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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Oven Pancakes for Thursday--Uunipannukakku

Thursdays in Finland mean only one thing, pea soup for lunch, followed by a big piece of delicious oven pancake.  Today, my family slept late because of vacation, and at noon we had the traditional pancake.  It would have been a relaxing day, except that I woke at 5am to work on our remodeling project--every good Finnish family has to build a sauna.  Ours is finished except for the bathroom around it.  Today I worked on finishing the walls while my husband repaired a sewage drain.  As much as I hate finishing drywall, I think I got the better job!

Anyway, we didn't get the pea soup made, but the pancakes are simple and delicious.  I used the recipe from Beatrice Ojakangas' book, but tripled it in order to have enough to feed starving teenagers!

First, I beat nine eggs with my mixer until they were frothy, and preheated the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

 I then whisked in six tablespoons of sugar, 3 cups of milk, 3/4 cup of flour and 3/4 teaspoon of salt.  Cooking spray kept the pancake from sticking to the jelly roll pan that I used, but you could also smear it with butter.  The pancake was very thin when I put it in the hot oven, but puffed up as it cooked for about 15 minutes.  It had a custard-like texture.

If you don't have so many big eaters to feed, you can follow Beatrice's original recipe:  3 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1/4 cup flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  She recommends baking this quantity in two 8 inch cake pans, and says that it should serve 4.  

These pancakes are perfect with strawberry jam, but today we only had blueberry jam in the cabinet.  I thawed some frozen blueberries and peaches to round out the brunch.  I hope you try this recipe soon and enjoy it as much as we do.  

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cabbage casserole brings back memories of school lunches--kaalilaatikko

Today I made a casserole that was a favorite school lunch in Finland for my husband.  It tastes a lot like cabbage rolls, but is much easier to make, perfect for a busy day like today.

First, I shredded a head of cabbage and boiled it for five minutes, then drained it and added two tablespoons of brown sugar.  My recipe called for two tablespoons of butter, but my arteries are still recovering from all the rich Christmas food, so I only put a half tablespoon.  Then I was to add 1/4 teaspoon of marjoram, but didn't have any...oregano was a close substitute, but I added less because it has a stronger flavor.  A dash of salt, and the cabbage layer was ready.  

Meanwhile, I mixed a little over a pound of hamburger with a cup of cracker crumbs.  The recipe called for bread crumbs, but once again I had to substitute with what I had on hand.  Two eggs and a 1/2 cup of milk made this mixture ready for layering with the cabbage.  I'm not sure I should post a photo of raw meat, but in case you  are interested:

Next, I sprayed a casserole pan with cooking spray (you could butter it if you would rather).  Then, starting and ending with the cabbage mixture, I layered in the ingredients.  Cabbage, meat, cabbage, meat, cabbage, and then the casserole went into a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for about an hour.  

 Next time, I would make sure that no bits of cabbage were sticking up on the top of the dish, these got a little overdone.  To go with the casserole, we had Lingonberry preserves from Ikea and some beautiful blue potatoes.  I love these blue potatoes, they look so dramatic and have a great flavor.  Today I boiled them, but they are best drizzled with olive oil and salt and roasted in the oven.

Everyone really enjoyed the food, except for the six-year old, who may possibly still have a stash of Christmas candy somewhere....

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Traditional Finnish Christmas Ham Feast with potato casserole.

For Christmas Dinner, we had a delicious ham, I cooked a shank ham for a couple of hours in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven (to an internal temperature of 175 degrees, then poured off the drippings and coated it with brown mustard and sprinkled on some dry bread crumbs.  Back into the oven for a few minutes, it developed a delicious crust.  A half-cup of the drippings went into a sauce pan with a half-cup of cooked and pureed prunes and a half-cup of water.  After this cooked a few minutes, I added a half-cup of cream which was mixed with a tablespoon of corn starch.  The gravy was excellent on the ham, this was probably the best ham we have ever had.  We were a little reluctant to make the gravy, it sounded a little odd, but we will be eating this every time we have ham from now on!

I also made an extremely traditional Finnish potato casserole.  The day before, I cooked and mashed 6 large baking potatoes, making a very dry potato mash.  To this, I added 3 Tablespoons of flour, then I put the dish in my warming drawer overnight.  It is very important to keep the potatoes at about 125 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended time, the starch breaks down due to a reaction with the flour, and the dish becomes naturally sweet.  (If for some reason you can't do this, you could add a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar).  After the potatoes have sweetened, I added 2 1/2 cups of whole milk and a quarter stick of melted butter before placing them in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven to cook for 2-3 hours until they develop a crust.

We also enjoyed our rutabaga casserole and carrot casserole which I got out of the freezer from previous posts.  Beet salad rounded out our meal.  We had a condiment and cracker tray, but unfortunately by the time I took this picture, the 2 pounds of pickled herring had all but disappeared!  There still still some winter squash salad, though.

Later in the day we had strawberry fluff, it should have been with lingonberries, but since I didn't have any, we took a vote and strawberries beat cranberries 3-2.  I pureed a package of frozen, sweetened strawberries, then folded in a pint of sour cream.  At serving time, I folded in a couple cups of whipped cream.  We ate this with more prune tarts.

Santa was very good and brought us some delicious Finnish licorice.  The World Market store near us got a big shipment in this year.  Salmiak is a kind of licorice that we don't often find in the U.S., it is very salty and has a strong flavor.  We really enjoyed finding this treat under the tree.

Merry Christmas to everyone, hope you all had as delicious of a holiday as we did!

A Traditional Finnish Christmas menu, starting off with Rice Porridge and Fruit Soup

We had a very peaceful Christmas Eve, but I am a little behind in my blog posts!  My goal this Christmas was to make all of the traditional Finnish Christmas foods at some time in the celebration.  There were too many to make all at once.  I found a great traditional menu in Finnish here.  This is a Finnish home economics website, and the purpose of the menu was to provide completely homemade recipes to keep expenses down, which is perfect for me because I don't have access to pre-made Finnish foods.  It even included a printable shopping list!

Our menu for Christmas Eve and Christmas day included:

Rice Porridge (or Pudding)--Riisipuuro
Fruit soup--hedelmäkeitto

Beet salad with sour cream dressing--Rosolli
Pickled Herring
Cold Smoked Salmon
Boiled Potatoes
Christmas Rolls

Ham with Prune gravy--Kinkku + luumukastike
Rutabaga casserole--Lanttulaatikko
Carrot casserole -- Porkkanalaatikko
Potato casserole -- Imelletty perunalaatikko

Strawberry Fluff--Mansikkahyytelö
Christmas prune tarts--Joulutortut


So we started out Christmas Eve celebration with rice pudding and fruit soup.  The kids love this, their favorite part is trying to find the almond hidden in the rice.  Whoever finds it gets good luck.  The youngest found it this year, as usual!  

The fruit soup may be more traditionally made with just raisins, but my family likes mixed fruit better, the mixed fruit came later to Finland.  I used a bag of mixed dried fruit (containing pears, apricots, apples and plums) and added some extra raisins to it.  The dried fruit soaked for several hours covered in water before cooking.  I like to use some apple juice in place of some of the water just to sweeten it.

To make the rice porridge, I used sushi rice, don't use the regular rice that they sell in the U.S., it lacks the talc needed to thicken the pudding.  Pearl rice from the Mexican food section would also work.

First, I put 2 1/2 cups of rice in a pan and briefly washed it.  Then I added 2 cups of water and boiled it for 5 minutes.  Watch it carefully while boiling, this isn't much water, and it is really easy to burn it, like I did the first time!  At this point, add 7 1/2 cups of whole milk, and cook for 45 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly.  This dish takes a lot of patience!  It is very easy to let the milk caramelize in the bottom of the pan.

While standing and stirring and stirring and stirring...I started cooking the fruit soup.  After it boiled about half an hour, I mixed a couple tablespoons of potato starch (you could use corn starch) with a half-cup of water and stirred this in to thicken the soup.  This is how it looked:

At the end of the cooking time for the rice porridge, I added a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of ground cardamom, and a couple of Tablespoons of sugar.  The cardamom and sugar are my own additions, not traditional, but it really makes the porridge delicious.  Next, I added one almond, and it was ready.  The two younger kids like to eat their fruit soup separately and put cinnamon sugar on their porridge, just like their Famo and Faffa (Grandma and Grandpa in Swedish) serve it, the rest of us enjoy the fruit soup on top of the porridge.  Growing up, my husband's family ate rice porridge every Saturday evening, but we save it for a special Christmas treat.

We also enjoyed cold smoked salmon and pickled herring with crackers, it was a delicious start to the Christmas festivities!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Mead, kotikalja

 Yesterday I started making one of those Scandinavian drinks that my neighbors like to laugh about.  Mix five quarts of boiling water, 1 1/3 cups of rye malt, and a little over 3/4 cups of sugar together in a large, nonreactive container.  After this has cooled to tepid, add 1/4 teaspoon of dry yeast.  Cover loosely and let sit in a warm place for about 24 hours.

Next, strain out the malt, and pour the liquid into containers with tight-fitting lids.  After one more day in the refrigerator it will be lightly carbonated and ready to drink.

Last year, we learned the hard way that leftover mead should not be kept in the basement refrigerator for weeks, when we retrieved it, it was a little over-carbonated, and bubbled out all over the walls and ceiling!

Beet salad, Punajuurisalaatti, Rosolli

Today I'm busy making Christmas dishes, so I'll probably have at least a couple of posts.  This one is a beet salad that is a very classic Finnish dish.  My kids who tried it (the youngest refuses to eat pink food), said that it tastes like potato salad, and really liked it.  My husband ate several plates full and said that it is much better than what they sell already prepared in Finnish grocery stores.  

First, I boiled 5 carrots, 2 potatoes, and three very large beets.  The carrots were done quickly, and I took them out after just a few minutes.  Then I took out the potatoes and left the beets boiling until they were soft.  If the beets were peeled or cut, I wouldn't have boiled them all together, the beets would have turned all the other vegetables red!  While these were boiling, I finely diced one peeled onion and two tart (Granny Smith) apples. 

When the cooked vegetables were cool, I finely diced them, then stirred in a couple of tablespoons of sweet pickle relish.  I also added a little finely chopped pickled herring, but you could leave this out if you want.

Next, I made a dressing out of one pint of sour cream, the juice of one very small lime (it should have been a tablespoon of lemon juice, but I forgot to buy lemons), two tablespoons of sugar, a dash of white pepper and a dash of salt.  I stirred a few pieces of beets into the sour cream to make it pink, I think my sons would have liked it better white!  To serve, you can pour the dressing over the salad, but I let everyone put the dressing on their own serving this time.  It was delicious!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Squeaky cheese, cloudberries, leftovers reinvented, and sausages!

Since the kids have been out of school for winter break, I've had less time to cook, so we are using some Finnish "fast food."  For a snack yesterday, we had a very delicious Finnish cheese, leipäjuusto.  Direct translation, it is "bread cheese" but Trader Joe's calls it "Frying cheese."  The Finnish/American community calls it "squeaky cheese." has a recipe for it here--I haven't tried to make it myself before, I'm not sure where to buy rennet.  Someday when I am no longer able to just buy it at the store, I will probably try to make it myself.  My husband likes to put Cloudberry Jam on it, that is typically Finnish.  Cloudberries are one of the only Finnish foods I do not care for, they look like yellow raspberries, but have an odd flavor, and are quite a delicacy in Finland.  This jar of jam was purchased at Ikea.

For dinner, I decided to use up some mashed potato leftovers and meat in mushroom and cream sauce.  My family does not like leftovers if they can recognize them, so I had to get creative.  (My six year old would like to point out that he actually likes leftovers!)  In the Finnish Cookbook, Beatrice Ojakangas lists a Lapp recipe for stuffed potato patties.  I used this as inspiration and ground up the meat and thick sauce in my food processor with some onion.  Then I put more chopped onion in the potatoes and added an egg and lots of breadcrumbs.  I stuffed the patties in my hand, patting out the potatoes, adding some meat filling, and wrapping the potatoes around the filling.  Then I baked them instead of frying them in butter, I figured our cholesterol levels could use a break, too.  They were delicious topped with the kurpitsasalaati (winter squash salad, you can find my recipe here) and a little Finnish mustard.  I caught a couple of my half-American children putting ketchup on them, but I guess that is to be expected.  By the way, my oldest, who is probably my pickiest eater when it comes to vegetables, is the one eating the winter squash salad on everything!  

Today we spent the entire day at a museum, looking at Christmas trees from around the world.  If you would like to see the gorgeous Finnish Christmas tree, visit my other blog,

We got home late, and the kids were very excited to have a sauna evening in our newly built sauna, so what better to have for dinner than Finland's traditional vegetable...sausages!  These are the closest I have found to Finnish makkara in the U.S., and we have had to try lots to find them!  These are a little thinner and longer, but the flavor and texture is very similar.  They were delicious with Finnish mustard.  The kids really enjoyed learning about this part of their heritage.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Finnish Christmas Prune Tarts, Joulutortut

Tonight we made one of the most traditional Finnish Christmas cookies.  Star-shaped tarts made of puff pastry and filled with prunes.

First, put a bag of prunes in a pot with enough water to cover, add a half-cup of sugar per pound,.  Cook until the prunes are soft, then process in a food processor with as much of the cooking liquid of as necessary to make a thick paste. 

Next, follow the directions on the puff pastry package to prepare the dough.  Sometimes I make the pastry myself, but this year I am just too busy, plus I found these new crescent roll sheets at the grocery.  They are refrigerated, and make it so easy to make just a few tarts at a time.  Of course homemade with real butter would be better, but by using purchased dough, these are probably the easiest Christmas cookies we will make.

First, my helper took the dough out of the package and unwrapped it.  

After unrolling the rectangle of dough, he cut about 3 inch squares.  The pizza cutter worked wonderfully for this, and is a great way for kids to do it all by themselves.

Then he cut lines from each corner, but not all the way to the middle!  Next I put a dollop of the pureed prunes in the middle, he said that he didn't want to get it on his fingers...

He folded the corners toward the middle to make a pinwheel, then we baked them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for a few minutes until they were brown and crispy.  A sprinkling of powdered sugar finished them off.  He made half of the batch, his sister took over and made the other.  I got to take a break and watch.

Everyone loves these tarts, even my six-year old pastry chef who wouldn't touch the filling.  Next time we will make a double batch so there will be enough for Daddy!

Winter squash salad, Kurpitsasalaatti

Our next cooking project is called winter squash salad, but may more accurately be described as a relish.  It reminds me of Japanese pickles, but not salty.

I looked at recipes from the Finnish Cookbook, and Helsingin Sanomat, among others.  All seem to agree that the spices include whole cloves, but some add whole nutmeg, whole chunks of ginger, and one even added cinnamon sticks.  I decided to use the whole cloves that I had in the cabinet, along with a chunk of candied ginger (there is already so much sugar in the recipe that it didn't matter that the ginger was candied.)

First we peeled and removed the seeds from a butternut squash. After dicing, the small squash yielded about 2.5 cups.

We put the squash cubes in a pot with 1 cup sugar, 1 cup white vinegar and 1 cup water.  (250 dl of each).  To this we added three cloves, a chunk of ginger (candied was all I had), and since I didn't have a piece of nutmeg, I sprinkled in a little ground nutmeg.

 This simmered for about half an hour, the squash shouldn't get too soft or it will fall apart.  The kids complained about the vinegar smell!  

When the squash was a little soft, I poured it into a container to keep and removed the whole spices.  This will go really well with meat and potato dishes, but we will save it for later in the refrigerator.  The kids tasted it, and approved.  My daughter said, "I really didn't think I would like it, but it is good."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ohraryynipuuro, Barley porridge

Yesterday I made a wonderful porridge made of Barley.  This is one of my all-time favorite dishes, but I haven't eaten it for 28 years!  When I was an exchange student, I first stayed with a terrific, welcoming family in Ala-Valli Finland.  Their grandmother lived with them, we called her Mummo, grandmother in Finnish.  I learned a lot from Mummo and Mrs. Kiviniemi, even though I didn't speak much Finnish at that time.  They were very patient and taught me to knit (Even though the sweater I made looked like it was shaped for a monkey, not a person!).  They baked rye bread in a traditional stone bread oven where first you warm the oven with fire, then push the fire out and cook the bread in its place.  And they made this delicious porridge of barley.  I stayed 4 months with their family and had a wonderful time, they were an excellent host family and I will always have good memories of my time there.  I really enjoyed having a host sister my own age, she was so nice and welcoming to me.  Little did I know she would grow up to be the prime minister!

For those who think of porridge only as something from fairy tales, porridge is any dish made by boiling grains in milk or broth, for example oatmeal.  This Barley porridge is probably the most time consuming of all, but it is not difficult, I made it yesterday while trying to get all of the other Christmas activities done...I have to admit that I didn't pay very good attention to the recipes and it still turned out to be an incredible dish.

To make the barley porridge, I used a couple of different recipes.  The first is from Beatrice Ojakangas' Finnish Cookbook:

1/2 cup whole pearl barley
1 1/2 cups water
2 2/3 cups milk
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cook the barley and water slowly for 30 minutes or until the barley begins to expand.  Stir in the milk, bring to a boil, and pour into a casserole.  Dot with butter, add the salt, and bake in a slow oven (250 degrees Fahrenheit) for 4 hours or until the liquid is absorbed.  Stir occasionally as the casserole bakes.  Makes about 6 servings.

I compared this recipe to one I found in Finnish through this link:  Kotiliesi.  This recipe calls for soaking the barley overnight, boiling the grains for about an hour, and baking for three hours.  The ingredient amounts were much larger, this is so delicious, I decided to make a larger batch.  Kotiliesi lists ingredients as:
6 deciliters whole barley = 2 1/4 cups whole barley
6 deciliters water = 2 1/4 cups water
3 liters of whole milk
1-2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons of butter

Kotiliesi also includes hiding an almond in the porridge for the lucky person to find...I omitted this yesterday.  We will be putting a hidden almond in our rice porridge for Christmas Eve, though, this is a Finnish tradition.  The one who finds the almond gets good luck all year.

I soaked the barley for several hours, starting in the morning, we don't have a grandmother living with us to get up in the middle of the night to make this for breakfast, so I made it for dinner instead.  Then I decided to boil the barley for 1 hour as in the Finnish recipe, I remember the grains as being extremely soft, almost a hominy-like texture.  Murphy's law then took over, not only did I only have skim milk, I only had a couple of cups of it, and I had soaked an entire box of barley (2 1/4 cups)!  Not having time to run out to the grocery, I used the skim milk that I had, added some cream to it, and finished up the rest of the liquid with powdered milk and water.  Somewhere in all this, I lost track of the amount of liquid I actually used.  I sprayed a couple of large casserole dishes with cooking spray and put them in the oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit, uncovered.  I stirred them about once an hour, and cooked them all afternoon.  After about 3 hours, the liquid had evaporated enough so I combined them into one casserole dish.  We were not ready to eat after 4 hours, so I left it in the oven.  We finally were ready to take a break and eat after 5 hours of baking.  It is a very creamy dish, and develops a slight crust on top when it is done.

I served the porridge with sugar, cinnamon sugar, and some strawberries out of the freezer.  It was incredible, everyone loved it, even the little boy who had been sneaking Christmas cookies all afternoon .  My husband, who in general does not care for porridge as an evening meal, ate two big bowls and said, "This is the best RICE pudding I've ever eaten."  ;D  I don't think too many Finnish families make this because it takes so long to make--Beatrice Ojakangas says that it is traditional in Satakunta which is in western Finland.  I am certainly glad that the Kiviniemi family served this to me, I will be making it again often, and next time I will pay more attention to the exact liquid amounts that I use!  I might try making this in a slow cooker, but then the liquid amounts would definitely have to be adjusted.

I would love to get comments on how others make this porridge!   I know that some of my readers disagree on political matters, please remember that this is a cooking blog, and I have only good things to say about both of my host families.

Happy Baking!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bärentatzen without nuts

One of my friends has nut allergies in the family, and she wondered if it would be possible to make the German Bärentatzen cookies without the one cup of ground almonds.  This is an extremely good question, my first thought is that by the time you sandwich the cookies with jam, dip them in chocolate and drizzle with white chocolate, any cookie would work.  But the challenge here is to have a cookie as soft and delicate as the original almond cookies.  

I looked at shortbread recipes, especially those containing corn starch.  The proportions of corn starch and flour to butter seemed about the same as the original recipe, but they did not include an egg.  So what I did was I made the original recipe exactly without adding the nuts, but of course the dough was too soft to roll out.  I then added flour and cornstarch a 1/4 cup at a time to stiffen the dough.  After an additional 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch, the dough seemed to be about the right consistency.  It was slightly more difficult to roll out, next time I will refrigerate it in plastic wrap for several hours before rolling.  But between the stone countertops and nonstick rolling pin, it rolled fairly well and without too much added flour.

So the final recipe becomes:

Bärentatzen without the almonds

1 cup butter = 250 grams butter
3/4 cup sugar = 175 grams sugar = 2.1 deciliters sugar
1 tsp. vanilla or vanilla sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour = 5 deciliters flour
1 cup corn or potato starch = 2.5 deciliters

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 Celsius) for 10-12 minutes, then use preserves to double and chocolate to dip.

For more detailed instructions on the process, visit my earlier blog page, here.

I finished up my jar of Fruits of the Forest reduced sugar preserves from Aldi's that I was using in the almond version of the cookies.  Now I am using some blueberry preserves from Trader Joe's.   Try your favorite jam or jelly!

Oh, and an update on Conan O'Brien, he still is unable to get on the air in Finland, YLE, the government TV monopoly, won't budge.  Evidently now there are protesters in the street in Helsinki, there is a Swedish language article about it here.  Guess there will be no Christmas rice pudding at Conan's house...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Finnish Carrot Casserole, Porkkanalaatiko

Tonight we had a traditional Finnish casserole for dinner, it is made of carrots and rice baked in a custard of eggs and milk.  When I was an exchange student, we always went to the Rotary club meetings with our hosts and enjoyed the delicious buffet they served, and this was one of the dishes that was almost always on the menu.  It is a hearty, filling dish perfect for a wintry day.

I took my recipe straight from a cookbook in my collection, The Finnish Cookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas.  The link to this book is at the bottom of this page.  It was first published in 1964, and her intent was to make Finnish recipes accessible to American cooks.  

The recipe is:

1 cup cooked rice
2 cups milk
5 medium carrots, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 eggs
3 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup fine bread or cracker crumbs

Combine the rice, milk, carrots, salt, sugar and eggs.  Pour into a well-buttered 1.5 quart casserole.  Melt the butter in a separate pan and stir the crumbs into it.  Sprinkle over the top of casserole.  Bake in a moderately hot oven (375 degrees Fahrenheit) about 40 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.  Serves 6,

Fortunately, I have a six-year old "automatic" carrot peeler and shredder, he works for Christmas cookies:

The food processor would've shredded the carrots more quickly, but I didn't feel like getting it out.  I already had the breadcrumbs in the freezer, I save all the bread heals and extra toast to make breadcrumbs.  Must be a holdover from growing up on a farm, I hate to waste anything.

A rice cooker easily cooked the rice, it would have been nice if I'd had some leftover rice.  I used short grain, sticky rice.  In Finland they sell "puuro riisi" which has a lot of talc.  To substitute, I use sushi rice or pearl rice (which is available in the Mexican food section of groceries, our Wal-Mart even carries it).  

I mixed the carrots, milk, eggs, salt and and brown sugar directly in the rice cooker pan so there would be less dishes to wash.  I'm still cleaning from yesterday's cookie baking!  I should've measured the salt a little more carefully, between the carrots and brown sugar, it is a very sweet casserole and a little extra salt would have been good.

Here is how it looked in the casserole dish, I did butter the dish as called for in the recipe, but I'm sure it would've been just as good to use cooking spray.

It looked like it needed a few more breadcrumbs on top, my casserole dish was slightly larger than 1.5 quarts, and had a little more surface area.  The breadcrumbs soaked in melted butter make a wonderful crust on top.

I cooked a couple of sirloin steaks and made some gravy with the drippings, mushrooms, cornstarch and cream.  A touch of brown sugar in the gravy makes it delicious.  We also had mashed potatoes.

My family wasn't as excited about the casserole as I was, but my teenage son had two helpings.  My Finnish husband wrinkled his nose and said he wasn't sure if he had eaten it before, I believe the quote was, "It looks like it tastes like carrots."  Daughter said it was a little sweet (gotta remember to add a bit more salt next time).  My first grade helper didn't eat it, again tonight.  But he had had a big party at school today, and I caught him in the Christmas cookies later.  It is hard to make a casserole that can compete with the cookies from last night!  Maybe they were worth all the work.

I think I'll stick the leftovers in the freezer where the rutabaga casserole is already waiting for Christmas meals.

If you are interested in buying the cookbook that I used, it is available from the following link on Amazon.  My only complaint with the Finnish Cookbook is that it doesn't have photos of the dishes, but the recipes are written for American cooks.  Beatrice Ojakangas' other books below have beautiful pictures, but are not as comprehensive.  

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Since Conan won't eat Finnish, I'm baking German cookies today. Bärentatzen

Conan issued a severe statement to Finland today, no more Finnish food until he is back on the air in his favorite country!  In honor of his hunger strike, today I am making a German cookie, Bärentatzen, that we have been making for over a decade.

If any of my friends in the Finnish government are reading my blog, I think that Finland should demand that Conan take a fully traditional Finnish sauna before allowing him back on the air.  If I remember right, last time he was there, he was too shy.  Of course, this would require him to take another hilarious trip to Finland.

The real reason I am making these is that my daughter requested some of these cookies to take to her teachers tomorrow, I've spent 4 hours making them and just can't bear to cook any more today.

My friend Maria gave me this recipe, but she has moved back to Germany now.  Maria is probably the best dessert baker that I know.  She made these cookies for us over a decade ago, and we have made them for Christmas ever since.  Originally they were large circles sandwiched with apricot jam and one edge dipped in chocolate.  We started making them as very small hearts years ago, they are so rich that a small one almost tastes better.

The original recipe has all ingredients listed in grams, and is very brief.  I'll convert it to both American cups and liters where appropriate.  It seems quite a few people are following along from Finland, and I think a lot of people in Finland use deciliters for measuring dry ingredients more than grams.  Hope this doesn't make it to confusing for you.

1 cup butter = 250 grams butter
3/4 cup sugar = 175 grams sugar = 2.1 deciliters sugar
1 tsp. vanilla or vanilla sugar
1 egg
1.5 cups flour = 175 grams flour = 3.3 deciliters flour
3/4 cup corn or potato starch = 175 grams = 2.2 deciliters
1 cup ground almonds = 75 grams = 2.5 deciliters

The only directions that Maria gave me were to bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 Celsius) for 10-12 minutes, then use apricot preserves to double and chocolate to dip.  I will try to fill in the blanks here.

Beat the butter, sugar, and vanilla in my stand mixer and then beat in the egg.  Next add the flour and corn starch a little at a time until it makes a very stiff dough.  Then add the ground almonds, if you can't find ground almonds, whole or sliced almonds can be ground in a food processor.  Do not use almond paste, it isn't the same thing.  At this point you can refrigerate the dough for a while to make it easier to roll out.  Today I was in a hurry and just rolled it carefully, it is very stiff.  The less flour you use rolling it, the better the cookies taste.  This is a difficult concept for children!

I love my nonstick rolling pin, and the cookie cutter I use is out of an old Tupperware set.  Here is a link to the rolling pin if you are interested, my favorite part about it is that besides being nonstick so less flour is required, it also has the handles raised so my hands don't hit the counter while rolling out the dough.  I'm not sure if the cookie cutters are being made anymore, my set is a nesting set from the '70s, you can tell by the orange color!  Any simple shape would do, but putting the jelly between them will be a lot easier if you don't have much pattern to match up.

I was a little rushed making these, some got more brown than I like, but they still taste delicious.  They really don't bake for long, and when you put them in the oven, they are like a shortbread and don't spread much at all, you can put the cookies fairly close together with no problems.  This picture shows the cooled cookies waiting for the jelly filling.

Today we used a mixed berry filling, they are also delicious with seedless raspberry preserves.  The original apricot is also good, but tends to be difficult to spread on such a small cookie, it might be better to blend it in the food processor first.  A very diligent assistant like the one below really helps the cookie process.

After the cookies are (FINALLY) sandwiched or doubled, we get to the fun chocolate dipping part.  I use Ghirardelli double chocolate dipping bars, I have tried other chocolate, but none are quite as good.  Ghirardelli also makes a white chocolate dipping bar which we use to drizzle.

After carefully melting the chocolate in the microwave, stirring after each minute, we dip one edge of the cookie.  Then we put melted white chocolate in a zip-lock bag and carefully cut a very small hole in the corner.  The kids love to drizzle the white chocolate and make designs.

After all the chocolate had hardened, we put the cookies in clear cups with some more Ghirardelli chocolates and covered the tops with plastic wrap and a ribbon.  I think the teachers will enjoy their little afternoon treat at school tomorrow.

My daughter made the yarn elf following the instructions in my other blog, Brushes and Paint.  Of course her elf had to be a girl, not a boy as shown in my blog...

These cookies melt in your mouth, I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.