Sunday, 20 May 2012
My Finn food nostalgia goes on, but this time the rant phase is not quite as long, I promise. This is another food memory that goes all the way back to my childhood. Karelian pasties are savoury, rye crusted small pasties or pies filled with rice. They were traditionally made in Eastern Finland, but are now eaten all over the country. Most people buy them ready made from the store, as they are a bit laborious to make.
My grandma (Mummo, Finnish for grandma) used to make these pies for us when we were kids. She has a summer house in Central Finland (the Finnish "lake district") and whenever we would go there, after a four to five hour drive, we would arrive to a table which was full with all sorts of goodies she had prepared for us. The Karelian pasties were definitely among our favourites, and no matter how many she made, we always ran out of them after a few days. I think there were times when she had made a batch of 100 pasties, and they did last us a while, but probably not all through the holidays. Mummo used to make the pies big as the palm of your hand, and they were always served with egg-butter in the traditional way.
In theory making the pasties is really easy. You make a porridge of rice or barley (potato mash is the third official filling of the pasties, although other more unofficial fillings like carrot also exist), and a dough of rye and wheat flour, fill the pie and make the creasing around the edges. So far so good. Well, the first problem is making the dough just right. The internet is full of recipes for it. Basically, it's just rye flour, wheat flour and water. Mummo used to make it just out of rye flour. When I asked her how much flour and how much water, she would just say "a good amount". She could feel when the dough had the right texture, I can't. To make the pasties perfect, the dough has to be rolled as thin as possible, but if the dough is too stiff, it will tear, and if it's too soft it will just stick everywhere. One tip is, the more wheat flour you have in the dough the easier it gets to work with. But basically it's cheating, it should be doable using just rye flour. Also, my grandma could just roll out the dough to perfectly sized and shaped crusts, I cheat by rolling it out and then using a large cup or small plate to make round shapes. Also, because the crusts are so thin, they tend to dry if you pre-make many before filling, so the best approach to bake the pasties is to roll out one or a few crusts, fill them and crease them, and then repeat over and over again. It's a lot of work, but if you get it right, they are really delicious. Funny thing is that the pasties really are very variable in shape and size, depending on the maker. Mine tend to be small and very narrow, others make them much wider, some even make them in the shape of a full circle, although for me the boat shape will always be the only acceptable one.
Karelian pasties (small batch, about 10 small ones):
For the filling:
100g pearl barley
a pinch of salt
For the dough:
100g rye flour
25g white flour
Bring the water to a boil, add the barley and let cook for a few minutes until the water has been absorbed. Add the milk and salt, and let boil for about 40 minutes until the milk has been absorbed and you have a thickish porridge. While the porridge is boiling, make the dough by mixing all ingredients together. Work the dough on a lightly floured surface to create a smooth and easily workable dough, add water of flour as needed. The amount of water depends on how fine your flour is. If you increase the amount of white flour and decrease the rye flour, the dough gets easier to roll and shape, whereas more rye flour will give a more crunchy crust if you manage to get the consistency good enough so that you can roll really thin crusts. I usually just hope for the best, expect the worst, and the result is something in between.
When the porridge has boiled and cooled a bit, make round crusts either by rolling out the dough directly to a round(ish) shape, or by using a big mug or small bowl as a cutter. Add filling, but not all the way out to the edges, and use your fingers to make small creases in the crust like shown in the pictures below.
You can find a clear video tutorial on how to shape the pasties here (accompanied by beautiful and delicate music...).
Bake in a hot oven (about 230-250 degrees C) for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. When the pasties come out of the oven, brush a mixture of melted butter and milk onto the pies. Serve with egg butter (finely chopped hard boiled egg mixed with butter and a pinch of salt).
This was definitely not my best batch of pasties, but I have been craving them for so long that even these were devoured in minutes. The dough for the crust was a bit too hard, so I wasn't able to roll the crusts thin enough, and they turned a bit too hard when baked. Also, despite my recent love affair with pearl barley, I think I prefer the rice filling for the pasties. If you are using rice instead of barley, you should use pudding rice or risotto rice to get the right, gooey type of filling. I also think one of the secrets is not to use skimmed milk, but rather the full fat stuff. Also, you shouldn't make the porridge too thick, it makes shaping the pies a bit harder. All in all, these are a lot of work, but definitely some of my all time favourite things to eat, especially straight out of the oven, hot enough so that the egg butter melts all over them.