Joulutorttu – Finnish Christmas Tarts

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My grandmother was phenomenal in the art of making puff pastry, so good that she made several batches every year that she portioned out to everyone in the family, neighbors and near by acquaintances that took the advantage of her skill. I’m sure she loved it and occasionally she tried to pass her technique along but to my knowledge nobody really understood how she did it with such grace and no fuss.

Every Christmas as long as I can remember my grandmother and later my mother have been treating me with Joulutorttu (Finnish Christmas Tarts). Joulutorttu are pinwheel shapes puff pastries filled with prune jam dusted with powdered sugar. Traditionally the tarts are shaped like fig. 2 in the diagram but they can be shaped as simple as a classic Danish (fig 1).

Well, last year I figured it was about time for me to learn the art of puff pastry and obviously much of it get shaped into joulutorttu. My version here is filled with jam where the prunes is simply cooked with just port. I’m sure my grandmother would have liked my progress, especially if shared with a strong cup of tea and a game of canasta.  

Both jam and puff pastry can be made beforehand so you can assemble just as many as you want and need all through the holiday.

Happy holiday everyone.

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Joulutorttu (Finnish Christmas Torts)
makes about 14

1 batch of puff pastry

prune jam
1 cup (about 200 grams) pitted prunes, cut in half
½ cup (120 milliliters) sweet Marsala wine (or port)

to finish
1 egg, beaten
powdered sugar

Cut the prunes in quarters and soak them in port for 1 to 2 hours. The prunes should become soft.

In a small pot, cook the prunes with the port on medium low heat until thick and the fruit has fallen apart, about 10 minutes. Add more wine (or water) if the jam seems too dry. Let cool slightly before placing the jam into a food processor. Pulse until smooth and thick.

Leftover jam can be stored in a clean glass jar in the refrigerator for up to a week. This jam is also awesome on on toast together with cheese.

Preheat oven 425°F (220°C).

Roll out portions of puff pastry until just over 1/8 inch (approximately 0.5 centimeter) thick. Cut out 3 by 3 inch (8 by 8 centimeters) squares, place a spoonful of jam on each square. Shape each square by cutting each corner, like in fig. 2 or shape them as shown in fig. 1. Brush corners with a little water before closing the shape.

Brush each tart with the egg and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve slightly warm, dusted with powdered sugar, with heavy whipped cream.

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Links to other traditional Nordic holiday baking:

Joulutorttu with a ricotta puff pastry – by Peggy Saas

Ginger Spice Cake by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall

Glögg – Swedish Mulled Wine

How to host a glögg party by Madame Fromage

Pepparkakor with diagram on how to build a gingerbread house
recipe & text by Anna Brones  – diagram & illustrations by Johanna Kindvall

Lussebullar by Anna Brones (illustrated by Johanna Kindvall)

Scalded Rye Bread with Raisins – kokblog recipe

More Swedish holiday baking in the Fika book.

Roasted Acorn Squash Spread

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The reason for my silence here on kokblog is simple, I have been extremely busy with a number of exciting projects in the kitchen as well as in my drawing studio (about which I’m hoping to share with you soon). I’m also recovering from a long lasting and painful frozen shoulder. Luckily it hasn’t stopped me from creating stuff but it surely has slowed me down a little. One good thing is that it has encouraged me to take exercising more seriously and daily walks in the neighborhood.

Well, it’s getting freezing out there so I’m enjoying cozy nights in front of our fireplace with warming dishes like mushroom risotto or polenta with hearty ragu. If I want something simple I make Äggakaga a pancake like dish from South Sweden. Traditionally it’s served with bacon but it’s delicious with Andrew Janjigian’s mushroom confit too.

Lately I have been developing several new bread recipes. Instead of the normal spreads like cheese, charcuterie and pickles, I  enjoy having bread with slices of avocado or hummus with roasted peppers. I have also been savoring it with roasted acorn squash, as in the recipe below. Typically, this is a side dish but I think it really works well on slices of toasted sourdough bread. If you like, add some goat cheese but it’s pretty good just as it is.

Roasted Acorn Squash Spread
serves 2 to 4

1 acorn squash, approximately 1 pound
about 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra if needed
1 to 2 teaspoons maple syrup (or brown sugar)
rosemary, fresh or dried, chopped or crushed
salt and freshly milled pepper, for seasoning

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C)

With a sharp heavy knife cut the acorn squash lengthwise. Remove the seeds (which are delicious roasted) and all the stringy pulp with a small knife and a spoon.

Arrange the halves in a baking pan, with cut side up. Pour the olive oil into the center of both halves. Add the syrup, rosemary and a dash of salt.

Roast the squash until very very soft and with a nice caramelized top. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

Scope out the flesh into a medium bowl including any remaining olive oil. Mash it all together with a fork. If it feels too dry, add more olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately with toasted sourdough bread.

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Related links

Acorn Squash Crostini with Crispy Bacon and Sage Recipe – Serious Eats

Butternut Squash and Sage Latkes by Martha Rose Shulman, NYTimes

Yotam Ottolenghi’s butternut squash and tahini spread, The Guardian

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illustrated by me

Adventures in Vegetables
Interview with Dennis Cotter by Killian Fox at The Gannet Magazine

Pumpkin artwork

Elderflower Tea in my Summer Garden

© Johanna Kindvall

Its that time of the year when I stand under the big oak tree in our summer garden listening to the bees collecting honeydew, picking mushrooms, pickling gherkins, making jam, weeding, fighting brown murder slugscooking outdoors or waiting for the rain to stop so I can hang my laundry.

Earlier this year, Rachel Safko introduced me to Elderflower tea or rather Elderflower herbal infusion. Rachel paired the infusion with Dream Cookies by Unna Bakery. The warm and refreshing tea brought me back to my summer garden where I can enjoy afternoon fika while listening to hard working bumble bees and newborn tree sparrows tweeting in their nests. In the back of the house where I hang my laundry, we have a large elderflower bush. The bush produce enough flowers to treat us with my favorite summer cordial while at the same time infusing our laundry with a refreshing smell.

Obviously, this year I couldn’t resist to dry a bunch of them. And it couldn’t have been easier:

Pick as much elderflower clusters as you can. Cut off the thick stems, and give them a gentle rinse. Place them on parchment paper or something similar in a dry and warm place. Let them dry completely. Store the flowers in airtight containers.

If you need guidance to brew your tea or herbal infusion, check out this diagram that I developed together with Rachel.

© Johanna Kindvall

The elderflower season is over but here are a few things you can do with the berries:

Elderberry Liqueur by Hank Shaw
Elderberry Jelly by Elise Bauer
Elderberry Capers by Anna Billing (in Swedish)
Elderberry Syrup with Alexis Siemons

related links
Fika with Tea – Paring Tea with Swedish cookies
Tea and Food by Rachel Safko at Fresh Cup Magazine
A Swedish Coffee Tradition Breaks Through the Day’s Buzz by Rachel Safko at Edible Manhattan
Elderflower gravlax by kokblog

also…
Check out the pattern design I created for Unna Bakery’s new cookie packages. The pattern was inspired by Scandinavian porcelain.

Celebrating Fika with Marängtårta!

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One year ago, today, Anna Brones and my book Fika – The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break was released. I can’t believe how quickly this year has gone by. A year full of wonderful meetings with readers and enthusiastic bakers and cooks from all over the world.

By tagging #ArtofFika on social media we have been able to follow our reader’s wonderful fika moments and their delicious results when baking cakes, cookies and breads from the book. I also find it inspiring when I see readers creating delicious new versions of the recipes. Thank you all for sharing your fika with us.

I’m super thrilled to let you know that the Fika book is being translated into both Chinese and Korean. How cool is that? I can’t wait to see the result.

To celebrate, I’m baking a tweaked version of the Meringue Torte (page 104), which for some unknown reason in Sweden is called Pinocchiotårta or Brittatårta. In the cookbook we just calls it Marängtårta and bake it with hazelnuts and chocolate.  Here below I suggest baking it with berries (fresh or frozen) such as strawberries, blueberries or/and raspberries. I also like it with a little fresh ginger in the merengue and instead of hazelnuts topped with slivered blanched almonds.

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Marängtårta (Meringue Torte)
makes one 9-inch (23-centimeter) torte

torte
6 tablespoons (3 ounces, 85 grams) unsalted butter
¾ cup (5.25 ounces, 148 grams) natural cane sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon milk (75 milliliters)
¾ cup (3.75 ounces, 106 grams) all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder

meringue
4 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces, 99 grams) natural cane sugar
about 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
a handful (or two) of slivered, blanched almonds

filling (and topping)
1 to 1½ cup (240 to 360 milliliters) heavy whipping cream
about 1 cup fresh (or frozen) berries (blueberries, raspberries or strawberries)

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Grease and flour two 9-inch (23-centimeter) round springform pans*.

for the torte
Cream together the butter with sugar. Add one egg yolk at a time. When it’s evenly blended, mix in the vanilla and milk. Lastly fold in the flour and baking powder with a spatula until you have a smooth batter.

Spread the batter equally into the 2 prepared springforms.  It should be spread as a thin even layer all the way to the edges.

for the meringue
In a grease free metal or glass bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Continue whisking while adding sugar little by little and whisk until stiff peaks form. Lastly add the fresh grated ginger.

Divide the meringue equally between the two pans and spread out so it covers the cake batter completely. Sprinkle with slivered blanched almonds on top.

Bake the cakes for about 40 minutes, until the meringue and almonds are crispy and golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool.

When the cakes are cool, carefully remove the cakes from the springform.

assemble the torte
On a serving plate, place one layer and spread the berries and whipped cream on top. Place the second cake layer on top and (if you like) top the cake with more cream and decorate with some extra berries.

Serve immediately.

*You can also bake this in a single rectangular pan lined with parchment paper, and cut in half to make the individual layers.

related links

Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break (Behind the Scenes)
and here you can see Anna Brones behind the scenes story
Images from my book release party
Anna and Johanna talking Fika on Heritage Radio
more Fika press

Tea Paired with Swedish Cookies and Treats

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A week ago, I hosted a tea pairing event in my kitchen with Rachel Safko and Ulrika Pettersson (Unna Bakery).  Rachel, who’s a writer and tea specialist, selected six different teas and paired them with traditional Swedish treats baked by Ulrika and me.

The three of us ladies got to know each other by talking and tasting a lot of coffee, tea and treats for an article Rachel wrote for Edible Manhattan, issue No 44, 2016 about the Swedish tradition of fika. We’d hosted a small fika for the Edible crew back in the fall that became the cover of the drinks issue (photographed by Scott Gordon Bleicher) and felt inspired to host a larger tea & fika event.

We were so happy and honored to share these with such wonderful guests on a late winter day in New York and hope this list will give you a sense of the surprising and very delicious flavor combinations that can come from pairing tea and Swedish snacks.

Tea Paired with Swedish Cookies and Treats
written by Rachel Safko

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Elderflower herbal infusion from In Pursuit of Tea with Unna Bakery’s dream cookies: A springlike aperitif, with rich, delicate elderflowers complementing the sparkle of Unna’s airy cookies.

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In Pursuit of Tea Tung Ting Oolong with Unna’s raspberry cave cookies. A nice transitional snack from late winter to spring: this green, woodsy, medium-oxidized charcoal-roasted oolong has darker undercurrents of smoke and sweet berry jam that suit the cookie’s marvelous mix of tart and sweet.

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Joseph Wesley Assam tea with sharp cheddar, Johanna’s cardamom skorpor and handmade orange-thyme marmalade. The cinnabar-esque brightness and warmth of this classic Indian Assam stand up to the cheddar’s bite and bring out the orange and cardamom notes in this traditional Swedish snack, matching its complexity. You can find a similar recipe (with caraway seeds instead of cardamom) in Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break by Anna Brones & Johanna Kindvall–just switch out the caraway seeds for 4-5 teaspoons of freshly crushed cardamom.

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Joseph Wesley Keemun with Unna’s gingersnaps and blue cheese. This elegant, mellow Chinese Keemun tames the punch of the blue cheese and the cookie spices, “calming the palate like a blanket.” A surprising winter hors d’oeuvre—terrific for parties.

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In Pursuit of Tea Shu Puerh with Unna’s chocolate-caramel cookies. With earthy, barnyard flavors characteristic of teas from China’s Yunnan province, this coffee-like dark tea melds with the deep richness of the cookies; its barnyard notes are also somewhat soothed by waves of pure caramel and big, bright bursts of sugar.

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Surprise pairing for a late winter day on the cusp of spring: Bellocq Shire Antlers white tea with Johanna’s cardamom cake. This unusual white tea combines light delicate notes with underlying chocolate and rose, offering a lovely backdrop for this spicy yet delicate cake, made with hand-crushed cardamom pods. You can learn how to make it from Johanna’s book Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break.

We hope this inspires you to make your own fikas at home and to try new kinds of tea! We’d also be delighted to help if you’d like to host any events with tea and Swedish snacks. The three of us can be found here: Rachel, Ulrika and Johanna.

Enjoy spring!

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related links

The Harmony Of Tea + Fika by Sara Shacket (a review of the event)
Pairing Tea and Food by Rachel Safko, Fresh Cup
Global Tea & Food Traditions: Russia by Rachel Safko
Ulrika Pettersson & Unna Bakery at Food52 (about Unna Bakery)
Unna Bakery & dream cookie at Edible Brooklyn
Savory Caraway Crisps (from Fika book), by Anna Brones @ The Kitchn
A New Cookbook Imparts the Art of the Swedish Coffee Break by Lindsey Tramuta, T Magazine, NYtimes