Thursday, 4 April 2013

Mustikkapiirakka (Finnish Blueberry Pie)

I was recently whisked off to Inari, a tiny village in northern Finland, just above the Arctic Circle. We arrived just in time for a dinner of cream and cheese soup (yes, that’s right) to start, potatoes and fish in more cream for main and a hot cake doused with cream for pudding. How we laughed at the artery-hardening menu of that first evening’s meal. How foolish we were to think it was a one off.

Nobody’s going to notice a few extra pounds though, when you can’t even pop over the road for a packet of tic tacs without putting on every item of clothing you own, before heaving a heavily padded snowsuit over the top of them. Weighed down by all those clothes, making it out of the hotel is effort enough to require the extra calories. But then there’s also the husky sledding and snowmobiling and all before a night of aurora hunting. 

If there’s one thing the Finns know about, it’s the cold. And it turns out that what you need to survive temperatures below -20 is cream, cheese and cake. Lots of the stuff.  In fact, we discovered the delights of Lappish pudding while we were there, which is essentially just hot cream with bits of cheese and cake in it and a scattering of cloud berries over the top. To cut through all the cream, cheese and cake you also need to drink coffee. Buckets of the stuff. You’ll want to warm your hands with a mug of it, even if you find you can’t actually drink a sip more of it for fear you’ll never find your way to sleep again. The Finns are the world’s most voracious coffee drinkers, consuming 23.5 kilos per capita a year. In Finland, drinking coffee and eating cake is one of the most popular national pastimes - something I was more than happy to get on board with.

We spent an afternoon at a small reindeer farm run by a charming woman called Tuula. We fed the reindeer lichen, before Tuula fed us her homemade mustikkapiirakka and gave us the lowdown on Sami culture. Her delicious blueberry pie helped us through the night when temperatures dropped to -35°C. Cake and coffee really do make the best defence against the cold.

I came back from Finland with memories of the aurora borealis dancing across the sky and a determination to recreate Tuula’s gluten free mustikkapiirakka. It’s not a pie made with pastry, in fact it’s more of a cake and is perfect served with strong coffee and the Scandinavian weather we’ve been having.

Mustikkapiirakka (Finnish Blueberry Pie)

150g soft butter
225g caster sugar
2 eggs
200g rice flour
1 tsp baking powder
400g blueberries
250ml sour cream
50ml buttermilk
vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan) and grease a 10" loose-bottomed tart tin with butter.

Cream together the butter and 150g of the sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in one of the eggs and a generous splash of vanilla extract, before sifting over and folding in the flour and baking powder. You should be left with a fairly stiff batter. Spread the batter over the bottom and up the sides of the tin ans scatter the blueberries over the top.

Whisk together the sour cream, buttermilk, remaining sugar, egg and another generous splash of vanilla and pour the mixture over the blueberries. Bake for 30 minutes then turn the oven down to 160°C (140°C fan) and bake for a further 30 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the pie inside the cooling oven for a further 10 minutes. Place the tin on a wire rack to cool completely before taking the pie out of its tin to serve.