– What do you like most about Finland?
– My husband…
There are not so many romantics left in the world, neither so much love, like Bianca and her love for her husband. I travelled quite a long way from Helsinki to Vantaa on a cold but bright Monday morning, for the first time in 4 years since we have known each other, to learn a traditional Romanian pastry: Hornet’s Nest (Cuib de Viespe) or Little Snails (Melcisori). This was also the first time I ever got acquainted with Romanian cuisine. The pastry had such a cosy taste, that reminded me, and possibly to anyone coming from any culture, of home, of my childhood, of my mother… And this pastry has exactly the same story for Bianca as well: “Mom used to make this pastry a lot. This version is a bit of a kid’s food, with milk and butter.”
Bianca and her Swedish-Finnish husband Andreas live in a small, cosy apartment in Vantaa with their giant cat Mauri. I met Mauri before once, when they brought him to our Juhannus picnic in Töölö. As many other cats, Mauri has his own personality, and you can never take him in your arms unless he feels like it.
Being an interior architect, you can see the designer’s touch in the apartment. The matching colours of the furniture, the beautiful patterns of fabrics around and added the music love and talent to that, a piano and a record player with many classical music vinyls lined up one after another. We started with Ravel’s Bolero and continued with my latest obsession, Chopin. Bianca was surprised to hear that I am also a big fan of Bach’s cello suites, which are quite dark at some level. Well, Bianca, if only you knew how dark I can get sometimes, I replied.
I learned quite a lot of things from Bianca that day. For instance, I learned how to make my own vanilla extract: take a 10 cl bottle of vodka, cut 1 vanilla pod in 2, put it inside the vodka bottle. Close the bottle and put it inside a cupboard for several months, it should be left in a dark place. Shake the bottle a little every now and then during those months.
That morning I also realised something about baking. I always believed that cooking / baking is a process, has a story. But that day when we were pouring the glaze over the hot rolls and Bianca told me that we should be hearing the sizzling sound of the poured glaze, I became aware of yet another dimension of baking process: hearing! While you are baking, have all your senses wide open, and you cannot make mistakes – at least not irrevocable ones!
Baking with Bianca was a soft and calm start to the week, and a very delicious one. I seriously could eat all the rolls on the tray… I do not have such a sweet tooth anymore, but this was a different experience. I missed my mother while I was eating… I can still smell the beautiful combination of milk and butter as I am writing these sentences…
200 ml. milk (use täysmaito, please!)
500 gr. cake flour
5 eggs, yolks only (you can use the whites to make meringues later for instance)
1/4 package of fresh yeast
1 tsp vanilla extract
150 gr. butter
150 gr. sugar
100 gr. sugar
200 ml. milk (still, täysmaito)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Ravel – Bolero
1. Preheat the oven to 225C.
2. Lukewarm milk in a saucepan.
4. Mix the ingredients in the bowl for a minute with your hand, breaking down the egg yolks and incorporating the yeast crumbs. Add milk gradually and start kneading. When the dough starts to come together, take it out of the bowl and put it in a clean surface to continue kneading easily (of course, if it is easier for you to continue kneading in the bowl, just do so). You can put a bit more milk if it does not feel enough. Knead for about 10 minutes, until you get a smooth, non sticky and soft dough. Put it back in the bowl, cover it with a clean cloth and leave it to rise for 30 minutes (until it is almost doubled in size). We put the bowl on the stove while the oven underneath was being heated; this helps the dough to rise easily, so you can do the same.
5. In a smaller bowl, put sugar and butter. Add vanilla extract to this and start mixing the ingredients with a wooden spoon until it gets creamy. Of course if you have a tool like a hand mixer, you can use that as well.
6. Now back to the dough: In the photos below, you can see how the final dough should be like. First, when you stick a finger it should make a whole and stay like that. Second, if you look at the base of it, you should see little bubbles. Third, some crust should start forming on the outer surface of the dough. If your dough looks like that, and it is doubled in size, then it is ready.
11. Cut the sausage dough as seen in the photo below, with each piece about 1.5/2 cm thick. Put the cut pieces on the oven tray. Leave about 2 cm space between the pieces. When the first batch is ready, put it in the oven, in the middle shelf. Bake for 18 minutes.
13. When the rolls are baked, take them out of the oven. Pour 2 tablespoons of glaze on each piece. Remember: while you are pouring the glaze, you should hear the sizzling sound! When all the pieces are covered with glaze, put the tray back in the oven for 2 more minutes. After 2 minutes, take the tray out, and serve the rolls immediately. While serving, you can pour a bit more of the glaze on the rolls, from the glaze that is left on the oven tray.
The best time to eat the rolls are when they are hot. I usually do not like the sweet pastries, cakes, cookies etc. when they are hot, because it feels too heavy, but these rolls do not feel heavy at all. They surely taste delicious also cold, but the freshly baked version is a whole other experience. If you have some left for the next day (if this is possible!!!), put them in the fridge to protect.