As we pursue to make traditional holiday dishes from around the world, I doubt that any will look as aesthetically appealing as joulutortut does.
It certainly requires a bit of extra finesse in order to get the joulutortut into its pinwheel shape, but a finished joulutortut pastry, especially with the color contrast between the golden pastry and the dark purple prune jam, is really, really beautiful.
What is Joulutortut?
While the name for the Finnish joulutortut now translates into English as “Christmas tart”, many of the traditions the Finnish have pre-date Christianity’s influence and come from a rather older Viking heritage. In the pre-Christian times, the Vikings in Nordic countries observed hjul, or “sun wheel,” a celebration of the winter solstice that brought back the sunlight to the darkened region. During hjul, the Vikings would have a three-day festival for eating and drinking, playing games, and exchanging gifts. Needless to say their tradition weren’t too far off from Christmas as we celebrate today.
When Christianity did come to the region in around the 12th century, rather than replace the old Viking ways, the two traditions began to assimilate. For example, the adopted Finnish word for Christmas, joulu, is an evolution from the Viking hjul.
In Finnish homes nowadays, joulutortut and other Christmas specialties are made and served for the first time at a celebration called pikkujoulu. The pikkujoulu, or “little Christmas,” are gatherings and parties held for friends, family, and even the local community. And while the timing of the pikkujoulu lines up conveniently with the first advent of the Christian calendar, these parties are much more free-form and are hardly religious. Really, they’re just a great reason to get together to eat, drink, be merry, and yes… enjoy some joulutortut.
About the Recipe
The making of joulutortut is actually incredibly simple and requires few ingredients. While the original recipe we referenced (and one sponsored by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs) didn’t contain any ricotta cheese, most other recipes did.
At its core, joulutortut are made up of butter, ricotta cheese, flour and prune jam. That’s all!
What makes joulutortut so special, however, is the way in which it’s cut and folded into the pinwheel shape. There are theories on why it’s shaped the way it is – some say it’s based on the star of Bethlehem, others say it’s an homage to the Viking sun wheel celebrations – but it has to be in this pinwheel shape to be a real joulutortut.
To make joulutortut in that shape, you start by rolling your dough out to a ~1/4 inch thickness and cutting out square shapes from the dough. From there, you very gently make an incision from one corner towards the middle, but you shouldn’t reach the middle. You do this for all four corners of the dough but leaving a small uncut area in the dough center for the prune jam.
Next, since you have 2 “points” at each corner following the incision, you’ll take one point and fold it into the center to meet the top of the jam. You then work around the dough, folding alternating one point folded, the other point not. If done right, you should have folded the same point in each corner to get the proper joulutortut shape.
In case you need a video for reference, this is a fantastic (and short) tutorial on how to fold the corners of the joulutortut correctly.
Our Take on the Recipe
Given that there were so few ingredients and that the joulutortut had to be crafted in such a particular way, we made very few adjustments to our original recipe. Taking a page out of recipes of Finnish and Scandinavian bloggers like this recipe, we did add ricotta cheese into our recipe.
For flour, we used the same organic pastry flour (affiliate link) that we’d used in making the Sachertorte and for the same health benefits. For butter, we stuck with our personal favorite Kerrygold grass-fed butter, both for taste and for health. Grass-fed butter is very beneficial for maintaining a healthy heart and contains key heart-healthy nutrients.
Other than that, that’s pretty much it! Joulutortut is a delicious and extremely simple recipe to make, and the end result is a set of adorable pastries that will enliven your upcoming pikkujoulus.
Have you tried joulutortut before? How do you make yours? Comment below!
- 1 cup butter, cubed and at room temperature
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1½ cup pastry flour, sifted
- 10 oz prune jam (if not making homemade)
- 1 cup dried prunes
- 1 tablespoon coconut sugar
- ~1.5 cups water
- Use your hands to mix butter and flour together. Your goal here is to get a crumbly consistency
- Add the ricotta and vinegar and mix the dough together, which will have a fairly wet and sticky consistency to it
- Roll the dough into a ball and place uncovered in the refrigerator for an hour. The dough will firm during this time.
- While the dough is in the fridge, begin heating the water and coconut sugar for the prune jam filling in a small saucepan over high heat
- Add the dried prunes and bring to a boil before simmering for 15-20 minutes. Stir frequently during this time
- Once the prunes are soft, either use a strainer or a fork to mash the prunes to get your desired consistency for the jam
- Take the dough from the fridge and place on a well-floured surface. The dough, while firm, is still fairly wet, so the flour will be needed to keep it from sticking
- Use a well-floured rolling pin to flatten the dough to about ¼ inch thickness
- Cut the dough into squares and transfer the squares onto a oiled baking sheet
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
- To make the pastry, make a small incision from close to the center of the square pastry to the corner. Repeat for all four corners. Note: Do not cut from the center - Leave enough uncut space in the center of the dough to place the jam
- Add a small dollop of prune jam into the middle
- Start at one corner and fold one outside point into the center. Repeat for all four corners. Your pastry should have corner points that alternate one folded, one left alone.
- Slightly pinch in the middle to bind the dough together above the jam
- Brush either melted butter or egg wash over the pastry (optional)
- Place in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown
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