In northern Europe, the region of Karelia straddles the contentious border between Finland and Russia. As with many lands and communities throughout the world, that which is divided by politics remains united by food. The Karelian pie may possess as many monikers as it does regional adaptations, but the characteristic elliptical shape, ruffled edges, and golden-flecked interior remain consistent across borders.
Also referred to as a Karelian pasty, karel’skiy pirog (Russian), or karjalanpiirakka (Finnish), this traditional pastry once featured a mostly rye flour dough crimped around a simple porridge. Today, the dough is often made more supple with the addition of wheat flour, while creamy fillings featuring potato or an indulgent mixture of milk and short-grain rice (such as arborio) make for rich, pudding-like centers. Once it’s ready, bakers brush the hot pastry with butter (sometimes mixed with egg yolk) and occasionally top the finished pie with a diced hard boiled egg.
The name karjalanpiirakka in particular has earned the heritage-affirming status of Traditional Speciality Guaranteed from the European Union, meaning a pastry must be made according to a few traditional techniques to earn the Finnish moniker. Some of these requirements include a quick, high-temperature bake to form a crispy outer crust and an open piirakka (Finnish for pie) that exposes the pastry’s interiors.
While Karelians may raise the flag of different nations, the same creamy-centered, crimped-crust pies bring them together around the table.