Finnish Sweet Potato Karelian Pastries
I am somewhat obsessed with all things Scandinavian. I seem to always fall back upon three wonderful blogs; Anne’s food, who’s lovely author Anne is a mother of two living in Stockholm and cooking modern European food with a few ‘traditional-ish Swedish’ favourites, Cloudberry Quark, who’s fantastic Carrot Karelian pastries led to this particular post and Scandi Foodie, an absolutely stunning food blog, with beautiful photographs and fantastic recipes drawing heavily on it’s author’s Finnish heritage.
I was doing some research on Finnish rye bread and came across one of the national dishes of Finland, Karelian Pastries or karjalanpiirakat. They are traditional pies from the Finnish province of Keralia, which lies on the border of Russia and Finalnd, and are typically filled with a thick rice porridge or a savoury potato puree, and a served spread with butter or topped with a little boiled egg.
For my version of these pastries, which I hasten to add are in no way traditional, I wanted to make a sweet version, filled with a roasted sweet potato puree and a rice porridge, almost a rice pudding, infused with cardamom. The cardamom, which is a crucial flavour in Scandinavian food, gives a rounded spice to the pastries and brings out the nutty flavour of the rye pastry crust, as well as contrasting the caramel sweetness of the sweet potato pie filling.
Sweet Potato Karelian Pastries
For the filling
a medium sweet potato (about 250g)
100g pudding rice, rinsed in cool running water
Five green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
A small piece of cinnamon bark
A pinch of salt
30g soft brown sugar
Half teaspoon of vanilla extract
For the rye pastry
110g rye flour
Half a teaspoon salt
For the optional glaze
A tablespoon of butter
A tablespoon of milk
Firstly, preheat your oven to 180°C (fan oven)/ 200°C/ 400 Fahrenheit/ gas mark 6 and prick the sweet potato using a fork. Bake the potato, sat on a piece of foil, for fifty to sixty minutes, or until soft. Allow to cool, slice in half, scrape the flesh from the potato skins and puree using a fork. It may seem a lot more time consuming to bake the sweet potato, rather than giving it a quick fifteen minute boil, but baking gives the puree an intense sweetness and prevents it from being too moist.
Next, place the water for the filling into a medium saucepan, bring to the boil and then add the rinsed rice. Turn the heat down and simmer. Once all the water has been absorbed, add the milk, bruised cardamom pods and piece of cinnamon, turn up the heat to bring the mixture to a simmer, then turn the heat right down and cook the rice for around half an hour, with a lid half on, or until the milk is absorbed. You’re aiming for a thick and gloopy porridge consistency so that the mixture will hold together in the centre of the rye pastry. Mix in the sweet potato puree, season with a pinch of salt, the brown sugar and the vanilla, adding more sugar or a little ground cardamom to taste.
To make the rye pastry crust, mix together the ingredients to make a fairly solid and coarse dough. Roll the pastry into a log and cut into ten even disks. While you roll out each disk of pastry, keep the rest covered with a damp, clean tea towel to prevent them from drying out. Flatten the disk with the palm of your hand and then roll out as thinly as you can, using some rye flour, and turning the oval of pastry around quite often to prevent it from sticking to your work surface.
Turn you oven up to its maximum temperature to preheat while you finish off making your pastries. Place a spoonful of filling in the centre of the rolled out pastry oval, leaving a gap of at least a centimetre all the way around and then bring up the edge using your index finger, and crimp the edge using the thumb and index finger on your other hand. The crimping looks very impressive but is actually quite simple and is one of those wonderful baking techniques where the more messy and rustic something looks, the more inviting it seems to be. Cover the finished pastries with the damp tea towel while you repeat the process for the other nine disks of rye pastry. Once you have ten finished pastries lined up, place them onto a baking sheet and bake for ten to fifteen minutes, or until the filling is dry and slightly coloured.
If you want your rye pastry crust to have a softer texture, heat together the milk and butter for the glaze, bring to a boil and cook for a couple of minutes. Brush the shells with this milk and melted butter mixture and then stack the warm pastries in a bowl, separated with kitchen towel, and then cover with that trusty tea towel. This will steam the crusts and soften them slightly. If you want your rye pastry to retain its crunch, place the pastries onto a cooling rack as soon as they come out of the oven.