Joulutortut: Finnish Jam Pinwheel Pastries

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.

click to download recipe

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.

View of ingredients - butter, pastry flour, sugar, prune jam

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!

Mixing all the pastries ingredients and kneading dough with hands

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.

Folding cookies filled with jam and shaping them like pinwheel

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.

Pinwheel pastries with prune jam in ceramic serving plate

Have you tried joulutortut before? How do you make yours? Comment below!

click to download recipe

Disclaimer: The link to Bobs Mill Pastry Flour is an affiliate link. It is a baking flour we have at home, use frequently, and readily recommend to anyone who asks. Every time you click the link, you support the blog and the content we provide in a small way. There’s no requirement at all to click, but we really appreciate the contribution should you decide to use the link. 

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