Laskiainen is very old Finnish festival, with ancient pre-christian origins (it seems to have originally been a celebration marking the end of winter and the arrival of spring) that morphed into a popular orthodox christian celebration which falls just before Lent. In it’s current form it has been around since at least the 1800’s. In old rural Finland it was a festive peasant holiday which involved sledding down snow-covered hills (these days, Shrove Tuesday or “Laskiainen” (in Finnish)) and is still the day kids go out to play with their pulk (pulkka, similar to a sled) on hills (sliding your pulk down the the hill is “pulkkamäki”). The day also involved making wishes for a good crops in the coming year (probably this is the pre-christian origin of the festival) and eating lots of foods high in fat and sugar before Lent (itself a time of preparation for Easter, which falls about seven weeks after Shrove Tuesday- in 2013 it fell on February 12th) – which brings us to the icon of Finnish food that you’re about to meet. And thus, Laskiaispulla – Sweet cardamom buns.
This is the traditional Shrove Tuesday baking and eating of Laskiaispulla, a sweet cardamon-spiced bun cut in half and filled with strawberry (or raspberry) jam and lots of whipped cream. Another version has almond paste inside instead of jam. Best enjoyed with a class of cold milk or alternatively with hot chocolate or coffee to bring the sweetness of the treat to a whole new level. Besides Laskiaispulla, pea and ham soup (Hernekeitto) is often eaten too.
All you need to do is prepare pulla (the recipe’s here), roll it into small buns and then bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes. Once cooled, slice the buns in half, top the bottom half with your favorite jam (strawberry, raspberry, triple berry), and then pile on the whipped cream. Cover everything with the top half of the bun. Then prepare yourself for a hugely delicious mess.
And why on earth is it called Laskiainen? Well, in Latin “leaving out meat” is carne lasciare. Lasciare sounds like laskea in Finnish, which means to go sledding. There is no connection between the meaning of the two words. They just sounds the same. Pretty neat, huh?
Anyhow, here’s the recipe for Laskiaispulla – sweet cardamom buns – this should give you about 20 small buns
Laskiaispulla – sweet cardamom buns – Ingredients for pulla (the bun)
- 2.5 cups of milk
- 1 packet (4 teaspoons) of active dry yeast
- 2 eggs (set one aside for brushing onto buns before baking)
- 1 cup of sugar (I always use brown sugar, but that’s just a personal preference)
- 1 teaspoon crushed cardamom (or 2 teaspoons of ground cardamom)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 7 cups of flour
- 1 stick (100 grams) of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds for decorating (optional)
Crushed cardamom is better if you can find somewhere to buy cardamom seeds that you can grind yourself (use a coffee grinder). The flavour is better, but ground cardamom will do fine if that’s all you can find..
Laskiaispulla – sweet cardamom buns – Instructions
- Heat milk in pan on stove to lukewarm. Pour milk into large bread bowl and stir in the yeast. Let sit for about 7 minutes to proof.
- Lightly beat one egg and then add the egg, sugar, cardamom and salt to the milk and stir well.
- Stir in 3 or 4 cups of flour, then add the softened butter and mix well.
- Add the rest of the flour (you will probably have to use your hands to mix and knead it) but keep an eye on dough consistency. Too much flour and the buns will be hard.
- Knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is of uniform consistency, smooth and soft.
- Cover bowl with lid or dish towel and leave the mix rise in a sunny & warm place for about 1 to 1½ hours (the dough should double in size).
- When raised enough, remove the dough from the bowl, knead it on a flour-dusted surface, “punching it down” (removes the gas formed during the fermentation).
- Divide the dough into 20 equal pieces.
- Roll the pieces to form balls (a bit bigger than a golf ball) and place them on baking sheets (I use parchment paper).
- Cover with a dish towel and let sit in a warmplace for 30 minutes to rise again before baking.
- Pre-heat oven to 225 °C
- Beat the remaining egg and brush the buns with the egg, then sprinkle sugar flakes on top (optional). You can also brush with milk or cream rather than egg. Glazing is an essential step for cardamom bread – the glaze turns the bread into a shining work of art rather than a mere bun. Sprinkle with sliced almonds.
- Bake in the center of the oven for 10-15 minutes (until golden brown), remove and let cool on a rack. Pulla burns easily, so watch it carefully!
Laskiaispulla – Sweet Cardamom Buns – Filling
- Prepare whipped cream (quantity to suit)
- Cut the tops of the buns (a “lid”) and use a spoon to scoop a bit out from inside the bun.
- Fill the cavity with a large spoonful of jam, then top with plenty of whipped cream.
- Close with the “lid”. Dust with icing sugar if desired.
- Serve with coffee, hot chocolate or milk.
They’re really yummy and there’s no need to wait for Shrove Tuesday to make and eat them! And for anyone who is feeling adventurous, Beatrice Ojakangas has diagrams of all the different styles for shaping pulla, (bishop’s wig, braid, butter buttons) in her book. And if you look around at pulla recipes, you won’t find much variation between them – probably not surprising, given that Pulla is a traditional bread with a long history of the recipe being passed down from one generation to the next. Anyhow, Laskiaispulla – sweet cardamom buns – are really delicious. My kids love them (unfortunately for my waistline, so do I).