Finnish Sweets and Treats

Puuro is about as Finnish as you can get.  At every breakfast (and even at some dinners) we were offered porridge - sometimes made from oats, sometimes including rice, usually just semolina.  Finns eat porridge sweet or salty, with chocolate, whipped with berries, filled with cream or just plain.  It feels like a northern, cold-weather dish.  And, filled with tart berries from the arctic fells?  Through the intense sourness, with a purple stained tongue, one might admit that they tasted the essence of Finland's sweets culture - not too sugary, a wholesome base, decidedly quirky.
Porvoo is twee.  It's tearooms are chintzy.  Runeberg tart, it's local specialty, is delicious.  We picked this one out at Cafe Fanny, from a lineup of more staid treats.  Made from almond flour, jam and rum, Runebergs are surprisingly light.
Porvoo is known for its sweets, and its easy to get tempted often - there are chocolates, licorices and caramels in every window, begging to be gobbled up.  But this is something of a Finnish anomaly.  In fact, we found that Finns generally like more solid, less sweet, decidedly nordic treats.
The waitress at Bagarstugan Café & Vin, in Mariehamn, asked if I wanted my Ålandspannkaka with strawberry jam (she shook her head no and frowned) or the traditional prune cream (she smiled and nodded her head yes).  I took the hint and went with the prunes.
Ålands "pannkaka" bears very little resemblance to most pancakes - it's a dense, rice cake that's springy with egg and often served cold.  Rice flour seems like a strange ingredient to find on a cold archipelago in the Baltic Sea, but the Åland shipping industry connected the islands with Asia and the Pacific for centuries.  Because growing grains in the harsh climate was so difficult, a lot were imported anyway - why not rice?
The prune "cream" was more of a compote, and was the perfect sweetness to accompany the rich pannkaka.  When the waitress asked if I wanted whipped cream, she was nodding and smiling again.
Hillomunakas is a close relative to the Ålands pancake, but it's generally treated a little more roughly.  I found this example in a grubby, gas-station display case in Inari; precut, pre-jammed, several hours (or days) old.  On a cold day, with coffee, it didn't matter.
Basically a sweetened, slightly floured omelette, hillomunakas is usually served with jam.  In fact, some Finns translate the name to "jam omelette," which doesn't quite do the thing justice. It's more of an egg cake, browned in the broiler and topped with preserves or berries.  I did see more appealing versions, but they weren't handy when I needed them most.
At breakfast buffets and roadside joints, hyper sweetened strawberry preserve or orange marmalade has begun to encroach upon Finnland's own fruit traditions.  But the further north you go, the tarter, smaller and more woodsy the berries get.  Mustikka (bilberries, similar to blueberries), puolukka (lingonberries), vadelmat (tiny, wild raspberries) and even karpalot (cranberries) are common in the upper regions of the country, while the orangish tyrni (sea buckthorn) is a coastal delicacy.
Our hostesses in Sevettijärvi, where we stayed on a reindeer farm, served us their gourmet take on the woodland fruits: homemade bilberry icecream and buttery crepes with lingonberries.
Another common gas-station find are the silly sounding munkki donuts, which differ not a bit from other donuts.  I had this one at the Siida museum, after a heavy plate of reindeer casserole.  It had everything one wants in a donut - sugar, fat and a hole.  The surprise?  It was also made with whole wheat flour.
Like everyone, Finns love their ice cream.  They also like doing interesting things with it.  At the Hotel Kuntahovi, in Inari, I was served a "smoke sauna" dessert: tar flavored ice cream and birch-leaf sorbet.  It was... smokey.  At Porvoo's cosmopolitan, excellent Bistro Sinne, I was given this licorice ice cream. It was custardy, tasty and local (Porvoo is known for their licorice).
The most common tart in Finnland turns out... not to be sweet at all.  Karjalanpiirakat, from the Karelian region of Finnland, near the Russian border, surprised us on the first try.  What is it?  A thin, toothsome rye crust filled with rice and butter.  That's all.  To the skeptical, I'll say that it's much more delicate than it sounds. To the disappointed, I'll say: try it with some jam.
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