Homemade Finnish Karelian Pies

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In my project to cook a dish from every country around the world, from Sweden, we move to its Scandinavian/Nordic neighbor — Finland. Check out my progress on this project here.
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Now, I will be honest – my knowledge of Scandinavian cuisine is limited at best, but my knowledge of Finnish cuisine is nonexistent. All I’ve heard (and all anyone usually seems to mention) is the bad reputation Finnish food has – bland and unimaginative… I’d like to think those were unjust characterizations or at least ones that have been changing. I realize when working with these Scandinavian and Nordic countries and their cuisines there is a lot of overlap in dishes and ingredients, but I still wanted to focus on each specific country (as opposed to grouping Scandinavia together as one). As a result, in attempts to better understand Finland and its food*, I enlisted the help of fellow blogger, Maria, who has a blog Scandifoodie. She is a Finnish woman married to an Australian and living in Sydney (jealous!). She is a prop stylist and always has amazing photos on her blog (along with great recipes!). She was gracious enough to answer some of my questions about Finnish cuisine.

*I supplemented this research by watching the No Reservations Finland episode. Gotta support my company / use the cultural resources on hand!

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Q: How would you characterize Finnish cuisine in general? What are the prominent herbs, spices or ingredients used? Similarly, what are the general cooking techniques (I would assume many stews)? 

Maria: Finnish cuisine is, what I like to call “honest food”. No gimmicks, just pure ingredients that speak for themselves. Traditionally, game (including reindeer, moose, salmon and forest birds), wild mushrooms and berries, as well as cultivated vegetables such as potatoes, have formed the basis of Finnish cuisine. Oven-cooked foods have always been prominent, no stir-fries or deep-fries here!

Q: How is Finnish cuisine different (or similar) to other Nordic/Scandinavian countries? What are the overlaps between Finnish cuisine and other Scandinavian cuisines?  Maria: This depends a bit what area of Finland you live in. In the west there is a lot of influence from the Swedes, whilst the Eastern border is clearly more influenced by the Russian cuisine. Obviously a similar climate with the rest of the Scandinavian countries means that there is overlap with the cuisines: berries, fish, etc. are all heavily featured.

Q: Are there Finnish classics or dishes unique solely to Finland?  Maria: I can’t say there is one national dish in Finland, but definitely many well-known favorites. Each region has their own specialty; in the North we have sautéed reindeer served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. Karelian stew and Karelian pies are both well known dishes that origin from the Eastern parts (hence the name). The easiest to make outside Finland would probably be either of those two.

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Q: What would you say are the traditional dishes of Lapland?  Maria: Cuisine in Lapland varies a bit from the rest of the Finland in that it uses ingredients typical to the northern parts: reindeer meat, cloudberries, etc. [As mentioned] sauteed reindeer served with mashed potato and lingonberry jam is probably one of the most well-known dishes from Lapland. Also leipäjuusto (bread cheese) served with cloudberries is very common as a dessert.

Leip%C3%A4juusto_cheese_with_cloudberry_jam

credit: wikipedia

Q: Are Karelian pies usually eaten for breakfast? Do they differ family to family, region to region? Maria: Karelian pies are not just breakfast food. They can be eaten any time of the day, even with meals, as Finns often eat bread (sandwich-type) with meals. I am not familiar with variations of these pies, I think the recipe is pretty much the same everywhere, but the look may vary depending on how skilful the maker is.

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I should also mention we briefly discussed a few things I’ll have to look into further – specifically that of Estonian influence in Scandinavian cooking and vice versa; the tradition of serving pea soup on Thursdays, which I read about in Sweden and that is also done in Finland; and the discussion of calling Finland a Scandinavian country… This last point is a debate I’d never considered or heard of, but there does appear to be some contention on this matter. As an outsider, I may never fully understand this debate, but it intrigued me nonetheless. In the meantime, personally (as Maria pointed out), there’s a lot of history between Sweden and Finland and I will continue calling Finland a part of Scandinavia (as well as being a Nordic country). But anyway, taking Maria’s recommendation, I decided to make Karelian pies. (I adapted Kat in the Kitch’s recipe, but check out Maria’s recipe here).

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade Finnish Karelian Pies

These pies or pasties are from the region of Karelia in Finland (which is in the south). They are made with a rye crust and filled with rice pudding type mixture. Traditionally they are also served with an egg butter on top – chopped hard boiled eggs mixed with softened butter. These pies were a lot easier to make than I expected. It’s such an interesting combination to me – a crunchy rye crust with creamy rice (plus it’s quite hearty – basically just carbs, but who is complaining?). I opted not to make the egg butter, but did try a pie with chopped hard boiled eggs on top and it was a good addition! My crimping technique with these pies was not the best and rolling out my dough to ovals was a bit sloppy, but I think my first attempt at this Finnish dish was a success! As Maria said, eat these pies for breakfast, lunch or dinner or for a snack and as they say in Finnish, hyvää ruokahalua! Karelian Pies  Adapted from Kat in the Kitch

Rice filling

1 cup water

3 cups milk

1 cup arborio rice

salt & butter to taste

Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add arborio rice and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade Finnish Karelian Pies Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade Finnish Karelian Pies

Add milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer another 30 minutes.

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade Finnish Karelian Pies Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade Finnish Karelian Pies

 

When all the milk has been absorbed and the rice is creamy, add 2 tbsp salted butter.

Taste and add more salt if necessary. Remove from heat and let stand.

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade Finnish Karelian Pies

Dough

½ cup water

½ tsp salt

1 cup rye flour

½ cup all-purpose flour, approx.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F (or, as high as your oven goes). In a large bowl, mix together ½ cup water and ½ tsp salt.  Slowly add rye flour, stirring with a wooden spoon.

Once rye flour has been incorporated, add all-purpose flour slowly until dough is workable but still slightly sticky (you may not use all the flour – I only needed about 1/8 cup).

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade Finnish Karelian Pies

Flour a working surface with rye flour. Roll the dough into a log, about a foot long. Slice the log into 16 equal discs.

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade Finnish Karelian Pies

Roll each disc out thinly (making sure to keep surface well floured) into a 6-inch circle (or oval).

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade Finnish Karelian Pies

Assembly: Fill each circle of dough with about 2-3 tbsp of the rice filling. The filling should be about 1 cm high and leave a 2 cm border of dough around it. Fold the dough over the rice filling, pinching to secure.

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade Finnish Karelian Pies

Bake for 10-12 minutes on a parchment-lined baking sheet or until the edges are brown and crisp. While they cook, melt a tbsp of butter with a little milk. Baste the pies as they come out of the oven with the milk-butter mixture.

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade Finnish Karelian Pies

Top with chopped hard boiled eggs.

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade Finnish Karelian Pies Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade Finnish Karelian Pies

** Also – in researching Karelian pies and Finnish cuisine in addition to talking with Maria and perusing her recipes at Scandifoodie, I found several other cool blogs, focusing on the country’s cuisine (at least in part). Be sure to check out Cook Your Dream, blogger Šárka Babická went on a winter holiday to Finland and tried her hand at Karelian pies; FinSki’s, two best friends with Polish and Finnish heritages respectively who live in Australia; Cooking Finland, from an American married in a Finn; and Kat in the Kitch, who may not be Finnish, but did make Karelian pies… plus her blog is hilarious!

Finnish Karelian Pies
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • salt & butter to taste
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup rye flour
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour, approx.
  • chopped hard boiled eggs
Instructions
  1. Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add arborio rice and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Add milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer another 30 minutes.
  3. When all the milk has been absorbed and the rice is creamy, add 2 tbsp salted butter.
  4. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Remove from heat and let stand.
  5. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F (or, as high as your oven goes). In a large bowl, mix together ½ cup water and ½ tsp salt. Slowly add rye flour, stirring with a wooden spoon.
  6. Once rye flour has been incorporated, add all-purpose flour slowly until dough is workable but still slightly sticky (you may not use all the flour – I only needed about ⅛ cup).
  7. Flour a working surface with rye flour. Roll the dough into a log, about a foot long. Slice the log into 16 equal discs.
  8. Roll each disc out thinly (making sure to keep surface well floured) into a 6-inch circle (or oval).
  9. Fill each circle of dough with about 2-3 tbsp of the rice filling. The filling should be about 1 cm high and leave a 2 cm border of dough around it. Fold the dough over the rice filling, pinching to secure.
  10. Bake for 10-12 minutes on a parchment-lined baking sheet or until the edges are brown and crisp. While they cook, melt a tbsp of butter with a little milk. Baste the pies as they come out of the oven with the milk-butter mixture.
  11. Top with chopped hard boiled eggs.
 

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