Finnish karelian pies (karjalanpiirakka) are delicious savoury pastries made from rye dough and stuffed with rice porridge. Served with egg butter (munavoi), they make for a tasty snack, appropriate for any time of the day.
Country Number 62: Finland
I have a real soft spot for Finland. Some of my favourite travel memories ever have taken place in this Nordic nation. I’ve visited Helsinki a handful of times, which has always been enjoyable, but nothing will compare to visiting Lapland in the middle of winter. We stayed in ice palaces and a glass-top igloo, went husky sledding, ice-climbing and snow-shoeing, hung out with reindeer and nearly died from the coldest temperatures I’ve ever experienced (think -25˚C). It was incredible. We also ate a lot of really delicious, soul-warming food. Given most Nordic countries are very meat-centric, I remember being particularly impressed by the variety and quality of vegetarian food on offer. Having said this, the majority of the delicious vegetarian food I ate was in the capital city, Helsinki. When we ventured further into the little towns of Lapland, I do recall a few times where there was nothing but Reindeer soup on the menu…
History of Finnish Cuisine
The Finns are very passionate about their food and are loyal to their culinary roots. The cuisine focuses on simple, fresh, locally sourced produce. Common ingredients you’ll find in dishes include berries such as bilberries, lingonberries and cloudberries, wholemeal products such as rye, barley and oats, and tubers such as turnips or potatoes. The Finnish way of life has historically been centred around agriculture. However, due to Finland’s very cold and hostile environment, agriculture has never been relied on as a primary source of food. Instead, the Fins have learned how to get their food from nature, particularly from forests and lakes. In some parts of the country, fresh fish and meat including pork, beef and reindeer makes up the majority of the diet. In other parts, vegetables and mushrooms are more commonly consumed.
Popular Finnish Vegetarian Dishes
- Leipajuusto- A rich Finnish squeaky cheese that comes from a cow that has recently been calved, typically served with cloudberry jam.
- Korvapuusti– A sweet cinnamon bun made a fresh yeast-based dough flavoured with ground cinnamon, typically served with coffee.
- Mustikkapiirakka– A sweet pie made with blueberries or bilberries that has a sweet base and a sour cream and berry filling.
- Ruisleipa- Rye bread which is made with Finnish yeast and 100% rye flour to give a dark dense character that is unique to Finland.
- Karjalanpiirakka– Karelian pie is a favourite Finnish treat, consisting of a savoury pastry crust filled with rice porridge and top with egg butter
Vegetarian rating of Finnish Cuisine:
Making Karelian Pie with Egg Butter (Karjalanpiirakka)
I remember the first time I tried a karelian pie in Finland. It was the middle of winter, and I was inside this stupidly cozy café situated on a frozen lake in Helsinki. My friend ordered some cinnamon buns (or Korvapuusti) for us to share, as well as another unidentifiable pastry. While I inhaled the cinnamon bun in a few bites, I was a little slower to tuck into this other pastry on the table. I soon found out that this was Karjalanpiirakka (or Karelian pie), one of Finland’s most prized creations. This savoury pie was filled with rice porridge of all things, and served with egg butter. As I took my first bite, I realised I never should doubt the Finns. This pastry was weirdly delicious, and the egg butter elevated it to a whole new level.
As soon as we reached Finland on our around-the-world country challenge, I knew I wanted to recreate these unique little savoury pies. They do sound strange, but you’ve got to give them a go to understand their magic. They make a perfect afternoon tea treat with a cup of tea or coffee, and would also make for quite a nice breakfast.
How to make Karelian Pie with Egg Butter (Karjalanpiirakka)
These Karelian pies are a little fiddly to make but well-worth the effort!
- Start off by making the rice filling by bringing a saucepan of two cups of water to boil over medium heat. Add rice and cook for 5 minutes, so most of the water is absorbed. Stir the milk and the butter into the rice. Reduce heat to low and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once cooked, add salt and pepper to taste, then set aside to cool.
2. To make the dough, preheat oven to 230˚C (450˚F). Line two baking trays with paper. In a large bowl, mix together the rye flour and regular flour, water, salt and melted butter. Once well combined, knead until a firm dough is formed.
3. Roll into a cylinder log shape that is around 5cm (2 inches) in diameter. Cut into 16 discs. Dust a work surface with flour. Roll out discs to form very thin ovals. Place 2 or so tablespoons of filling onto each round. Fold and crimp the edges of pastry to cover the edges of the filling, with the middle left exposed. Brush pastries with melted butter. Place on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Brush with butter again, then cook for another 5 minutes or until pastry has turned golden.
4. Meanwhile, make the egg butter by cutting the boiled egg into small squares and mix with the butter. Season with pepper, ginger and salt to taste. Remove pastries from oven and top with egg butter to serve.
Ingredient notes for Karelian Pie with Egg Butter (Karjalanpiirakka)
- White rice- Regular short-grain white rice will work best for this recipe. If you do want to use another variation of rice, you’ll need to adjust cooking time accordingly.
- Rye flour- Rye flour is combined with regular flavour for these Karelian pies to give the pastry a unique, dense flavour. If you can’t get hold of rye flour, you can substitute for spelt flour, or if you must, use regular flour for the whole thing.
- Make dairy-free- You can substitute normal milk for non-dairy milk and butter for non-dairy spread if you want to make these dairy-free. However, they will lose a bit of their rich, creamy flavour profile in doing so.
Serving suggestions for Karelian Pie (Karjalanpiirakka)
The most traditional way to eat karjalanpiirakka is by spreading egg butter over a hot pie just before eating. However, they can also be enjoyed without the egg butter, and go very well with a cup of coffee.
Other European snacks to try:
- Puff Pastry Danishes with Blueberry and Cream Cheese (Wienerbrød)
- Mushroom-stuffed Potato Cakes (Draniki)
- Walnut-Stuffed Poached Apples (Tufahije)
Karelian Pie with Egg Butter (Karjalanpiirakka)
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup white rice
- 2 cups milk
- 1 tbsp butter (melted)
- Salt & pepper (to taste)
- 1 cup rye flour
- 1/3 cup regular flour
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp butter (melted)
- 4 eggs (boiled)
- 1/2 cup butter (room temperature)
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp ginger powder
- Salt (to taste)
- Parsley (chopped)
Make the rice filling:
- Bring a saucepan of two cups of water to boil over medium heat. Add rice and cook for 5 minutes, so most of the water is absorbed.
- Stir the milk and the butter into the rice. Reduce heat to low and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Once cooked, add salt and pepper to taste, then set aside to cool.
Make the dough:
- Preheat oven to 230˚C (450˚F). Line two baking trays with paper.
- In a large bowl, mix together the rye flour and regular flour, water, salt and melted butter. Once well combined, knead until a firm dough is formed.
- Roll into a cylinder log shape that is around 5cm (2 inches) in diameter. Cut into 16 discs.
- Dust a work surface with flour. Roll out discs to form very thin ovals. Place 2 or so tablespoons of filling onto each round.
- Fold and crimp the edges of pastry to cover the edges of the filling, with the middle left exposed. Brush pastries with melted butter.
- Place on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Brush with butter again, then cook for another 5 minutes or until pastry has turned golden.
- Remove from oven and top with egg butter. Allow to rest for a while before serving.
Make egg butter:
- Cut the boiled egg into small squares and mix with the butter. Season with pepper, ginger and salt to taste.
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