Finding my culinary roots

I woke up with a severe craving for Karelian pasties. Sorry, what? It’s a savoury Finnish pastry you may have seen at a hotel breakfast buffet right next to the mini meatballs, if you’ve ever been to Finland. I’m sure you promptly closed the cover and moved onto scrambled eggs or some other more familiar option. I have to agree, aesthetically they’re not very appealing. Rustic, perhaps. Or artisan. There’s the floury, dark crust with odd pleads, enveloping what appears to be burnt rice pudding. The combination of the hard rye crust and the soft rice filling, traditionally served with egg-butter, is an acquired taste. It took my Swedish husband a few years before the flavour grew on him. I’m very stubborn.

My local Tesco’s and Marks & Spencer’s bakery sections carry everything from the usual toast varieties to crumpets and English muffins. The usually tempting French croissants and pain au chocolat’s don’t strike my fancy at all. The realisation that I have to attempt to bake Karelian pasties at home is gradually dawning on me. They are notoriously demanding to make from scratch. The art of crimping the pasties is typically passed on from generation to generation. Although from Karelia, my granny was not the maternal figure who’d patiently educate us grandchildren on traditional baking methods. So I’m petrified. Anything arts and crafty is beyond my usual repertoire. I still remember the wool socks I had to hand-knit in primary school. They magically turned into felt. Tight stitches and sweaty hands, if you must know.

The first lifeline, asking my friends on Facebook, proves helpful, though. I get a recipe from a reliable source, practical pointers and cheerful encouragement. I’m optimistic, even if I suspect some of my supporters simply want to see another baking disaster. I blame the little mishaps of my recent bread-making project on malfunctioning kitchen appliances.

The ingredients are easily sourced at Whole Foods: organic wholegrain rye flour and pudding rice. I have to get a bit creative on the actual implementation, as the wording of the recipe instructions is rather strange. Surely my Finnish vocabulary hasn’t shrunk that much? Luckily, a video I find uses modern language and illustrates the preparation process much more thoroughly. Since my friend’s mother is not available for a consultation on Skype at such a short notice, I place my iPad on the kitchen worktop for moral support. It’s covered in flour in no time.

I manage to cook the milky rice mixture without scorching it. My husband will be happy, since we only have one pan in our minimalistic home. While the filling is cooling down, I prepare the dough for the crust. It’s straightforward enough, but the rye flour makes the dough quite sticky. Sprinkling some wheat flour on the dough makes it easier to knead. I was warned that the dough dries up really quickly and advised to place the pieces of dough under a bowl when not working on them. Clever indeed.

Instead of a specifically designed pasty rolling pin, I use an empty bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. I contemplate having some wine to sip on, but decide against it. Puritan work ethic and all. I quickly learn that the dough requires plenty more flour if I wish to roll thin, roundish discs of crust. I lose count of how many I need to throw in the bin. I watch the instructional video one more time, pausing and resuming the crimping process, before attempting it myself. Dolloping some rice filling onto the crust, I fold the sides towards the middle and start pinching them towards the tip of the oval shaped pasty, then repeat for the other end. The resulting product is ugly, but I’m proud of it. My expectations were very low.

After 15 or so pasties, I’m a little bored. There’s another 15 to roll, fill, crimp, bake and brush. It’s such a labour-intensive process. I take a break and eat some rice pudding. With a final plunge of energy, I get the last pasties into the oven. Even if the tiny kitchen is a mess, I’m pleased. This is the start of my Karelian pasty making story. Apparently every pasty maker has her own signature style. I so need to develop mine.

Karelian - 1

Ready to bake

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

6 thoughts on “Finding my culinary roots

  1. Congratulations Anu, well done! I can easily relate to your experience since it’s not so many weeks ago I got that same urge myself 🙂
    Only diffrence was that I didn’t want to be so traditional and decided to make mine with quinoa porridge in some and spelt grain porridge in others.. and the crust with spelt flour. I wish the dough would have dried a bit, but no – spelt made it soft and moist and after making about 15 crusts ready for the filling( left on top of each other with lots of flour in between) I realised they all sat firmly together and had to start over 🙂
    My kitchen too was pretty white and I found the making quite boring and decided not to make them every week. . Or every year 😉
    But the end result sure makes one proud!

    • Thanks, my friend! I’ll do a variation of some sort next time. Buckwheat filling could work, too, as a gluten-free alternative.I’m hooked on buckwheat raw porridge at the moment 😀

  2. Well done! I just have one tip to share if you want to make even better pies next time.. My Karelian dad told me that it’s very important to make the rice pudding the day before so it’s properly cooled down before the baking. This ensures you don’t have rice pies with pudding boiling over in the oven.. Happy baking 🙂

  3. Congrats, they look good! I recommend using finer rye flour if possible, then it is easier to handle. My experience is that the coarse flour makes the dough break easier when rolling the crusts. I tend to use 1/3 doves farm 2/3 sunnuntai fine rye flour. Sunnuntai you can buy from thr Finnish Church or bring from Finland next time you have some business there! Its nice to see how people pick up old, traditional recipes when the products are not readily available in shops 🙂

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