Home » Europe » Finland

Finnish Pastries & When to Eat Them

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 that 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 that 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 that these are exactly the occasions on which Finns will treat themselves to a delicious pastry. Down below you will find a couple of examples of 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.

runebergintorttu

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 that 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.

laskiaispulla

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 powdered sugar and enjoyed along with a glass of sima, a Finnish mead.

tippaleipa

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. Globalization does strange things to this nation 😛

independence-day-munkki

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 honored just a week before the 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.

lussekatt

Christmas: Joulutorttu

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 favorite is the traditional star-shaped ones. They are just so pretty!

joulutorttu

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 afternoons.

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 recognizable pastries, though, is the korvapuusti, a cinnamon bun hailing from Sweden.

kahvileipa-1

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 favorite, however, is the Karjalanpiirakka, a Karelian rye pastry filled with rice. I love to eat it with a good dollop of munavoi, a mix of butter, and boiled eggs.

karjalanpiirakka

Now, what do you think? Have we forgotten anything? Which is your favorite pastry? Share your thoughts and pictures with us. Let’s stay in touch!

About Jacky

Hi there, I'm Jacky. I was born and raised in Austria, but have lived most of my adult life abroad. I'm addicted to all things Nordic, good coffee (sometimes also bad coffee), and beautiful architecture. I love my cats, although my husband Mihir is not too bad either 😉

25 thoughts on “Finnish Pastries & When to Eat Them”

  1. Yum! Lussekat is my faaavourite. Luckily we’ve got a Swedish bakery here in Detroit that I’ll have to visit soon to get my fix after reading this ?

    Rosalie

  2. I am just loving this one. I see you have traveled Europe extensively. I am not yet done with SE Asia but Europe is always elusive. And with these great sweetmeats around why not? Thanks to FTB I found this one and relished thoroughly! Lovely!

  3. I tried one of these, the Karjalanpiirakka, at a Finnish specialist shop in a foodhall in Stockholm a few weeks ago and loved it, now I want to come to Finland to try all the rest. I’ve only been to Helsinki and didn’t have much time there so I failed to find all these amazing treats!

  4. I did not know what I was missing. Those pastries really look yummy! Unfortunately I have no idea when I will actually be able to taste them. Sigh! Hopefully sometime soon.

  5. I miss Finland now! The pastries coinciding with calendar dates are one of the things I miss the most! And BOY do they know how to do a pastry! My favorite were the munkki (gluteeniton as I am gluten-free). It is amazing how many options the Finns have for those Lactose and Gluten intolerant. So many more than other countries!

  6. These all look so good! And I love how you shared the story and occasion for when they are meant to be eaten!

  7. I don’t know anything about Finnish pastries (never had one either), but I love pastries in general! That Vappu looks delicious! Everything fried in sizzling hot oil probably does. 😉 I’m Belgian, and we’ve got great pastries too. I love myself a good eclair (pudding in it and chocolate on top) every once in a while. Recently discovered pastei de nata in Lisbon, Portugal. Those are heavenly too!

    1. Yes, food recipes “travel” with people moving to other countries. Who’s to know where it really originated unless no other countries make it? You might be surprised to know, too, that pasta didn’t originate in Italy. Marco Polo brought it back with him from his travels to China. Of course the 2 taste very different, as the Italian is much “heavier” and usually covered with a tomato sauce and the Chinese is very, very light – lo mein noodles – I don’t know what they’re made of but they’re delicious, too.

  8. Three everyday delicious pastries were forgotten. .. The “Alexanderin torttu”, the “Omenapiirakka” and the “Perunaleivos”. They have been along at least from 1948 or probably longer.

    1. Like I mentioned in my reply below, I have a Finnish cookbook first printed in 1908. Both Alexanderin tortuu and Omenapiirrakka are in there but Perunaleivos isn’t. It must be something relatively new?

  9. Karelian rye pastry filled with rice or potatoe…either one! My father’s family was from Karelia. They are so good!

  10. Thank you Jacky! Finland is part of my heritage and on my bucket list. My favourite Finnish bakery pastry from Canada (Thunder Bay) is pulla (made with cardamom) and prepared plain, with raisins or with cinnamon 🙂

  11. Just a correction – Joulutorttut are not filled with jam or jelly. The high baking temperature of the oven would melt the jam or jelly and make a great mess and lots of smoke. They are filled with prunes cooked in very little water and sugar. I know – I make them every year. Also this is the first time I’ve heard that korvapuustit are from Sweden!

    1. There are “bake-proof” marmalades for sale, they go just fine. 🙂 I for once have never used prunes as a filling.

      1. I had no idea of “bake-proof” marmalades or jams. Something completely new to me! Anyway, I have a Finnish cookbook first printed in 1908 that uses only prunes for the filling so I think it’s certainly the old “authentic” recipe as very few types of fruits were available in winter in Finland during those years – only dried ones. However, if I can lay my hands on any of the “bake-proof” marmalades or jams, I will use them in torttus – only I will call them birthday torttus or Easter torttus …. Thanks for the info!

          1. It’s a lot easier now too that you can buy frozen puff pasty to help save time! Thank you for the website, I will check into it!I (I’m here daydreaming of a new recipe here – I wonder how a cream cheese and canned lemon pie filling would taste ……

  12. Great post, Jacky! I learned so much, I didn’t know they also celebrated St Lucy’s day in Finland, which makes sense because of the Swedish influence! 🙂
    And of course, I am here craving for all these yummy yummy pastries. When I finally go to visit this beautiful country, I will make sure to try some of them 🙂

  13. Thanks for sharing this lovely list. Perfect to read over my morning coffee with a donut! And speaking of donuts… I’d love to try a munkki! It looks so good!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Kristen!
      Hope you enjoyed your coffee! We are just about to enjoy some blue and white sprinkles so close to Independence Day 🙂

      Jacky

  14. Currently drooling after eating this. They all look and sound yummy but I think the Laskiaispulla would be my first pick to try! yum!

    1. Hi Hannah and thanks for your comment!
      Yes, they are rather delicious! Must say I also love the laskiaispulla a lot, although my favourite is the joulutorttu 🙂

      Jacky

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.