an ode to seasonal pastries, finnish style

[Note from foodie:  I’ve been a bit swamped trying to balance family and a part-time job.  And although I am still feeding my tribe, photos and blogging are luxuries at this point. Thanks to my best friend Cyndi for torturing us with these amazing looking pastries and filling in with a delectable guest post!]

You know that Christmas song that says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”? Well for me, it’s not Christmas that I eagerly look forward to each year. Yes, Christmas is nice and there is plenty of good food, but ever since moving to Finland I have come to the realization that I actually look forward to the period of time around the end of January/beginning of February. Why, you ask? Feast your eyes on these:

What you’re looking at are two of the reasons why I always eagerly anticipate what would otherwise be a dull, dreary time of year: Runebergstårtor (Runeberg’s Cakes) and Fastlagsbullar (literally translated as “Fat Tuesday Buns”). These two pastries only appear for a short time—blink, and they’re gone. These are good enough to make me thank my lucky stars that I have had the opportunity to live in Finland and discover them. Yes. They’re that good.  [Note the frozen outdoor landscape below.]

There is a lot of information online about who Runeberg was and why this somewhat unusual looking cake is named after him, etc.  Below is one recipe, but there are plenty of others online and Finns young and old all have their favorite. I’ll admit that because there are numerous bakeries near my house, I almost never bake them myself; half of the fun is trying out the five different local “secret” recipes. It’s a serious job, and someone must shoulder the responsibility. If I can still fit in front of my computer by next week, I just might type up and share the recipe for fastlagsbullar…

Runebergstårtor

from foodie friend Cyndi

  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup bread or cake crumbs (some should be gingerbread cookie crumbs)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • raspberry jam

For the topping:

  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon water

For “wet” cakes:

  • almond extract
  • water
  • sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. In a medium bowl, cream butter with sugar.  Add eggs one at a time and mix well.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients.  Add dry mix and cream to the butter mixture. Mix quickly until you have a smooth batter.
  4. Pour batter into prepared muffin tin, filling the cups only to 2/3  (in Finland, special tall cylinder-shaped forms are used). Create indentions in the middle of each cake: dip your thumb into flour and create a small divot in each cake. Fill the indention with jam. Bake in preheated oven for approximately 15 minutes.
  5. When the cakes have cooled, decorate. Mix the confectioner’s sugar with water until it becomes a thick paste. Pour or pipe a ring around the jam indention in each cake. “Top up” the raspberry jam as desired.
  6. If you prefer a drier cake, then you are done. If not, dip the cakes quickly into a small amount of almond extract mixed with water and sugar.

marvelous manchego

On our recent trip to NH, hubby and I stopped at Fiddlehead Farms Marketplace in Dover, NH.  What a treat!  As I stepped into the market, I knew I would make many detours to revisit this spot.  I had come in search of some incredible olive tapenade (made by the Terra Cotta Pasta Company) and was surprised to find so much more.  My first stop was the cheese counter.  We had a four-hour drive ahead of us, so a baguette and some cheese sounded better than the golden arches for lunch.  I bought some soft cheese and dip for easy spreading in the car, but I also tasted (yes, you may taste any cheese before purchasing) the Spanish Manchego.  Incredible.  The cheese lady (is there a name for that?) recommended I buy a brick of quince paste to pair with the Manchego, and for 99¢ more, it hardly seemed a risk.  I wandered through the aisles and gawked at the fresh produce, gourmet oils and vinegars, organic and local frozen meats, an inviting deli and a bursting bakery.  If we only lived closer…

However, I was pleased with our purchase.  This, along with a glass of red wine, was our snack when we arrived home that night:

Manchego is a dry, firm sheep’s milk cheese.  It has a sharp initial taste with a nutty, earthy finish.  And the quince paste added a mellow sweetness that was perfect with the audacity of the cheese.  I loved them both.   If you can find a wheel of this cheese so the slice is fresh, it would make an easy, elegant and exceptionally delicious appetizer plate.

country french bread

I am a visual person, so when I saw this recipe on A Yankee in a Southern Kitchen’s blog, it was only a matter of time before I made it.

Bread has always been my downfall.  Even chocolate, although a powerful temptation, is no match for bread.  I can be satisfied with a couple of squares of good chocolate, but one slice of warm crusty bread?  No way.  I need at least two.  With butter.  Or salted olive oil.

Homemade bread is intimidating.  Something about letting it rise three times eliminates probably 95% of the would-be chef pool.  Who has time to wait that long?  Apparently I did.  A couple of weeks ago, my child was home for 6 days with the flu (supposedly the dreaded H1N1) and strep, so what else is there to do but bake?  I cannot tell you how good our house smelled that week.  And clean.  We scrubbed every surface, and it must have worked because only one went down (so far).

This recipe is not for a French baguette, that crunchy, chewy, crusty loaf that has a yeast flavor with the airy interior texture.  This is a heavy, solid, evenly textured bread.  It has a wonderful substantial crust and retains that delectable yeast flavor.  I made two loaves and several rolls from this one recipe.  We used the rolls for sandwiches over the next few days and devoured the loaves almost immediately.  Everything tastes better on a fresh loaf of bread.  Especially butter.  Salted butter.

Dough before rising.

Dough after the first rising.

The third rising.

Finally. It was worth the wait.

this is why I love New England…

When it snowed a couple of weeks ago, I started looking at real estate in Florida and California.  Online, of course.  But as the snow melted and temperatures warmed, we witnessed that beautiful time of year when the trees put on one last display before they’re snowed under.  So between the snow and rain storms, we took to the great outdoors for some work (raking) and some play.

biking

In addition to the colors, a New England Fall wouldn’t be the same without visiting the orchard and tasting real pressed cider and apple cider doughnuts. (This isn’t the exact recipe but it looks pretty close.  I won’t be making these because I don’t own or even want a Fry Daddy.  And because I can go down the street and buy them without risking my life near a vat of hot oil.)  These were the best doughnuts EVER (and we’ve had a lot of doughnuts over the years) because they were still warm when we bought them.  Mmmmm.

donut

w apple

apples

And if you think we went apple picking, you would be wrong.  We went to the orchard, took the photos, and bought the doughnuts and apples in the orchard shop.  I know that’s lame, but when the kids look back on these photos, they’ll think they went apple picking.  And we usually do the picking, but we had just raked leaves for two hours (another reason I was fantasizing about palm trees), and all we really wanted was the doughnuts.  The apples above, from left to right, are Mutsu (my favorite), Jonagold, and Granny Smith.

Here are a few shots of color to remember when the cold nights of winter come:

leaves

sky

tree

bush

sunset

cheese and tortas

What the heck is a torta? That was my question when I saw these several months ago at my local grocer. Finally, they went on sale, so I found out.

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torta1

cheese

cheesetorta

I have been eyeing these babies for months in the deli section. I always wondered, “Who buys those, and what are they for?” It’s hard to describe these tortas—they are more robust that a cracker but not as substantial as a pita. They come in savory and sweet varieties. What captured my attention was the use of olive oil. I adore the flavor of olive oil and drizzle it on soups, breads, salads, and pastas. So these tortas intrigued me.

Pictured above is the Sesame & Sea Salt variety. Anything with visible crystals of salt makes me drool. I had some Cambozola cheese on hand (thanks to my mom-in-law for introducing us), which turned out the be a perfect pairing. The crunchy saltiness of the torta with the creamy bleu of the cheese was a rich flavor.

Below are the sweet tortas. I tend to like the salty better, but the sweet is tasty with a cup of tea. (Frankly, when I crave something sweet, only chocolate will do. I didn’t see any chocolate-dipped tortas.) With the slight flavor of anise seed, these are sure to please those who don’t have an overactive sweet tooth.

DSC_0196

DSC_0197

I am pleased to have unwrapped this mysterious treat. I would buy both flavors again, especially if having guests over. The savory crisps would go well with any number of toppings, and the sweet tortas could be broken and the pieces served with ice cream and coffee. Here is the very creative website: Ines Rosales.

banana crunch muffins

muffin1

I inadvertently left some of the “crunch” out of these delicious muffins.  As the muffins baked, I was cleaning up the counters and saw the chopped walnuts that I had taken out of the freezer but never added to the batter.  I really love walnuts.  I thought about cramming some by hand into the half-baked muffins, but it wasn’t worth the burns.  Then I imagined using a toothpick to kind of poke the nuts into the center of the muffins, but all I had were colored toothpicks (don’t ever buy these, for so many reasons, but the main one being they bleed into everything, especially white frosting) and I could just picture colored holes speckling the tops.

muffin2

muffin

So I served these semi-crunchy muffins to my arriving friends, apologizing for my forgetfulness.  But as my friends and the empty muffin tins told me, it didn’t matter much.  These little baked treasures have a permanent spot in my recipe box.  And it’s not even because of the crunchy topping; it’s the coconut.  Every person (including the little foodies) said with delighted surprise, “Is there coconut in this?”  Oh, yes.  Coconut and banana.

And walnuts next time.

There are two tips for this recipe: definitely use paper or foil liners so the warm muffins come out in one piece; use a pastry blender to mash the bananas.  For more tips, click over to Work-For-Me-Wednesday at We Are THAT Family.

Banana Crunch Muffins

from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 bananas)
  • 1 cup medium-diced ripe bananas (1 banana)
  • 1 cup small-diced walnuts
  • 1 cup granola
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • Dried banana chips, granola, or shredded coconut, optional

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Line 18 large muffin cups with paper liners.
  3. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the melted butter and blend.
  4. Combine the eggs, milk, vanilla, and mashed bananas, and add them to the flour-and-butter mixture. Scrape the bowl and blend well. Don’t overmix.
  5. Fold the diced bananas, walnuts, granola, and coconut into the batter.
  6. Spoon the batter into the paper liners, filling each one to the top.
  7. Top each muffin with dried banana chips, granola, or coconut, if desired.
  8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly, remove from the pan, and serve.