Sinikka's snippets

Finland and travelling, a woman's life, cultures, languages, photography plus family recipes


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Finnish bun variation 1: Shrove Tuesday

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February is still a fully winter month in Finland. Minus temperature, especially at night, and usually quite a bit of snow, too. But, the darkest period is gradually passing, and there are glimpses of hope, with longer and longer daylight hours, and bright sunny days. Shrove Tuesday brings a nice, happy change to the winter drudgery. It is celebrated annually in February, with wintry outdoor activities, such as sledging, skating or skiing.

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What’s more, there are, of course, special foods and treats associated with this day. Lunch or dinner may consist of pea soup with pancake for dessert, for example. However, an absolute must, after doing some sport out in the cold, is to warm yourself up with a hot drink and a special “Shrove Tuesday bun”.

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I can still remember my university days when my best girlfriends and I always used to skip afternoon lectures on this Tuesday, go skating and then to a certain café in town to treat ourselves to coffee and these buns. The café in questions used to be popular among elderly ladies, who would typically come early in the day, to avoid the crowds. Our girly giggles and chatter sometimes got on their nerves so much that we even got asked to leave once if we couldn’t keep the volume down. Oh, those were the days!

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Each bakery has their own Shrove Tuesday buns, all slightly different. But, being biased I guess, I just think that nothing beats the home-baked ones.  They are really easy to bake, too. All you need to add to my basic bun recipe, is almond paste (a bit softer and less sweet than marzipan) and whipped cream.

Bake the buns as usual. Let them cool down well. Then simply cut “the hat” off, make a hole in the middle (just eat the surplus piece of bun!) and fill it with the almond paste. Whip the cream, adding a little bit of sugar and vanilla, and put a good dollop on top of the almond filling. Then put “the hat” back on, and voilà. Heavenly with a cup of coffee, or a mug of steaming hot chocolate! IMG_8660 IMG_8662 IMG_8663

The only problem is how to eat the bun without making a total mess of whipped cream all over your face and clothes. Easy, just take “the hat” off and eat it first!

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Some people insist on replacing the almond paste with strawberry or raspberry jam. Bakeries, cafés and supermarkets usually sell both varieties. Personally, I prefer the almond paste, but each to their own. For comparison, underneath is a picture of  the more uniform, shop-bought jam-filled buns.

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Mum’s buns

IMG_8658“Kahvi ja pulla” (coffee and a bun), there is hardly anything more quintessentially Finnish! For us, it’s the equivalent to my British hubby’s “a cup of tea and a biscuit”, or across the Atlantic “as American as apple pie”. In Finland, the coffee is always brewing, whatever the occasion. In fact, Finns are known to be one of the top coffee drinking nations in the whole world. As for the bun, they come in many shapes and varieties, and the art of baking ‘pulla’ is traditionally passed on from mother to daughter.

My sweetest memories from childhood are coming home from school when grandmother was visiting, and she would have baked ‘pulla’ during the day, and the deliciously tempting smell filled the staircase the moment you entered through the front door. As kids, we used to enjoy our ‘pulla’ with a glass of cold milk or a mug of hot chocolate, though. Saturdays were my mum’s ‘pulla’ baking days – almost weekly. She really was the ‘pulla’ master! In my family, the most important ingredient was cardamom, which my mum invariably added to the dough. Some people leave it out but for me a ‘pulla’ without it is simply bland and not the real thing. Luckily I got to learn my mum’s recipe phase by phase with her, carefully writing everything down. And now it’s my turn to teach this tradition to my daughter. All through my life, the smell of freshly baked buns has equalled ‘home sweet home’, and it still does.

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INGREDIENTS (to make c. 20-25 basic buns)

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 dl ordinary granulated sugar
  • 3 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5 dl milk
  • 50 g fresh yeast
  • c. 17-20 dl ordinary wheat flower (not self-raising!)
  • 200 g melted butter
  • 1 egg for glazing
  • coarse decorating sugar

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THIS IS WHAT YOU DO

  • mix the eggs, sugar, cardamom and salt with a whisk
  • warm the milk till it’s hand temperature (I always test it with my finger as it shouldn’t be too hot!)
  • add the milk into the egg mixture
  • mix in the fresh yeast, and make sure it totally dissolves into the warm liquid (in Finland, you can buy small blocks of fresh yeast, which my mum always used, but dried yeast works as well)
  • start adding the flour, little by little, beating it with the whisk first, to get air into the dough
  • when the dough gets too thick for the whisk, continued kneading by hand, and adding enough flour to get a nice consistency (you will learn the right consistency with time, and trial and error!)
  • towards the end of the kneading, add the melted and cooled down butter, and continue kneading till the dough is elastic enough not to stick to your fingers or the sides of the bowl anymore
  • cover the bowl with a baking cloth, and let it rise in a warm place for at least 30 minutes, till it has doubled in size

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  • cut the dough, and work it into round buns (cup your hand, and use enough pressure to make a smooth surface)
  • place the buns on baking trays, covered with grease-proof sheets
  • cover with the cloth, and them rise further for a while (they are ready, when a dent pressed with a finger into a bun springs up straight away)
  • brush the buns with a beaten egg and sprinkle the decorating sugar on top
  • bake at 225 degrees Celsius for about 10-15 minutes

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If you ask me, the buns taste the best when still warm and fresh, straight from the oven. Luckily, they can also be easily frozen, and then warmed up one by one, whenever desired. So just get the coffee going, and enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures, the best comfort treat ever!

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