Spring, especially May, and early summer are festive periods in Finland. May starts with a big carnival on the 1st of the month, then there is Mothers’ Day on the second Sunday, and May ends with the biggest national school celebration, upper secondary (or senior high) school graduation. This is also a popular time for weddings, with nature awakening and the famous white nights. In short, there is lots to celebrate.
And celebrations and parties usually include traditional, festive recipes. Here is one of them. If you were a little nonplussed by the title, that is the name I and hubby coined today to give you an idea of what to expect. Online, I have seen people call these ‘Finnish spoon biscuits’ or ‘Finnish teaspoon cookies’, which I chose to reject for the simple reason that, to me, these are not biscuits nor cookies. The pastry definitely has the taste and consistency of British shortbread but the rest is very Finnish. To begin with, the bites are sandwiched, with some jam or marmalade in between.
But let me explain about the spoon. Many Finnish families have their own heirloom silver teaspoon for this particular purpose. It is exactly the right size, shape and depth – all essential requirements of the right spoon. It should be a small oval-shaped teaspoon, slightly pointed at one end, and not too shallow. Those who haven’t got one passed down the generations, might go to a flea market to look for one. I always go to my sister-in-law to borrow her ideal family teaspoon. The prettier the spoon, the lovelier, I would say, although, naturally, it won’t make any difference to the taste in the end! To make the bites, the pastry is pressed into the spoon to get the right shape – hence the name. In Finnish it is ‘lusikkaleipä’, which literally translates as ‘spoon bread’. A bit misleading, I know. You see, in Finnish ‘a biscuit’ is called ‘pikkuleipä’, which means ‘small bread’. Aren’t languages just great!
These bites are usually baked for extra special occasions, at least in my family. They are proudly and lovingly prepared, usually by an older lady in the family. My mother baked them for my wedding, I baked them for my daughter’s school graduation party, and my sister-in-law told me that she had just baked them for her daughter’s engagement party. The rare occasions you get to taste them make them a luxurious treat that is truly appreciated. I also think the bites look very cute, like tiny sugar-coated eggs, and add a nice touch to any coffee table spread.
INGREDIENTS (for c. 35 sandwiched bites)
- 200 g butter (unsalted if you like, but works with ordinary, too)
- 2 dl (200 ml) caster sugar
- 4 dl (400 ml) all-purpose wheat flour
- 1 tsp baking powder or bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tsp vanilla sugar
FOR THE FILLING
- jam or marmalade (firm enough, not too runny) – the most traditional ones used are apple (my favourite) or raspberry, but feel free to experiment with any you desire
- + fine sugar for coating
THIS IS WHAT YOU DO
- melt the butter in a thick-bottom saucepan till it starts bubbling
- let it bubbly on medium heat till it gets nice nutty brown (make sure you don’t burn it!)
- pour into a bowl
- add the sugar and let the mixture cool down
- in another bowl mix the flour, baking powder and vanilla
- add the dry ingredients to the cooled down butter mixture
- press some pastry into the teaspoon to form the halves of the bites
- put the halves onto a baking tray, which has been lined with grease-proof paper (make sure you make an even number of the halves!)
- bake in 175° Celsius for c. 12 minutes (till just lightly brown)
- let the halves cool down
- spread a thin layer of jam/marmalade on one half, and press another one on top (do this very gently as the pastry is quite crumbly)
- roll each bite in fine sugar to coat them
Very simple ingredients, simple procedures. Only the “spooning” is quite fiddly and time-consuming but I find it quite relaxing, tantamount to meditative. I never worry too much about making each bite exactly evenly shaped. Any rough edges, odd shapes or unevenly spread marmalade are just signs of home-baking, hand-made unique pieces. Much better and more precious than uniform factory or bakery products, in my opinion.
With all that butter and sugar, obviously the bites are quite rich in calories. On the other hand, they are rather small, so I don’t think indulging in one will ruin anybody’s diet. The slightly browned butter adds a lovely, nutty, slightly bitter side taste that is totally irresistible. These Finnish delicacies really are worth trying as they literally melt in your mouth!