Use It or Lose It! Finnish Jam Tarts

finnish-jam-tartsMy great-grandfather emigrated from Finland. From which area of the country, I have no idea, since talking about our roots is not something that we really do in my family. Despite the fact that I remember him (although I thought, as a child of 3 or so, that he was my grandmother’s husband, not her father: there’s no difference between 60 and 80 years old when you are a kid, I guess), I know very little about him, save his name: Hjalmar Johnson. And, let’s face it, I could be spelling “Hylmar” (pronounced “yahl-mer”) wrong (With Ovela’s help below, I’m pretty sure “Hjalmar” is the correct spelling) and “Johnson” was probably anglicized from a variant of Johansson; something more Scandinavian, more consonant-and-umlaut-packed.

My dad died in 1990: the time when I could have picked his brain for stories of his Finnish grandfather is long past. But there is one great story: years ago, long after my Dad’s death, a friend sent my Mom a story cut out of our hometown newspaper, the Gloucester Daily Times. Strangely enough, the story was about my great-grandfather: how he had been a stonemason in Finland, how when he emigrated from Finland he had landed (like so many European immigrants) at Canada’s Cape Breton, and upon landing, basically said (in his best broken Finglish, I’m sure) “Where are the Finns at?

He was told there was a community of Finns in Rockport, MA, working in the granite quarries there. So: he walked to Rockport. From Nova Scotia. Approximately 800 miles, with little more than the clothes on his back. My mother often refers to this story in the context of illustrating the stubbornness of me or my dad. “Do you see what I have to put up with?” she’ll say. I prefer to think of it as stick-to-itiveness: a quality you’ll need, too, if you intend to tackle these Finnish jam tarts.

Don’t get me wrong, these little tarts (according to Mari below, called “joulutorttu” or ‘tähtitorttu” in Finnish; reason enough to make them, no?) are fabulous: the pastry is a cross between a pie crust and a shortbread cookie; buttery, flaky, delicious. The jam is just sweet-tart enough to offset the rich pastry, and well, they’re gorgeous and impressive. Definitely a gift-giving cookie if ever I saw one. But here’s the thing: they really do take some work. Between the rolling, cutting squares, slicing edges, dolloping jam and folding corners, I spent an entire day making this batch of tarts. They are not complicated, but they are time-consuming: consider your forewarned.

The strangest part of that random newspaper article on my great-grandfather? There was a picture that accompanied the article, of him as a young(ish) man: my father had looked exactly like his grandfather. And I look exactly like my dad. I keep thinking that one day, when I finally travel to Finland, I’ll find an entire country of people who look just like me.

Adapted from Jam Tarts from Finland by Sweet Paul Magazine

finnish-jam-tartsFinnish Jam Tarts

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 oz (1 cup) butter, soft
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 small egg, or 1 egg yolk
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 2 cups flour (I used whole white wheat)
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream
  • about 1 pint jam (I used a half-pint each of peach forsythia chile and strawberry jam)
  • powdered sugar

METHODS

  1. In a large bowl, combine butter, salt, egg, cream cheese, flour and heavy cream with your hands until a uniform, sticky dough forms. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours (or overnight).
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove dough from refrigerator and allow to warm slightly for rolling. Cut dough in half; refrigerate one half while you work on the other. Roll out one half of the dough, on a well-floured board, until approximately ⅛-inch thick. Cut into 3-inch squares, then slice each corner, leaving about an inch of solid dough in the middle of each square. Transfer to a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet. Dollop about a teaspoon of jam on the center of each square, then fold in every other corner to form a pinwheel shape. Take care to push each folded in corner down well, in the center and at the edges, so it does not spring open during baking.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until golden and crisp at the edges, about 15 minutes. Cool for several minutes on the pan, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar to finish.

Yields about 4 dozen 3-inch tarts.

finnish-jam-tartsOPTIONS

  1. The recipe yields a lot of tarts; which take all day long to prepare. I have no idea why the original recipe claimed that it made “14″ tarts; but next time, I would make the entire recipe of dough, yet freeze half of it for a later date. Two dozen cookies is plenty, thanks.
  2. I made both 3-inch and 2 ½-inch sizes; the 3-inch definitely worked better in terms of folding in the corners and getting them to stay down while baking.
  3. I used two jams: one a more traditional set (the strawberry) and one a loose, Ferber-esque preserve, with fruit suspended in syrup (the peach). Not surprisingly, the strawberry jam worked a bit better, as the peach syrup tended to run during baking; but they both tasted amazing, so there’s that.
  4. While pretty fat-laden, this is a quite low-sugar dessert: the pastry has no sugar at all and the tarts would easily work well with a low-sugar or no-sugar-added jam, making it a good choice for diabetics or for those who wish to avoid processed sweeteners. I would not recommend, however, skipping the powdered sugar dusting: the tarts look a little naked without it, and the sugar you are adding is minimal.
  5. The finished cookies, even when completely cool, are pretty fragile: not suitable for shipping during the holidays, I suspect.

STORE

In a airtight container at room temperature for about a week.

SEASON

Holidays.

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32 comments

  1. Trini

    What a great variation of the humble jam tart! These look delicious, and so pretty…I’m always looking for bite sized treats for special occasions that look great, and this recipe looks perfect.

  2. Amalia

    These look good! May have to give them a whirl. Have you ever made Hammentashen? Not even sure I am spelling that right. My niece and I made them when she was still little. I have been looking for the recipe she wrote out when we made them and can’t find it in my stack of magazine tear ousts of “I’ll have to try that some time” recipes. :-(

  3. oooo…beautiful pictures. I want to make these with your sour cherry bam! I have to pawn my children off on someone so I can have a day of baking all to myself. I actually think I have a cookie cutter specifically for pinwheel cookies somewhere!

    • That probably would speed things along. Although I should note that these aren’t frustrating to make: the dough rolls out like a dream and is really easy to handle (cream cheese always does that I find); they just take a long time. Of course, it was also my first time making them, or any pinwheel cookie: I’m sure with some practice it would move right along.

  4. Judging by sight and the cream cheese in the dough, these seem similar to a Czech family recipe of ours for kolaches. The ones my grandmother made (from her mother-in-law’s recipe) are a cookie with jam (thumbprint style)–very different from the kolaches I’ve seen in Texas (which, to me, more closely resemble a danish). I’ll have to see just how close the recipes are. For us, we use a small biscuit cutter and press in a mere 1/4tsp of jam (apricot or cherry, generally).

    • Yes, I probably overdid it a bit on the jam: the recipe called for 1 tsp (not much for a 3-inch cookie) but I was a bit more generous with the jam. I think they are prettier with the smaller amount though: I just couldn’t help myself!

  5. Thanks for posting this! It warms my heart, especially because Finland is my homeland too. We call them ‘joulutorttu,’ or ‘tähtitorttu,’ which means “star tart,” and usually make them with plum jam. Your post made me so nostalgic I might just bake some too!

    • Ovela

      Your tarts look great!

      Adding to Mari “torttu” obviously means tart, while “joulu” is Christmas and “tähti” a star. I double Mari on the plum jam, it’s the real deal here! Nowadays many Finns don’t bother baking the dough, though, as they can buy ready frozen slices from any grocery store.

      Also, according to the pronunciation you described, your great-grandfather’s name would be spelled Jalmar (it might also have been Jalmari when he was in Finland). It’s an old-fashioned name that’s not common anymore. The family name could be Jonsson, a Swedish name, obviously meaning Jon’s son. Or also Johansson, as you guessed.

      Having Swedish family names is common in Finland, as there’s a Swedish speaking minority and Sweden ruled over Finland some centuries ago.

  6. The tarts look amazing! I’m not sure when, but I will have to try making them at some point. More than the tarts, though, I love the story about your great-grandfather! 800 miles??? That’s intense. I love the dedication!

  7. Pingback: Finglish On Uusien Sukupolvien ja Sosiaalisen Median Valta Kieli. | Annalyysi

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  9. savannagal

    I make these every year for the holidays and no matter what I do they open up. I’ve even stuck toothpicks into the middle through the layers to try and hold them down. The only thing that did was burn the toothpicks. When I pulled out the picks pieces of the cookies broke off. I tell everyone how hard I worked to get mine to open up like they do, and everyone gets a good laugh. They still taste great. Happy holidays!

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