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For the holidays, Karelian Pies, Savory and Sweet

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

From Karelia, shared by Finland and Russia, comes the beautiful tradition of karjalanpiirakka, hand pies filled with custardy whole grain porridge, baked in a thin rye crust. They are a marvelous, delicious way to celebrate the naturally nutty, luscious goodness of whole grains. Karjalanpiirakka date back to the 17th century and are enjoying a fashionable revival in local eateries. Traditionally lathered in butter and topped with chopped boiled eggs cut with butter, my plant-based versions celebrate the goodness of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Delicious fare for any holiday table.

Prep time about 2 hours

Bake time 30 minutes per batch

Makes 12 hand pies (4 tomato, 4 potato and onion, 4 apple, 4 plum)

Filling (makes about 7 1/2 cups)

150 grams (about 3/4 cup) rye berries

150 grams (about 3/4 cup) hull-less or hulled barley

150 grams (about 3/4 cup) steel-cut oats

3 cups water

2 to 3 cups unsweetened almond or other low-fat plant-based milk

For Savory

1 shallot, sliced thinly and dry sautéed

¼ teaspoon herbes de Province or dried thyme leaves

3/4 cup frozen petite peas, defrosted

1 teaspoon shiro (mild white) miso paste (optional)

For Sweet

1 cup raisins, rehydrated and drained

¼ cup pine nuts

¼ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary needles


For Savory

1 pound Campari or similar tomatoes, cut in half at the equator and roasted, juices reserved

¾ teaspoon herbes de Provence or dried thyme

2 large yellow potatoes, cut in ¼-inch slices, baked in parchment and pan-toasted

Several grinds of black pepper to taste

1 medium red onion, sliced thinly, dry sautéed

¼ cup dry vermouth to deglaze pan

¼ cup shiro miso powder (optional)

For Sweet

4 to 5 pink-fleshed Lucy Rose or similar baking apples, quartered, core removed, cut in 1/8-inch slices

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

½ 12-ounce carton apple juice concentrate to make ¼ cup reduction to deglaze pan and to glaze the pastry


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

Hint 1: To save time, cook the whole grain filling, toppings, and apple glaze up 3 days in advance.

Hint 2: If your oven does not heat evenly throughout, bake in batches on the middle rack.

1. To make the apple glaze reduction, empty half a frozen carton of concentrate into a saucepan and simmer on low until it has reduced by half and coats the back of a teaspoon. Cool. If the glaze becomes too dense to easily apply with a bristle pastry brush, thin with a teaspoon of water.

2. To make the filling, combine the whole grains with water in a medium saucepan and boil for 5 minutes. Turn off heat, cover, and steep for about 50 minutes or until the grains are swollen, and have absorbed most of the water. Add 2 cups of almond milk, and simmer on low, stirring frequently to prevent sticking and to encourage the oats to release its starch, until tender but intact, about 50 minutes. If the mix dries, add another ½-cup of plant milk. The oats will thicken into a creamy binder; the rye and barley should be soft and slightly chewy. Cool and refrigerate until Step 6.

3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Fold a large sheet of parchment in half and place the potato slices in one layer. Fold the open sides over two or three times and staple the seams every 3 inches to create your parchment bag. Place on a cookie sheet and roast on the upper oven rack for 1 hour, flipping it gently over at 30 minutes. Set side.

4. Set the tomatoes, cut side up, on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Sprinkle with the dried herbs and roast along with the potatoes on the middle rack for 40 to 50 minutes or until soft and juicy with some darkening on their cut edges. Cool, transfer to a lidded container and store in the fridge until use. Right before baking, drain as much of the tomato juices as possible into a small bowl to use to glaze the savory pies in Step 12.

5. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Dry sauté the sliced shallots and the red onion in separate batches, deglazing the pan with dry vermouth once the alliums darken the pan, scraping up their sugars with a wooden spoon. Set each aside. Now reheat the pan and dry sauté the apples and plums, in separate batches, flipping them the slices as they turn golden on the bottom, deglazing the pan with a few tablespoons of apple glaze or vermouth as their sugars darken the pan. Set each aside.

6. Reheat the whole grain porridge over very low heat, stirring often. It will thin slightly as it warms. We are looking for a dense custardy porridge that is thick and creamy. Once warm, if it remains dry, add up to ½ cup of plant milk to revive its creaminess. Transfer equal portions to two mixing bowls, stirring in the shallots, peas, and dry herbs into one. seasoning it with shiro miso to taste (optional). Add the plump, drained raisins, pine nuts, and chopped rosemary into the other bowl.

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

8. Add the flours and soy yogurt to the bowl of a food processor and run until the mix gathers into a soft dough in about 2 minutes. If it is crumbly and doesn’t gather, add a teaspoon of yogurt and reprocess. If the mix is too wet to gather, add a spoonful of white whole wheat flour. We are looking for a soft, pliant dough.

9. On a large cutting board, knead the dough for 2 minutes or until it begins to tighten and becomes difficult to knead. Roll it into a thick cylinder, about 1¼-inches thick, and 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.

10. Very lightly flour the dough disk with the white whole wheat flour and using a rolling pin or wood dowel, roll it in both directions as thinly as possible, flipping and dusting with flour as necessary into an oval roughly 9 by 7 inches. Don’t worry if they are irregular or slightly smaller or larger. A rustic appearance is part of Karelian pies’ charm. Cover lightly with wrap and repeat for the remaining disks of dough.

11. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment. Place the first dough oval on the cutting board. Fill with savory or sweet filling, mounding it about 1-inch high and leaving an inch border all around. Use a small bristle brush to apply either the reserved tomato juices (for savory pies) or apple glaze (for sweet pies) on the dough perimeter. Now fold the dough over the filling, pinching it lightly to create pretty pleats (see photo).

12. Use a large spatula to transfer it to the parchment. Brush the dough with glaze. Make the remaining pies, sweet or savory, placing them an inch apart on the parchment. You should be able to fit 6 Karelian pies on each cookie sheet. If your oven cooks evenly, bake them simultaneously on two oven racks; otherwise bake in two batches on the middle rack.

13. Remove in 15 minutes. Add your preferred topping, overlapping the tomatoes, or potatoes and onions, or apples, or plums attractively. Brush on another coat of savory or sweet glaze over the dough and topping. If the dough has already darkened in places, to prevent burning lay a large sheet of parchment paper loosely over them and return them to the oven.

14. 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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