These curious looking little fellows are one of Finland’s oldest dishes, called Karelian pies (Karjalanpiirakat) – simple savoury rice pies in a rye crust.
Now, when it comes to pies, there is a lot of competition out there. Dozens of different cheeses, delicious vegetables and exotic and interesting spices to tempt the hungry. In such a competitive field, you might think that something that sounds as boring as “savoury rice pies” might not be a winner. But trust me on this one – I’ve had them in Finland and loved them, and the were equally delicious when I made them back home. Think of this as two types of carbs, baked with butter – now if you were in Finland and there was three feet of snow outside, you’d probably be in the mood for that sort of thing!
So what makes them so good? The fact they are delicious may or may not have something to do with the fact that the rye pastry is dipped in or brushed with melted salted butter just before baking, making it crisp and (unsurprisingly) buttery. The filling is a thick rice pudding, made with milk and a little salt, so it is both rich and satisfying savoury. The end result? These simple little rice pies are really rather addictive!
The good news is that these pies are very easy to make, and you’ve probably got everything that you need in the cupboard right now. If you want to omit the milk and/or butter, then that’s easy too, so they can be veganised or made lactose-free too. They’re nice warm, but equally good cold, so they are a great addition to a picnic. The only drawback is that it is very tempting to have just one more, and then just one more again. So if you do whip up a batch, make sure you have enough!
I also love how they look – they seem rather fancy and impressive, but shaping them is quite straightforward. Just roll out the dough, add the filling, then crimp the edges with you fingers. Make it complex or make it as simple as you like – every baker seems to have their own version, but I wanted to go for something that was small and could be munched in a couple of bites. You can easily adapt this recipe to make fewer larger pies, or double it to make more.
If you want to enjoy these the traditional Finnish way, top them with a spoonful of chopped hard-boiled egg mixed with (you guessed it) more butter.
Makes around 10:
For the filling
• 75g short grain rice (such as arborio or pudding rice)
• 130ml water
• 400ml milk
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the pastry:
• 125g rye flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
• 100ml water
• 100g salted butter, melted
1. Start with the filling. Put the water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the rice and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the milk, and continue to cook over a low heat, uncovered, until you have a thick rice pudding texture (30-40 minutes). Add the salt, stir well, cover and put to one side to allow to cool.
2. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, and preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F).
3. Make the pastry. Mix the rye flour and the salt. Add the oil and then add enough water to make a soft dough that is not sticky.
4. Roll the dough into a long sausage, and cut into 10 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then roll out on a floured worktop to make a circle of around 10-12cm diameter.
5. Divide the filling between the pastry circles – around 2 tablespoons each (tip: make sure the filling is cool – if it is warm, the dough can soften and make them harder to handle). Take each pie, and life the edges and press inwards to make an oval shape. Use your fingers to crimp the edges so that the pastry holds the filling in the pie.
6. Take each finished pie and dip the pastry into the melted butter. You can do this with your hands or a slotted spoon, or use a pastry brush to coat the pastry.
7. Arrange the pies on the baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling is just starting to colour.