Runeberg's Torte / Runebergintorttu

We are now into February, traditionally the coldest month of the year in Finland - at least in my experience during the last four years spent here.  More than once I have found myself walking down Aleksanterinkatu or Esplanade on a frigid, windy February day, hat pulled firmly down over my ears, scarf wrapped around my face so only my eyes are visible, and hood pulled as far forward as it'll go, with the sharp fingers of the wind tugging at the hem of my long, down jacket and biting through my wool pants, the long johns underneath, pricking the tender skin below.  It's no wonder, as Richard D. Lewis writes in Finland, the Cultural Lone Wolf, that Finns are not the most talkative bunch.  As Lewis astutely remarks, you wouldn't have much time for small talk either in the weather conditions I described above.  Best to restrict your communication to a cursory nod when meeting a familiar face on the street in the winter, and beat tracks as quickly as possible to the nearest indoor space for warmth and comfort. (This isn't entirely true - most Finns I've met are friendly and amiable people, but the stereotype continues nevertheless!)

But it's February, and there is a bright mark on the landscape:  Runebergintorttu.  Runeberg's torte is a pastry rumored to have been created by Frederika Runeberg, wife of Finland's national poet, Johan Ludvig Runeberg.  Made with almond flour, texture added through the use of leftover bread crumbs, and topped with a dollop of raspberry jam and a circle of sugar frosting, Runeberg's tortes are traditionally consumed from early January to February 5th, when Runeberg's day is officially celebrated in Finland.

And what, you may ask, is so special about J. L. Runeberg?  In my homeland the USA, poets are rarely celebrated.  If they are, it is during a short stint as U.S. Poet Laureate - well deserving talents such as Robert Frost, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver may have their poems read and recited throughout the country by those who appreciate fine verse - but never have I heard of a pastry marking the anniversary of a poet the way I have seen here in Finland.  But Runeberg is no ordinary poet.  His words are those to which the Finnish flag is raised and which every Finn, both Finnish and Swedish speaking, know by heart from an early age: the words of the Finnish National Anthem based on Runeberg's Tales of the Ensign Stål:  Maamme (Finnish); Vårt land (Swedish); Our Land.

Maamme                                                                               Our Land
                                                                                               (translation from the Finnish version)

  Oi Maamme, Suomi, synnyinmaa,                                       Oh our land, Finland, fatherland,
  soi, sana kultainen!                                                              echo loudly, golden word!
  Ei laakso, ei kukkulaa                                                          No valley, no hill, 
  ei vettä, rantaa rakkampaa                                                  no water, shore more dear,
  kuin kotimaa tää pohjoinen,                                                than this northern homeland,
  maa kallis isien.                                                                   this precious land of our fathers.

  Sun kukoistukses kuorestaan                                               One day from your bud
  kerrankin puhkeaa;                                                             you will bloom;
  viel' lempemme saa nousemaan                                         From our love shall rise
  sun toivos riemus loistossaan,                                            your hope your glorious joy,
  ja kerran laulus, synnyinmaa                                             and once in song, fatherland
  korkeemman kaiun saa.                                                     higher still will ring.

Source for original and translation courtesy of Wikipedia.

It's seems fitting that in Finland's coldest month, throughout Finland we enjoy a fine pastry dedicated to a poet who captured the Finnish spirit in words of quiet hope and firm pride.  We may still be firmly in Winter's grip, but Spring is just around the corner.  So I started my morning J. L. Runeberg style:  with a sweet almond pastry and a cup of coffee, looking out over the frozen landscape knowing that the buds will bloom someday soon.

The recipe below is not the traditional recipe.  Why?  Well...  I flipped through pages of the Helsingsanomat's Torstai section this Thursday morning and found their recipe for Runebergintorttu.  The list of ingredients included 1 cup / 2 dl of heavy cream and my heart nearly stopped there.  Nope.  Not gonna happen.  (I substituted Greek yogurt instead). The original recipe also calls for bread crumbs (I used oatmeal) and wheat flour (I used spelt flour and wheat germ) and no salt, so I've done some heavy adaptation to create a lighter, brighter version, including the use of Blood Orange Juice for color and flavor instead of the traditional sugar water or punch to moisten the cakes.  Also, though these are typically made in a special pan that gives a tall shape with straight sides, I don't have such a pan in my kitchen and suspect you don't either.  I used a standard 12-cup muffin tin, with no adverse effects. The results are a bit healthier than Frederika's work, but are, in my humble opinion, delicious.

Hyvää ruokahaluaa!  Enjoy!

Runebergintortut / Runeberg’s torte, reconstructed

·     1 cup spelt flour / 2 dl  (can use wheat flour if you prefer)
·      1/2 cup / 1 dl wheat germ / grahamjauho
·      2 teaspoons baking powder
·      1.5  teaspoons cardamom
·      ½ teaspoon salt
    3/4 cup / 200g butter
·      1/2 cup / 1 dl white sugar
·      1/2 cup / 1 dl brown sugar
·      2 eggs
·      1 1/2 cup / 3 dl almond flour
·      1/2 cup / 1 dl oatmeal
·      1 cup / 2 dl Greek yogurt or Turkish yogurt (2% - 3.5% milk fat)

    For moistening:
·      Juice of one orange + 1 tablespoon sugar, heated just until sugar dissolves
    For decoration:
·      Raspberry jam
·      1/2 cup / 1 dl Powdered sugar + a few drops of blood orange juice to make a frosting

Preheat oven to 200°C.  Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable oil.

1.  Mix:
Combine the flour, wheat germ, baking powder, cardamom and salt in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until all the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, beat until thoroughly combined.  Add the Greek yogurt, almond flour and oatmeal, and beat until thoroughly combined. 

Pour the flour mixture into the wet mixture and fold it in with a rubber spatula until all ingredients are fully combined and there are no dry spots left.

2.  Bake:
Divide the batter evenly between the 12 muffin tins.  Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Remove from oven and allow the tortes to cool for 5 minutes in the pan.  Remove from pan and place on a wire rack.  Allow them to cool completely. 

3.  Assemble:
Juice one blood orange.  Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Carefully poke holes in the top of each torte with a fork and pour 1 tablespoon of the juice mixture over each. 

Combine the 1/2 cup powdered sugar and enough blood orange juice to make a thick, slightly runny frosting.  Spoon the frosting into a small plastic bag and zip or tie the bag shut.  Cut a very small hole in the bottom corner of the bag.

Place a spoonful of raspberry jam on the top each torte in the center.  Pipe a circle of the frosting around each mound of jam. 

Serves 12.

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