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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Finnish shortbread teaspoon bites

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.

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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!

My sister-in-law's family spoon is simply perfect

My sister-in-law’s family spoon is simply perfect

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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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!

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 HAPPY CELEBRATIONS!