[To skip straight to the recipe simply scroll down to the bottom of the page.]
Mämmi is a Finnish pudding-like dessert, served primarily during the Easter season, that is truly one of a kind. My 12 year old daughter said that the thick brown substance (made with dark rye flour and sorghum syrup or molasses) “tastes confusing,” but she liked it. She kept asking for another bite from my bowl. This dish has been around since at least the 17th century. (Read more about that here.)
While baking, it fills the house with an aromatherapy of something sweet, malty, and orange. The top skin is a little rubbery, but the middle is creamy when well prepared. It is topped with dainty white powdered sugar and floats in as much cream as you dare to use. The first bite is cloyingly sweet, but then the mouth tastes something grainy and unfamiliar. It is an acquired taste. But please be aware — you may find yourself wandering back to the fridge for just one more bite. Repeatedly.
I first tasted mämmi when I was an undergraduate student in Finland (more years ago than I like to admit). My host family introduced me to it during the Easter season. It came from the grocery store in a cardboard container with a see-through plastic top. The cardboard was printed to look like birch bark, which is the way mämmi was traditionally served. Serving it in birch bark containers is no longer allowed in Finland, as stripping the bark from the tree can kill it. I must admit I really didn’t think I liked mämmi when I first tried it, but then I couldn’t stop going back for just one more taste. Finally, I had to admit I rather liked it. Every year around this time I find myself thinking about mämmi and about the kindness of my host family for taking me in and introducing me to so many traditional Finnish foods.
I’d like to say “thank you” (kiitos!) to Beatrice Ojakangas for giving permission to use the mämmi recipe from her cookbook, The Finnish Cookbook. This book is treasure in our household. It has guided me through any Finnish recipe that I didn’t learn from my mother or grandmother. The Finnish Cookbook was first published in 1964 and is in its 38th printing — how’s that for a classic? (You can find it here on Amazon.)
One final note before I get to the recipe…. about sorghum syrup. Beatrice’s recipe calls for sorghum syrup or dark molasses. Either one will result in a very similar flavor for the dish. I happened to find sorghum syrup on the shelf in my food co-op, so I bought it out of curiosity. The brand I purchased is from Wisconsin, from Wittgreve’s Rolling Meadows Sorghum Mill. After doing a little online research about sorghum (and the production of sorghum syrup) I highly recommend reading this story about Wittgreve’s operation. Prior to WWII there were over 20 million gallons of sorghum syrup produced in the U.S., but due to the loss of farm labor after the war (and the abundance of cheap sugar), its production fell off drastically. Today there are less than 1 million gallons produced annually. If you are lucky enough to find it, give it a try!
Now, to the recipe…. (scroll down past the pictures if you just want the written recipe):
Start by setting out your ingredients. There aren’t many!
Measure out one cup of rye flour and set next to the stove top by your pan. Then wash, dry and grate the peel of one orange.
It will look like this:
Heat the water, salt and sorghum syrup (or molasses) in a pan.
Whisk in about 1/4 cup of the rye flour and bring to a boil. Now if you’d like to take a break, you can. Let the warm mixture sit at least 10 minutes, or up to 2 hours. Then turn the heat back on, stir in the remaining rye flour, orange peel and raisins (if using). Do this slowly and keep whisking to avoid any clumps. Bring the mixture back up to a boil. Then turn the heat off.
Now pour this “batter” into your pan (or pans). I recommend just one pan, with enough depth so that there is room for a thick, creamy middle layer. Leave some head room in the pan, though, as the mixture will rise while baking (and then fall again afterward). I sprayed my pans with oil.
Now put the pan(s) in the oven at a low temperature (275 degrees) for 3 hours. When the mämmi is done baking it may appear to be too runny. Don’t worry, it will set as it cools. After three hours mine looked like this:
Now for the patience part! Let it cool on the counter, then cover tightly and put in the refrigerator to chill. (I put a layer of plastic wrap right over the top of the mämmi.) I’ve read that the flavor improves if you let it sit in the fridge a few days before serving. When you’ve run out of patience serve it in a bowl, sprinkle powdered sugar on top and bathe it in cream.
(recipe by Beatrice Ojakangas, as published in The Finnish Cookbook)
4 cups water
½ cup sorghum syrup or dark molasses
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup rye flour (I used dark rye)
2 Tablespoons grated orange peel (I used one orange’s peel)
¼ cup seedless raisins
Heat the water, molasses (or sorghum syrup), and salt in a pan until just warm. Stir in about ¼ cup of the rye flour, bring to a slow boil, while beating constantly with a whisk. Turn the heat off and let mixture cool. (It can stand from 10 minutes to 2 hours, depending on your convenience.) Stir in the remaining rye flour, orange peel, and raisins, and bring to a boil again, stirring with the whisk. Remove from the heat and pour into a 1 ½ quart casserole. Do not fill the dish to the top because the mämmi will rise during baking, although it will fall afterward. Bake in a slow oven (275 degrees) for 3 hours. Cool. Cover tightly to prevent drying. Store in a cool place. Serve with lots of sugar and cream, but make the servings small at first. Serves 6 to 10.
** LocalFoodLust’s Notes:
- I don’t love raisins baked into desserts, so I just left them out.
- You will note from my pictures that I baked the mämmi in two 6” x 8” aluminum pans. I would recommend pouring most or all of the batter into just one dish. I ended up with my mämmi being a little over-cooked and there wasn’t enough of the delicious, creamy middle layer.
- When the mämmi is done baking it will not be completely set. Don’t worry, it will set as it chills. Its mouth feel is much better on the under-cooked side of things (as opposed to the rubbery, over-cooked version).
- If you don’t love it on the first try, keep giving it a chance! It may be an acquired taste. Many Finns love to make fun of mämmi (and what it looks like), but many love it.