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For the holidays, Karelian Pies, Savory and Sweet

Updated: May 27

From Karelia, the land of lakes that straddles Finland and Russia, comes the beautiful tradition of karjalanpiirakka. These hand pies are filled with custardy whole grain porridge and baked in a thin rye crust. Karelian pies date back to the seventeenth century and are enjoying a fashionable revival in local Finnish eateries today. Traditionally they are lathered in butter and topped with chopped boiled eggs. This climate-friendly recipe sidesteps the eggs and butter, and showcases whole grains, vegetables, and fruits instead. To demonstrate their versatility, here are two sweet and two savory versions, but feel free to make one or all using the produce you have on hand. To help manage your time, make the porridge, toppings, and apple glaze up to three days in advance.

Prep time about 2 hours

Bake time 30 minutes per batch

Makes 12 hand pies (3 tomato, 3 potato and onion, 3 apple, 3 plum)

Prep about 2 hours

Bake 30 minutes per batch

Makes 12 hand pies (3 tomato, 3 potato and onion, 3 apple, 3 plum)

Porridge (about 7½ cups)

150 grams (about ¾ cup) rye berries

150 grams (about ¾ cup) hull-less or hulled barley

150 grams (about ¾ cup) steel-cut oats

3 cups water

2 to 3 cups unsweetened almond milk

1 shallot, sliced thinly

¼ teaspoon dried thyme leaves

¾ cup frozen petite peas, defrosted

1 teaspoon shiro (mild white) miso paste

1 cup raisins, rehydrated and drained

¼ cup pine nuts

¼ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary needles


Savory Toppings

1 pound small ripe tomatoes, cut in half and roasted, juices reserved

¾ teaspoon herbes de Provence or dried thyme

2 large yellow potatoes, cut in ¼-inch slices, baked in a parchment bag

1 medium red onion, sliced thinly

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary needles

¼ cup dry vermouth to deglaze pan

1 teaspoon shiro (mild, white) miso paste

several grinds of black pepper to taste


Sweet Toppings

½ carton apple juice concentrate from a 12-ounce carton, defrosted, to make ¼ cup reduction to deglaze pan and to glaze pastry

4 to 5 pink-fleshed Lucy Rose or other baking apples, quartered, core removed, cut in ⅛-inch slices

6 to 8 ripe plums or pluots, pitted, cut in ¼-inch slices



150 grams (about 1 cup plus 4 teaspoons) whole rye flour

75 grams (about 1½ cups plus 1 tablespoon) white whole wheat flour plus ¼ cup more for kneading and rolling the dough

138 grams (about ½ cup) soy yogurt

Make the Porridge Filling

  1. To make the porridge, combine the whole rye berries, whole barley, and steel-cut oats in 3 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover, and allow the grain to steep for about 50 minutes or until the grains are swollen and have absorbed most of the water.

  2. Stir in 2 cups of almond milk, bring to a low simmer. Cook until the whole grains are tender but intact, about 50 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking and to encourage the oats to release their creamy starches. If the mix dries, add more almond milk.

  3. Remove the pot from the heat when the porridge is cooked. As the oats cool, they will thicken into a creamy binder for the soft and slightly chewy rye and barley.

  4. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the sliced shallots and sauté them dry.

  5. Deglaze the pan with a splash of dry vermouth when the shallots have released their liquid and begun to darken the pan, scraping up their sugars with a wooden spoon.

  6. Place the raisins in a small bowl and pour very hot water over them to rehydrate and soften them. Drain after 15 minutes.

  7. Reheat the whole grain porridge over very low heat, stirring often. It will thin slightly as it warms. We are looking for a dense porridge custard that is thick and creamy. Once warmed, if the porridge is dry, stir in up to ½ cup of almond milk to revive its creaminess.

  8. Divide the porridge equally into two mixing bowls. In one bowl stir in the sautéed shallots, peas, and dry thyme into one bowl, and season it shiro (mild, white) miso to taste. We will use this savory porridge with savory vegetable toppings.

  9. To the other bowl of porridge, stir in the plump, drained raisins, pine nuts, and chopped rosemary into the other bowl. We will use this porridge with sweet fruit toppings.


Make the Savory Toppings

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

  2. Fold a large sheet of parchment in half and place the potato slices in one layer on the lower half of parchment. Fold the upper half over to cover the potatoes, roll the open sides up 2 or 3 times and staple the seams every 3 inches to create a parchment bag. Place on a cookie sheet and roast the potatoes on the upper oven rack for 1 hour, flipping it gently over after 30 minutes. Set side.

  3. Set the tomatoes, cut side up, on another cookie sheet, lined with parchment. Sprinkle with the dried herbs and roast on the middle oven rack as you roast the potatoes but for about 40 minutes or until soft and juicy with some darkening on their cut edges.

  4. Remove the tomatoes from the oven when ready. When they are cool, transfer them to a lidded container and store in the fridge until use. The roasted tomatoes will release delicious juices as they cool. Reserve this liquid to use as a glaze for the savory pies when they are ready to bake.

  5. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the sliced red onion and chopped rosemary needles and sauté them without adding liquids.

  6. After the onion has softened, released their liquid and begun to caramelize, darkening the pan, deglaze the pan with a splash of dry vermouth and scrape up the onion sugars with a wooden spoon.

  7. Season the sautéed onions with shiro miso paste and grinds of black pepper.

  8. When the potatoes are finished roasting, transfer them from the parchment bag to a bowl or plate and combine them with the sautéed, seasoned onions.


Make the Sweet Toppings

  1. To make the apple glaze, empty half a frozen carton of concentrate into a saucepan and simmer on low until it has reduced by half. When the glaze is ready, it will coat the back of a teaspoon. Cool. The glaze will thicken as it cools. If it later becomes too dense to easily apply with a pastry brush, thin with a teaspoon of water.

  2. Reheat the nonstick skillet on medium for 2 minutes. In separate batches cook the apples and plums, flipping the slices as they turn golden on the bottom.

  3. Deglaze the pan with a few tablespoons of apple glaze or vermouth as the fruit sugars begin to darken the pan.

  4. The apples and plums are ready when they are soft, juicy, but intact.


Make the Pie Dough

  1. Remove the upper oven rack and preheat the oven to 450°F.

  2. Add the rye and white whole wheat flour and soy yogurt to the bowl of a food processor. Run the processor until the mix gathers into a soft dough, about 2 minutes. If the dough is dry and crumbly and doesn’t gather into a ball, add a teaspoon of yogurt and reprocess. If the dough is too wet to gather into a ball, add a spoonful of white whole wheat flour. The ball of dough should be smooth and as soft as a baby’s earlobe.

  3. On a large cutting board, knead the dough for 2 minutes or until it begins to tighten and becomes difficult to knead.

  4. Use your hands to roll it into a thick cylinder, about 1 ¼-inches in diameter.

  5. Then, using a knife or bench scraper, cut the cylinder into 12 equal pieces. Remove one and cover the rest tightly in wrap to prevent drying.

  6. Use white whole wheat flour to lightly dust a board. Using a rolling pin or wooden dowel, roll the piece of dough vertically and horizontally as thinly as possible, flipping and dusting it with flour as necessary to prevent sticking, to create an oval roughly 9 by 7 inches. Don’t worry if its shape is irregular or slightly smaller or larger. A rustic appearance is part of Karelian pies’ charm. Cover lightly with wrap and repeat with the remaining 11 pieces of dough.


Fill and Bake Karelian Hand Pies

  1. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

  2. Place the first dough oval on the cutting board. Fill with savory or sweet porridge filling. Mound it 1-inch high and leave an inch border all around the perimeter. Fold the dough over the filling, pinching it lightly to create pretty pleats.

  3. Use a large spatula to transfer each filled pie to the lined cookie sheet, spacing them an inch apart. You should be able to fit six Karelian pies on each cookie sheet.

  4. Use a pastry brush to apply the reserved roasted tomato juices over the dough and savory fillings, and the apple glaze on the dough and fruit fillings.

  5. If your oven cooks evenly, bake the pies on two cookie sheets simultaneously on the upper two oven racks. If not, bake them in two batches sequentially on the middle rack.

  6. Remove the trays after baking them for 15 minutes.

  7. Add the vegetable toppings to the pies filled with savory porridge, and the fruit toppings to the pies filling with sweet porridge. Overlay the sliced tomatoes, potatoes and onions, apples, or plums.

  8. Brush on another coat of roasted tomato juices for savory pies or apple glaze for sweet pies over the dough and topping. If the dough has already darkened in places, to prevent burning lay a piece of parchment paper loosely over those pies and return them to the oven.

  9. Bake for up to 15 minutes, checking at 10 minutes for doneness. The pies are ready when the crust is golden and crisp, and the toppings are hot. Remove from the oven, glaze one final time and serve immediately on warmed plates.

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