhile, combine the blueberries, cornstarch and sugar.  Preheat oven to 400F or 200C.  Dust the risen flour.  Shape into a ball, dusting with flour lightly, if necessary, to prevent stickiness.  Lightly oil a work surface.  Turn dough out onto the work surface and divide into 12 parts.  Cover a baking sheet with parchment or lightly grease it. Roll dough into smooth balls and place on the baking sheet with the smooth side up.  Let rise until puffy, 45 minutes to 1 hour.  With a floured glass, press an indentation into the centre of each round of dough, and a rounded edge on each ball.  Spoon filling into the centre of each bun.  Beat the egg and milk to make a glaze and brush edges of the pastries with the mixtures.  Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 12 buns.

Helsinkilarge

Helsinki, Market Square

Aunt Hannas Cookies

When I brought dessert out at my house the other week, my mother remarked, “I really do not know where you got that baking thing from”.  She was talking specifically about my passion (read: obsession) for baking.  I often reflect on this.  I frequently read stories about people who were ‘baking and cooking inspired’ by the profession or interests of their parents and family.  A chef whose parents were in the restaurant business.  A chef who had a string of chefs in the family.  Or an elite cook who grew up around a mother that prepared elaborate meals and desserts.  People who had many wonderful food memories in their home growing up.

My interest in baking was not directly inspired by my parents.  On the outside looking in, we led quite unremarkable lives.  Quiet.  Reserved.  Conservative.  There was no sophisticated cooking, baking or entertaining.  There was no real exposure to the love and passion of food at home.  But there was one thing.  An unspoken drive to always strive for more.  Strive for something better.  Strive to be the best you could possibly be.  That is the inspiration from my family.  So even though I was not fortunate to grow up learning about baking at a young age, my parents encouraged me to keep learning.  Those who know me, know I constantly juggle multiple things in the quest to learn.  The reality is, a seemingly unremarkable family actually has produced (hopefully?) some fairly remarkable people – i.e. me and my sister.

I have never considered myself creative.  I always considered myself a numbers girl.  Give me some calculus or statistics and I am completely in my comfort zone.  I originally studied biochemistry at university, then switched to business and marketing.  More recently, I studied economics.  I feel like I cannot stop learning something new.  As my partner says to me, “you never want to miss out!”  And that is true.  I certainly do try to give many things a go.  But when it comes to anything creative, I have previously steered away from the challenge.  Reluctant to take it on believing I was not up to the task.  But now I think differently.

My mother is quite a crafty person (in more ways than one!) and even now in retirement she has multiple projects on the go.  Patchwork.  Cross-stitch.  Embroidery.  Knitting.  Sewing.  Needlepoint.  Seriously.  All at once.  Constantly.  Oh, and no shortcuts either in any of her projects.  She is a ball of energy and I do not know how she does it.  In fact, my sister and I have “craft day” with mum once a month to (belatedly) learn some of the tricks of the trade.  My mother was a young child in London during WW2, and also lived through the aftermath of momentous scarcity.  During that period, you were resourceful. You never threw anything out.  You fixed.  You created. I want to learn that, too.

I used to joke that my (older) sister, managed all the creative genes from our parents. She is an artist.  Period.  She draws, she paints, she designs.  In fact, you may believe I am quite subjective on the topic when I say she is one of the best illustrators in Australia.  (Actually, she is.)

They both inspire me greatly.

So the reality is I do find inspiration from my family, but not in the obvious ways.  And for me, baking is my way to offer something back.  To share.  To experience.  To give.  My life may not resemble how I grew up, but the connection is firmly there.  And that is a comforting feeling.  I thank my parents for instilling in me a healthy dose of curiosity and desire to always achieve more.

These cookies are for you.

{ Aunt Hanna’s Cookies } by Beatrice Ojakangas

These simple and quick cookies are a Finnish favourite at holiday time.  They are apparently very popular, and according to Beatrice, can be found in supermarkets across Finland all year round.  One taste, and I was a big fan.  They are light and buttery but not too rich.  The little bite size makes them perfect for a little treat during the day.  I also think they make lovely homemade gifts, too!

* Ingredients *

½ cup softened butter
½ cup sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup cream

* Directions *

Cover baking sheets with parchment and preheated almond oven to 350F or 180C.  In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until blended.  Mix the flour with the baking powder and add to the butter mixture a little at a time.  Blend in the cream until a stiff dough forms.  Chill if necessary.  Using 1 teaspoonful of dough at a time, roll into small balls.  Place on the prepared baking sheets.  Bake for 10 minutes or until very light golden and set.

Karelian Rice Pasties

I was lucky to visit Finland last year for a holiday.  It is a magnificant part of the world.  It is outdoorsy, rugged, scenic.  It is a country of contrast.  Extreme bitter terrain in winter.  Lush, fertile surroundings in summer.  It is small but vast.  It is quiet but friendly and warm.  Interestingly, I used to say my partner was full of contradictions.  Being Finnish, I suppose it is an intrinsic trait?

The Finnish landscape and scenery is quite arresting.  We travelled from Helsinki to Turku one day and past some beautiful countryside.  The photos below were taken wandering around Naantali.  For me, the wide open lake and the rich blooms greatly encapsulate southern Finland in the summer time.

These little rice pasties actually remind me of Finland.  For me, the rustic, earthiness make them quintessentially Finnish.  The pasties were actually requested by my partner to include in my Finnish baking month adventures.  He remembers them fondly.  Surprisingly, I never saw them when I was in Finland last year, but they must be popular because Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella also made a mention of them to me.  I am disappointed I did not come across them in my travels.  Admittedly, I think I was preoccupied not only with cardamom flavoured bread and buns, and all the fresh salmon on offer.  (I seriously think I ate salmon for every single meal during my time there.  It was sublime.)

I flicked through my trusty Scandinavian Baking book by Beatrice Ojakangas to find the recipe for these little rice pasties.  If they were popular, there was no question I would find them there.

The pastry was quite easy to make.  It literally mixed together by hand in less than 5 minutes.  The filling is the most time consuming part taking an hour to slowly simmer.  But I hit a snag.  I presume the rice needed to disintegrate, hence the 1 hour simmering time, but I have a bit of a problem.  I cook with gas and even my lowest setting produces a level of bubbling that could not constitute anything close to a simmer.  Never mind, I thought, I will cook it as well as I can.

After some quick assembly, these little pasties were made and baked.  Beatrice suggests serving with boiled eggs, which I actually do remember accompanying quite an amount of food in Finland.

So the verdict from my partner?  One star out of three.  Apparently the pastry was spot on (tick!), but overlapped the filling too much – should have been narrower (cross!), and the filling needed to be more cooked (cross!).  But despite that, they were still quickly consumed.  So all good in my eyes!

 NaantaliNaantali, Finland

 

{ Karelian Rice Pasties } by Beatrice Ojakangas

* Ingredients *

Pastry:
1 cup water
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup rye flour
1 cup all purpose flour

Filling:
1 cup water
3 cups milk
¾ cup rice

Glaze:
1 cup milk, heated to boiling
¼ cup butter

* Directions *

Mix together the water, salt, rye flour and all purpose flour to make a smooth dough.  If necessary, add more water.  Shape the dough into a r0pe about the thickness of your wrist.  Cut into 16 equal portions.  Shape the pieces into flat round cakes and roll out to make a very thin circle about 6 to 8 inches / 15 to 20 cm in diameter.  Set aside.  To prepare the rice filling, combine the water, milk and rice in a heavy saucepan.  Simmer for 1 hour or until rice has absorbed all the liquid.  Taste and add salt and butter.  Cover baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease them.  Preheat oven to 550F or 290C.  Fill the centre of each circle with the cooked rice and fold over about ¾ inches or 2cm of the edges, pinching to crimp the edges, and shape an oval or round pie.  Place pies on prepared baking sheets.  Mix the boiling milk and butter to make a glaze.  Brush the pieces with the mixture.  Bake for 7 to 10 minutes.  Brush again with the butter-milk mixture.  Baked until tinged with gold.  Remove from the oven and brush again with the butter-milk mixture.  Serve cooled.  Pasties will soften as they cool.

Apple Pie

A while ago I saw the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic.  I apologise to all the people around me at the cinema when I constantly burst into laughter at the Finnish references.  As my partner is half Finnish, I seemed to find it all quite amusing for some reason.  The central character of the movie is asked why she uses Finland for all her excuses?  She replies, “because no one ever checks up on Finland”.

Comedic opportunities aside, I found that reference interesting.  As I have been fortunate to visit this beautiful part of the world, I suppose in a way Finland is one of the best kept secrets around.  (See some pictures from Suomenlinna Island below!)

And because I am inherently interested in baking, perhaps it would follow that Finnish baked goods are also some of the best kept secrets around?  Given that, this month I will endeavour to investigate traditional Finnish baked goods.

I recently baked Pulla.  Next up?  Omenapiirakka … or Finnish apple pie.  We are right in the middle of prime apple picking season so a perfect time for this pie.

I must say up front, you need to try this pie.  The best part for me was how easy the pastry was to make.  And even better than that, how delicious it was.  I actually made the pastry a day ahead and was able to quickly roll out, top with apple and then bake in less than 45 minutes.

To keep it simple, I served with a light dusting of icing sugar and some rich vanilla ice cream to complement the gooey caramelised apple centre of the pie. 

I asked my partner if he had eaten Omenapiirakka when living in Finland.  He had not.  But he swiftly gave me a list of things he remembered from Finland as well as his mummo’s – grandmother’s – baking.  (Kiitoksia kauhean paljon!)

Okay, pressure on now.

{ Omenapiirakka } by Beatrice Ojakangas
Finnish apple pie with cream crust

* Ingredients *

Pastry:
2 ¼ cups plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter
1 cup heavy cream

Filling:
4 tart apples, pared, cored and sliced
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Glaze:
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk

* Directions *

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the cream and mix to make a soft dough. Chill 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425F or 220C.  Grease and dust a baking sheet lightly with flour.  Turn dough out onto the centre of the sheet and roll out to make a 12 inch / 30 cm square.

Combine the apples, sugar, flour, salt and cinnamon.  Arrange the apples in rows over the crust, leaving about 1 ½ inches or 4 cm empty at the edges.  Turn edges up over the filling and seal the corners.  Beat egg with milk to make a glaze and brush edge.

Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until golden.

Island

 Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, Heksinki

helsinki

When I want a hint of Scandinavia in my baking, I reach for my Great Scandinavian Baking bible by Beatrice Ojakangas for some inspiration.

I attempted my first Finnish bread a couple of years ago.  It was a nerve-racking event as it was ultimately going to be tasted by someone whose mummo (Finnish grandmother), was an all round cooking star.  Needless to say, the pressure was on.

I heard about a tasty cardamom flavoured bread called Pulla.  Naturally, I had to research this thing called ‘Pulla’ within an inch of its life.  Fortunately, in my efforts, I stumbled across Beatrice Ojakangas.  After my first Pulla attempt when I was told the bread tasted, “just like my mummo used to make”, I knew I had picked the right recipe (thanks, Beatrice!).  Now Pulla is made with some regularity at home.  It certainly is worth the time.

pulla

Here is my adapted recipe of Finnish Pulla.

{ Finnish Pulla }

Makes three small braided loaves

* Ingredients *

1 cup (250ml) milk
1/2 cup (125ml) warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
3.5 g active dry yeast
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cardamom (or to taste)
2 eggs, beaten
4-5 cups plain flour
1/4 cup (62.5g) butter, melted and cooled

1 egg, beaten
Almond slices, toasted

* Directions *

. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add one teaspoon of sugar and let stand for 5 minutes until yeast foams.
2. Warm milk in a small saucepan until it reaches about 45 degrees then remove from heat. Let cool until lukewarm.
3. To the yeast, stir in the lukewarm milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs, and enough flour to make a batter (approximately 2 cups).
4. Beat until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add 3 more cups of the flour and beat well. Add the melted butter and stir well. Beat again until the dough looks glossy. Stir in the remaining flour until the dough is stiff (you may not need all 5 cups).
5. Turn out of bowl onto a floured surface, cover with an inverted mixing bowl, and let rest for 15 minutes.
6. Knead the dough until smooth and satiny. Place in a lightly greased mixing bowl, and turn the dough to grease the top. Cover with a clean dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
7. Punch down, and let rise again until almost doubled. About 1 hour.
8. Turn out again on to a floured surface, and divide into 3 parts. Divide each third into 3 again. Roll each piece into a 30 cm strand. Braid 3 strands into a loaf. Lift the loaves onto baking sheets lined with greaseproof paper. Let rise for 30 minutes.
9. Brush each loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with almond slices along the centre of the braids.
10. Bake at 180 degrees C for 20 minutes. Check occasionally because the bottom can brown easily.
11. When cooled, drizzle with icing.  Try an orange, coffee or plain icing.  All delicious complements to the cardamom, I promise!