These are a project, but they are worth every minute spent on them. The pastry is easy to mix and handle, forgiving of some abuse, and yet bakes up light, layered, and delicately crisp. The prune filling is fruity and pleasantly sweet, far more than the sum of its parts. I’m not sure whose idea it was, back in the day, to market prunes merely as a remedy for irregularity, because that is definitely not all they are good for, and these pastries let the prunes have top billing.
These are best made no more than a day or two before you want to serve them, as the pearl sugar tends to melt and disappear after a few days, especially in a humid climate, and they can go a bit stale. That has not stopped anyone in this house from eating them, however. They freeze well, wrapped in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil, then packed into a freezer bag and stashed in the freezer. Thaw at room temperature, in all that wrapping, the day you want to eat them.
Finnish Christmas Stars
- 2 cups (8 ounces) pitted prunes
- water to cover
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
- 1 large egg, slightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1/2 cup pearl sugar or crushed sugar cubes for decoration
- In a small saucepan, cover the prunes with water, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Simmer slowly until the prunes are very soft. In a food processor or blender, puree the prunes and water until completely smooth. Add the lemon juice and sugar and blend until combined. Transfer the filling to a bowl and allow it to cool.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder together. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment (or a large bowl and a hand mixer), whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks. Add the flour to the bowl, and stir to mix using a flexible spatula. This may not be something you have ever done before, but trust in the process, and you will see a dough begin to form. Do not worry about being careful with this, as it’s not like making meringue or a soufflé, you’re not trying to keep the air in the mixture.
- Add the butter in large pieces, and begin to mix and knead the butter into the dough in the bowl, with your hands. Keep kneading until you can’t see any big pockets of butter any more. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
- When you’re ready to roll out the dough, preheat the oven to 400 deg. F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Mix the egg and milk in a small bowl, and have a pastry brush handy. Put the pearl sugar in a small bowl.
- Flour a large work surface (you’re rolling the dough out into an 18-inch square, which is bigger than you think), and press the dough out into a rough square shape, then roll it to 1/4-inch thickness, keeping the square shape as best you can. This dough has a lot of flexibility, so you can pull it into shape a little without it tearing. If it tears, you can pinch it back together, and roll it out to smooth it. Keep lifting and turning the dough, and flouring underneath it, so it doesn’t stick to the work surface.
- Fold the left third of the dough over the center, then fold the right third over the center, creating a long rectangle of dough. Roll the dough out to seal the edges, then turn it horizontally, and fold in thirds again, creating a rough square of dough. Roll out again, maintaining the square shape, lifting and turning the dough to keep it from sticking as long as it’s manageable, then continue to roll out until you have an 18-inch square.
- USE A RULER. Mark the edges of the dough every 3 inches with a sharp knife, then using the ruler as a cutting guide, cut from top to bottom with the knife, making 3-inch wide strips.
- Working with one strip at a time, mark and cut 3-inch squares of dough. Make 1 1/2-inch diagonal cuts from the corners towards the center of each square of dough. Spoon about 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling into the center of the square, and fold every other cut corner point into the center over the filling, forming a pinwheel shape. If you fold the wrong corner in, it’s okay to fold it back out and fix it. Gently transfer the pinwheels on the prepared baking sheets.
(I like to fill one sheet, get it into the oven with a timer set so I don’t forget them, and then go back to work filling the next baking sheet.)
- Brush the pinwheels with the egg mixture, and sprinkle generously with the pearl sugar. Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Use a spatula to check the bottom of a couple of pinwheels, to make sure the bottoms are browned and crisp.
- Remove the baking sheet to a cooling rack, and let the pastries cool for a few minutes, then transfer them from the baking sheet to the cooling rack to finish cooling. If you are going to use that sheet again, line it with a new sheet of parchment paper.