Friday, 5 December 2008

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star!

Thousands of stars are being born in thousands and thousands of Finnish homes this time of the year, and no, I am not talking about the "fifteen minutes of fame" kind of stars, but more like "the fifteen minutes in the making" kind. What I am talking about is Christmas stars, the edible kind. There are really two kinds of baked goods that are essential parts of Finnish Christmas time: gingerbread cookies and Christmas stars. I'll try and post more about gingerbread later, but let's talk about Christmas stars this time!

Christmas stars, which actually can also be made into a half-moon shape, if so desired, are made of puff pastry and plum jam. You can also use soft prunes instead of jam, like my Mom used to do, but most people use plum jam. This time of the year both plum jam and special frozen Christmas star puff pastry are in good supply in every food store around here! Most people use forzen puff pastry as it comes in packets of five small sheets that you only have to cut in two to make two Christmas stars from each sheet. Of course those with an extra amount of Christmas spirit may opt for making their own puff pastry, and I guess some with all year round Christmas spirit might even have their home-made plum jam stored in the basement waiting for Chrismas star baking...

I do not admit of having any less Christmas spirit than Santa Claus himself (and he does live in Finland, you know that, don't you?) and Rudolf combined, but I am a busy, professional lady with only 24 hours in every day (and night) and I should also get my beauty sleep, otherwise I will most surely scare away both Santa C and Rudolf when they come to visit me on Christmas Eve. And I am very positive they will call on the evening of the 24th as I have been very, very, very good this whole year, really, truly, I promise, scout's honour. Hmm, ups, I never was s scout...

Anyways, feel free to use any puff pastry recipe you like. My stars are proud to admit that they are made of ready-made puff pastry!

Finnish Christmas Stars

For 10 stars you will need:

500 g puff pastry
ca. 100-150 g plum jam
1 egg for brushing

1. If using ready-made frozen puff pastry, let the pastry thaw in room temperature. If your pastry is not pre-made into sheets, roll it out into a thickness of ca. 0,5 cm or little less.
2. Using a pastry wheel cut the pastry into 10x10 cm squares.
3. From each corner of each square cut a diagonal line about 2/3 way towards the centre.
4. Using a teaspoon put a spoonful of plum jam into the centre of each square.
5. After you have cut the diagonal lines each square now has 8 "points" or we might perhaps call them corners. Turn every other corner towards the middle of the square. Wet the corners a little, and press well, so that they will stay together also in the oven. And see, there is your little star! Twinkle, twinkle!
6. To make the stars even prettier, brush them with some egg.
7. And into the oven they go! 225 Centigrade for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is beautifully golden.
8. Remove the stars from the oven, take a deep breath and inhale the sweet smell of Christmas time!
9. If you like, you may sprinkle the stars with some icing (confectioners') sugar. I prefer mine without.
10 Enjoy warm or cold. They taste so good either way!
I have nine little stars cooling down in the kitchen this very minute and one in the tummy! :) I will save the rest for later and will give half of them to my Dad. I will not eat another one tonight, I promise, scout's honour...

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Lovely Ljubljana

How majestic the Alps are! Their beauty mesmerizes you even when you are flying above them in the smallest plane you have ever set your foot into -and there is turbulence! I must say I have been a regular "Flying Finn" lately, what with first going to Amsterdam and then after only a few days back home flying again, this time to Ljubljana in Slovenia.

I had been wanting to go to Slovenia for a long time. Every single person with whom I had talked about going there, had told me what a nice and beautiful country Slovenia is. So, my expectations were pretty high, but I must say, I was not dissapointed! Ljubljana is lovely. And you have to love a place where they serve you three kinds of pancakes, apple strudels and couple of other sorts of cakes for breakfast!:)

I also managed to buy a find assortment of hand made Slovenian chocolates, which I am trying very hard not to eat all too quickly! What do you say about white chocolate with pictacchios, dark chocolate with cinnamon and carnation, white chocolate with cinnamon or dark with salt flower? Cukrcek also makes dark chocolate with Tabasco, but that I found a bit too exotic for me...

Potica is a typical Slovenian dish which can be made in different flavors, walnut potica being one of the most traditional variations. As I like walnuts a lot, I just had to try this Slovenian speciality. The potica in the picture is admittedly bought in a store :) (I have not had time to try to bake one yet), but here is a recipe for making one. The recipe comes from a wonderful little book called "100 Selected Dishes. The Cuisine of Slovenia" by Slavko Ademlje and Janez Bogataj. And before we go to the recipe, here is a wonderfully funny cartoon video with another recipe on how to bake a potica. :)

Walnut Potica (Orehova potica)

600 g flour
40 g fresh yeast
1 egg
2 egg yolks
50 g butter
50 g sugar
2-3 dl milk
3 tbsp breadcrumbs
zest from 1 lemon

300-400 g walnuts
100 g sugar
100 g honey
40 g butter
2 egg whites
2 dl milk
zest from 1 lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp rum

1. Pour the flour into a large bowl, cover and leave somewhere warm.
2. In a small bowl mix the yeast, 2 tablespoons of both lukewarm milk and flour, and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Leave somewhere warm to rise.
3. In a third bowl beat the butter, egg yolks & sugar until creamy.
4. Grate the zest of 1 lemon.
5. Heat the milk slightly.
6. Pour the milk onto the egg mixture. Add salt & lemon zest.
7. Mix together the flour, the yeast mixture, and the milk & egg mixture, and make a dough that is not too thick. The dough is ready when it comes off a wooden spoon & the bowl.
8. Cover with a cloth & let rise in a warm place until the dough have doubled in size.

1. Heat the milk.
2. Add half the butter & half the sugar & bring to a boil.
3. Grind the walnuts & pour the liquid over them.
4. Bring the honey to a boil & add to the milk mixture.
5. Grate the lemon zest & add it to the mixture. Add the cinnamon & rum.
6. Leave to cool.
7. Whip the egg whites with the remaining sugar until firm. Fold into the cooled walnut mixture.
8. Stir in the remaining butter.

Compiling the potica:
1. Grease a cake mould & sprinkle it with some breadcrumbs.
2. Roll the dough out to the thickness of ca. 1 cm.
3. Spread the filling onto the dough.
4. Roll the dough up tightly & put it into the mould
5. Leave in a warm place to rise once again.
6. Beat an egg & brush it on the roll.
7. Bake for ca. 1 hour in 180 C.
8. When the potica is ready remove it immediately from the mould, in order to prevent it from getting damp and to prevent the crust from coming off.