The karjalanpiirakka is a small, open, filled pastry with a thin, crispy crust, and between 7-20 cm in length. It is usually oval shaped, but can also be round. The crust usually makes up about a third of the entire product and the filling accounts for about two-thirds. The production of karjalanpiirakka starts by cooking the filling, which is usually a purée of barley, rice or mashed potato; however other mashed vegetables (e.g. swede or rutabaga, carrot, turnip, stewed cabbage or mushrooms) may also be used. When prepared with rice or barley, the grains are first boiled in milk. The dough for the crust is made from water, salt and rye or wheat flour. The dough is rolled as thin as possible, almost translucent, into round shapes (called piirakka). The thinness ensures a crispy crust for the karjalanpiirakka. The edges of the dough are brought up over the filling and crimped. The pie can be coated in butter, oil, milk, water or an egg wash before baking. The piirakka is then placed into a hot oven (about 250-300 °C) for 15-20 minutes. The rapid baking time and high heat are necessary to ensure the pie does not dry out. Filled savory pies like this are common in this part of the world. The open, oval shaped karjalanpiirakka has its origins in Karelia, a historical region now divided between Finland and Russia. The first written reference to karjalanpiirakka dates back to 1686. The dish originally spread during the 1600s and 1700s to southern Finland and even into Sweden through Karelian migrants. During and following World War II, approximately 420,000 Karelians evacuated to mainland Finland, bringing their food culture with them. Today, it is still made both for home consumption and commercial sale. However, traditional home baking is decreasing, as the baking process has many stages and is time consuming. Similar, industrial produced pies called riisipiirakka (rice pastry) threaten to take the place of the traditional karjalanpiirakka. Though it is considered a national dish of Finland, the quality and history of the pie in its original, traditional form may be lost if the knowledge of how to prepare it from scratch from quality ingredients is not carried on by younger generations.
Image: Slow Food Archive