People in warmer climes have their carnivals, but in Finland the onset of Lent is celebrated with tobogganing followed by slow-cooked pea soup and Shrove buns (laskiaispulla/fastlagsbulle in Finland, semla in Sweden).
Pea soup landed here during the 12th-century Crusades when the Swedish crusaders would fortify themselves for the Friday fast by filling up on this hearty dish on Thursday, which is how pea soup became a traditional Thursday meal in both Finland and Sweden (later on followed by a dessert of oven-baked pancake). Naturally this was the first soup I thought of when reading about A Veggie Venture's Soup challenge.
The best pea soups are cooked in giant 100+-portion batches, and so my version is far, far larger than what I expected six lunchers to eat, especially knowing what was for dessert. (With two pounds of dried peas I really expected to have a week's worth of leftovers, but a lot of seconds were had. So, maybe three days' worth, then.) The soup is fairly predictable and gets its deep flavor from being cooked with a bit of smoked pork shank, but the buns...
I've already talked about our sweet buns at some length. Shrovetide buns are plain "pulla" buns with a filling of ground almonds and whipped cream (there is some controversy between righteous almond-proponents and blasphemers who prefer to corrupt the creamy Shrovetide experience with jam, which I won't go into beyond saying that I AM RIGHT). You can eat them as is, but the REAL way to go is to serve them on a deep plate with steaming hot milk. The bun soaks up amazing amounts of milk and becomes a warm, mushy mess, the whipped cream retains a bit of cool distinction before melting in your mouth, and the almond filling is the crowning glory, tangy and creamy and intensely almond-y.
1 kg (2 pounds) dried green peas (in Sweden they use yellow peas, so I'm sure you'd be OK with either)
5 l (1¼ gallons) water
1 kg (2 pounds) smoked pork shank (ask your butcher to cut it in two)
2 large onions
2 tsp dried marjoram
hot mustard to taste
salt (depending on how salty your meat was)
Rinse the peas and soak them overnight in plenty of water. Transfer (with the soaking water) to a large pot and bring to a boil. Peel the onions and cut them into chunks. Add the rest of the water and the pork, onions and marjoram and let simmer on a low heat for about two to three hours, until the peas go all mushy and start clouding and thickening the water.
Either I screwed up with the water or the recipe calls for way too much of it - this is supposed to be very thick and goopy. I wound up having to separate solids from the liquid for a while and reduce the latter by a good half or so, which was a bit of a pain. Next time I'll be conservative with the water and just add more as the peas soak it up.
Remove the pork shank from the pot and scrape the meat from the bone. Shred the meat into small pieces and place back in the pot. Season with hot mustard and pepper (and salt, if needed) to taste.
This is at its best made the day before and slowly reheated. It's served piping hot, with everyone adding more hot mustard and, in our family, garnishing with a dollop of smetana (sour cream).
makes 12 smallish buns, recipe from HBL 28/2/2006
for the buns:
50 g (1¾ oz) fresh yeast
200 ml (6¾ fl oz) milk
100 g (3½ oz) butter
4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
450 g (1 pound) flour
+ 1 egg, lightly whipped
for the filling:
about 4-5 tbsp half-and-half
1-2 tbsp melted butter
grated peel from ½ a lemon
250 g (9 oz) almond paste
1-2 drops bitter almond
plenty of hot milk
To make the buns: in a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in a few tbsp of milk. Melt the butter and pour in the rest of the milk. When the milk-butter mixture is lukewarm, add it to the yeast along with the cardamom, sugar, and egg. Mix in half the flour and work to a smooth, goopy dough. Let rest for a minute or two, then work in the rest of the flour in batches, kneading (or working with the dough hook in a mixer) until you have a shiny, springy dough. (You probably won't need all the flour - this is supposed to be a fairly loose dough.) Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise until doubled, about 40-60 minutes.
Gently press down the dough, kneading a few times, and cut into twelve pieces. Form each piece into a smooth, round bun (this is the part that gives me hives) and let rise for another 20 minutes or so on a baking sheet. Brush with lightly whipped egg and bake at 225°C for about 15 minutes. Cool on racks.
Once the buns are cooled, cut off about a third of the top and scrape off a bit of the bottom part. Take the scraped-out filling and mix it with the almond paste (easier if you've shredded it), lemon peel, bitter almond and enough butter and cream to form a soft paste.
Fill the bottom parts with almond mixture and pipe some whipped cream around the edges of the bun. Top with the caps you cut off earlier and dust with icing sugar.
Can be eaten as such or in a deep bowl with almost-boiling milk poured on top.