The people who know me closely have probably heard me rant about Finland more than once, but to be honest there are still many things which are thoroughly enjoyable in the far North. As the country is heading into its 100th year since independence in 1917, I decided to introduce you to one of the things I love the most – Finnish pastries! Yay!
If there is anything which gets me through the long and dark Finnish winters, it’s pastries. Okay, a good pastry can really get me through anything. Of course, I’m Austrian and we take all things cake and pastry very seriously. However, when I moved here I learned that there is a ceremonial element to eating pastries here. Maybe it’s because Finnish people consider salted licorice “candy”, so anything with sugar in it must be reserved for special occasions 😉
Finnish Flag Days
Another things which is rather different from home is the Flag Days which are celebrated here. A Flag Day is a day on which the Finnish national flag has to be hoisted on all public buildings from 8 AM to sunset. Of these there are approximately 6 a year (more during election years). In addition there are 13 more days on which the flying of the Finnish flag is recommended and you will indeed see it on most buildings on these days.
The Finnish Flag Days either honour the country’s history and people, such as Independence Day or Labour Day. Most of them, however, pay respect to Finnish culture, e.g. the birthday of Aleksis Kivi, the country’s national writer. Religious holidays are generally not included in the list of Flag Days.
The reason I’m bringing the obscure concept of Flag Days into this post is because these are exactly the occasions on which Finns will treat themselves to a delicious pastry. Down below you will find a couple of examples on which pastries you can eat in Finland and, perhaps more importantly, when you can find them.
February 5th – Runeberg Day: Runebergintorttu
Johan Ludvig Runeberg is considered to be Finland’s national poet and on his birthday Finns will munch on a Runebergintorttu, a Runeberg torte. It is flavoured with almonds and arrack or rum and topped with a sugar glaze and raspberry jam. Legend has it that Runeberg had the torte every day for breakfast. You can follow in his footsteps from the beginning of January to February 5th when the pastries are sold in supermarkets and bakeries.
Shrove Tuesday: Laskiaispulla
Shrove Tuesday is a Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Christian church. As during Lent people traditionally abstained from animal products such as butter or eggs, Shrove Tuesday was the last day to enjoy a sweet treat before the fast. In Finland people will enjoy a Laskiaispulla, a Shrove Tuesday bun. It is a cardamom-spiced wheat bun which has its top cut off, and is then filled with a mix of milk and almond paste, topped with whipped cream. The cut-off top serves as a lid and is dusted with powdered sugar. You can find them throughout most of February/March up until the actual Shrove Tuesday.
May 1st – Vappu: Tippaleipä
Vappu is the Finnish equivalent of Labour Day and also national party day of all Finnish students. It is one of the rare occasions when Finns leave the isolation of their houses and enjoy a rare glimpse of the sun over a picnic with friends and family. The pastry which is traditionally eaten on this day is Tippaleipä, a kind of funnel cake. It is prepared by pouring a slightly sweet batter into sizzling hot oil in criss-cross patterns. It is then dusted with powedered sugar and enjoyed along a glass of sima, a Finnish mead.
December 6th – Independence Day: Blue and White Sprinkles?
Over the last few days I have been to the shop a couple of times and had a good giggle every time. As there is no specific pastry traditionally eaten on Independence Day, the obvious solution is to cover regular pastries in the colours of the Finnish flag, white and blue. Such as these doughnuts here. Oh well, what can you say. Similarly you will find orange glazed doughnuts on Halloween, which is a holiday not even commonly celebrated amongst Finns. Globalisation does strange things to this nation 😛
December 13th – Saint Lucy’s Day: Lucian Pulla
Saint Lucy’s Day is a Christian holiday most commonly celebrated in Northern Europe, especially Sweden. That the holiday is partially celebrated in Finland today is prove of the lingering Swedish influence in the country. St Lucy is celebrated as a “beacon of brightness” and is honoured just a week before winter solstice. The pastry which is traditionally consumed on this day is a rich saffron bun known simply as Lucian pulla or lussekatt. It’s most commonly found in a reversed S shape.
Just like any other country, Finland has its own little Christmas treats. Initially I was somewhat disappointed because the selection of Christmas cookies in Austria is massive and here it’s typically just pippari, a crunchy kind of gingerbread cookie. In addition to that, however, you will find the joulutorrtu, a sweet treat made from puff pastry and typically filled with either plum or apple jam. You find a few versions of them, but my favourite are the traditional star shaped ones. They are just so pretty!
All Day, Every Day
Okay, I said that Finns eat pastries only on special occasions which was a bit of a white lie. Naturally you can buy pastries all year round and many, many, many are consumed either with coffee or just on their own every day. Although the tradition is not as pronounced as in Sweden, the Finnish equivalent to fika is simply sitting down with friends and family on Sunday afternooons.
The two words you will come across the most are pulla and munkki. Pulla is a kind of sweet bread, often topped with jam or fresh fruit. You will find them in the “kahvileipä” (coffee bread) section of supermarkets. A munkki is a fried dough pastry, basically like a doughnut, but in different shapes. The most common munkki is the vadelmamunkki, stuffed with raspberry jam and dusted in sugar. One of the most easily recongizable pastries, though, is the korvapuusti, a cinnamon bun hailing from Sweden.
Haven’t got a sweet tooth?
No problem! There are savoury pastries in Finland just like in any other place, although the selection is rather small. They are known as piirakka (pies) and are quite hearty so as to get you through the cold winter. Lihapiirakka is a savoury doughnut filled with spiced minced meat. My favourite, however, is the Karjalanpiirakka, a Karelian rye pastry filled with rice. I love to eat it with a good dollup of munavoi, a mix of butter and boiled eggs.
Now, what do you think? Have we forgotten anything? Which is your favourite pastry? Share your thoughts and pictures with us. Let’s stay in touch!