DULUTH, Minn. — On Feb. 5 each year, special tarts — Runeberg Torte — which really are cupcakes, show up in bakeries in Finland to commemorate the birthday of Johan Ludvig Runeberg, the famous poet of Finland who wrote, among other works, the lyrics to the Finnish national anthem, “Maamme” (Our Land).
Curious about why this particular cake is so significant? It is reported that Runeberg had a real sweet tooth, and he would regularly ask his wife, Fredrika, to bake something for him.
Fredrika would go into the kitchen and bake these cakes with what ingredients she had on hand, which explains why there are so many versions of the same cake — always different, but with one thing in common, which was the topping of a red currant or raspberry jam or preserve and a drizzle of white frosting.
Fredrika was herself an accomplished novelist, even though she was mainly known as the wife of her famous husband. She also is the mother of eight children (seven sons and one daughter, who died as an infant). The family lived mostly in Porvoo, where she created most of her works, including the historical novel "Fru Catharina Boije och hennes döttrar" in 1858. She wrote in Swedish.
Here in Duluth, we will celebrate the day with poetry readings at Zenith Bookstore. We’ll also serve Runeberg Tarts.
This version of Runeberg Tarts is like the one I included in my Finnish cookbook (published in 1964) except that I added milk, orange juice and a rum-flavored syrup. You can, of course, eliminate that, but rum adds a flavor similar to the “punch” used in Finland and Sweden. The cakes are typically baked in straight-sided, cylindrical muffin pans. I once had the special pan, but unfortunately, when we moved, it was lost in the shuffle. Here I used a regular muffin tin and paper cupcake liners.
Runeberg Tarts (Runeberg Torte)
To grind the almonds, place in a food processor with the steel blade in place. Turn processor on and off several times until the almonds are finely ground.
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup slivered almonds, ground
½ cup milk
½ cup orange juice
Rum syrup (optional)
½ cup sugar
¼ cup water
2 to 3 tablespoons Swedish Punch or light rum
Currant jelly or raspberry jam
½ cup powdered sugar
Few drops almond extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs. Stir the flour, cardamom, baking powder and almonds together and blend into the creamed mixture. Stir in milk and orange juice.
Butter and dust with additional sugar, 12 muffin tins or 24 mini muffin tins or alternately line muffin tins with paper liners. Fill tins ⅔ full. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned and feel firm to the touch.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Cool to room temperature and stir in the rum. Spoon about a teaspoon of the syrup onto each cooked and cooled cake.
With the tip of a sharp knife, cut a small round hole in the top of each tart and spoon currant jelly or raspberry jam into each. Stir the powdered sugar with enough water to make a stiff frosting and flavor with a few drops of almond extract. Transfer into a pastry bag or paper cone. Pipe a circle around the jam.
Makes 12 regular tarts the size of muffins or 24 tarts baked in mini muffin tins.
Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks.