My 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
- 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
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The finished cookies, even when completely cool, are pretty fragile: not suitable for shipping during the holidays, I suspect.
In a airtight container at room temperature for about a week.