Thursday, 5 December 2013

Traditional treats: Karelian pasties

My blog, Under the Andalusian Sun, saw its first sunrise in Andalusia. Since then the cooking ventures have branched out from tapas treats to other Mediterranean cuisines as well, recreated food memories from my travels in Middle East and even flirted with Asian food. So you can imagine my surprise when I was contacted via blog asking if I'd be interested in producing Finnish entry to an app introducing the specialties of the cuisines of the world. And the dish chosen to represent Finland? Karelian pasty.

Being 1/4 Karelian myself, I jumped at the chance - it's about time I explored my roots beyond than my bimonthly colourist's appointments...! And what better time than the eve of the celebration of all things Finnish - Finland's Independence Day of December 6th!

Originally these pasties were stuffed with barley porridge which was cheaper at the time, but since then rice has become the most popular choice. Some make these with mashed potatos too and some with carrots - certain parts of Finland actually have a tradition of their own stuffing these with berries!

The history of these pasties is nothing short of long and impressive. These were introduced to the Finns by the Karelians forced to flee the region Finland lost during the war, but up until the Middle Age these pasties, known in as kalitkas, were a popular treat all over the Russian Empire. 

In 2003 Karelian pasty was protected under European Union's Traditional Speciality Guaranteed- scheme, which means that in order to be sold as Karelian pasty, the product must meet certain criteria: the shell must be made with minimum 50% rye flour and and the stuffing can only be made of porridge rice, barley porridge or potatos. The traditional accompaniment for this is egg butter, sort of a Finnish take on egg mayo.

Karelian pasties have a reputation of being notoriously difficult to make. Fear not though as that is not the case. Somewhat time-consuming this labour of love is though, what with the porridge-making and crimping. My great aunts (as Karelian as they come with their larger than life- personalities) were not available to show me the tricks of trade, so I had to learn the art of crimping the hard (a.k.a. my) way. Apparently every pasty-maker has their own signature when it comes to this so without a doubt mine, too, will evolve as years roll by...

There are also different schools when it comes to crimping - some start the process from the middle, some feel the absolute only way is to start crimping from the ends.

This recipe yields 18-20 pasties

Rice porridge:

2 dl uncooked white rice (short-grain, stickier variety)
2 dl water
8-10 dl (full fat) milk
1 large tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
1 egg

Bring water to boil. Add butter and rice. Continue cooking over moderate heat until water has absorbed and then add milk. Let simmer until porridge is done - about 35-40 minutes adding more milk if needed. Don't forget to stir - the porridge can (and will!) burn. Season and let cool. Once cool, whisk in the egg.

The shell:

2 dl cold water
1 tsp salt
1 dl all purpose flour
4-4,5 dl finely ground rye flour + more for dusting
2 tbsp melted butter

For brushing after the baking: melted butter

Add salt into the water and start adding the flour, one desilitre at a time. According to your preference you could omit all purpose flour altogether and just use rye flour. Towards the end add the butter and knead to a smooth , pliable dough.

Divide the dough into 4 portions and roll each portion to a stick. Keep rest of the dough covered as you'r working on each portion. Divide the stick of dough to 4-5 pieces and roll on a floured surface to a thin disc. The crust is supposed to be thin as this is what makes it crisp, but go fairly easy on the flour - the thinner and drier the dough, the more likely the crust is to tear at the crimping stage.

There's a specifically designed rolling pin for the process called pulikka, whics tapers towards the ends, but a regular one will do just fine. A useful tip for a beginner is to roll the dough into a thin sheet and then, using either a cookie cutter or a small bowl (about 12 cm in diameter) cut the sheet to equal size round discs.  For this a pasta machine might just be a good (though extremely unorthodox) tool!

Spoon the porridge on the discs (about a couple of tbsp/ pasty), fold the edges on top of it and crimp. This should be done with fairly light fingers as the pleats shouldn't be too sharp - the more they stick out, the more likely they are to burn in the oven. 

These need a hot oven, depending on the oven 250-275º C. Place the pasties on a baking tray (no parchment needed as it would only burn). Since there's no yeast or baking powder in the dough, these won't expand during baking so there's no need to leave space between them.

Once they've gotten a bit of colour, remove from the oven and brush with melted butter. Let cool while covered as this helps them to get soft again.  Serve with egg butter.

Egg butter:

4 eggs
150 g butter
finely chopped (dried works too!) chives

Boil the eggs and cool in ice water. While still a bit warm, mash with butter using a fork. Season and serve with the pasties.

For more information ahead of their launch, do check Ingredient Matcher's Facebook page!




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