DULUTH — Even though blueberries are now in the seasonal rear view mirror, I still can find them in the produce department of the supermarket. I just have to share my favorite Finnish blueberry dessert anyway. It was six decades ago when we lived in Finland when I was introduced to this recipe. I did include it in my first cookbook, "The Finnish Cookbook," and I haven’t changed the recipe for “mustikkapiirakka” since.

Blueberries prefer growing in an acidic soil, and that may be why one corner of our family farm in Floodwood, Minn., grew berries so bountifully. My dad said it was an area that had been burned-over years earlier. I remember actually stripping vines of berries into milk pails. It’s been many years now since I have been privy to such bounty — but I’m grateful for the memory.

Mustikkapiirakka — Finnish Blueberry Bars (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)
Mustikkapiirakka — Finnish Blueberry Bars (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Mustikkapiirakka — Finnish Blueberry Bars

This consists of a blueberry filling on a buttery crust, topped with a criss-crossed topping of the same buttery pastry. Even though we don’t have the wild berry as available here (unless you are lucky enough to live in wild blueberry country), the cultivated variety spiked with a bit of lemon juice will have to do.

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For the crust:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) soft butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour

Blueberry filling:

  • 2 to 3 cups fresh blueberries
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Mustikkapiirakka — Finnish Blueberry Bars (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)
Mustikkapiirakka — Finnish Blueberry Bars (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

For the crust, in a large bowl blend the butter with the sugar until smooth. Add the baking powder and flour. Mix with a fork until crumbly, then knead the mixture together until the warmth of your hands makes the dough come together. Remove about one-fourth of the dough and set aside. Press the remaining dough into a disc and place between sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Roll the dough out, flattening it into a rectangle to fit a 9-by-13-inch jelly roll pan. Fit the dough into the pan, flattening it into the corners and up the sides of the pan. Trim the extra dough and mix it with the reserved dough.

For the filling, mash the blueberries lightly in a small bowl to produce enough juice to moisten the mixture. Stir in the sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, cornstarch and salt. Spread the mixture over the dough in the pan.

Roll the reserved dough into quarter-inch ropes and position over the filling in a loose lattice pattern. (You can sprinkle an extra tablespoon of sugar over the top if you wish.) Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the crust is light golden in color. Cool and cut into squares or bars.

Makes about 12 dessert servings or 24 bars.

Kaija’s Roasted Pears with Minted Cream and Thyme, plated up to serve. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)
Kaija’s Roasted Pears with Minted Cream and Thyme, plated up to serve. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Kaija’s Roasted Pears with Minted Cream and Thyme

Another favorite autumn dessert I learned in Finland is as simple as it could be — if you can find Seckel pears (fat-necked little pears in season from September through the end of the year). They don’t usually make a splashy entrance in the produce section, but I love them because they are small and sweet, and because one pear makes a simple, fun dessert. I just bake them without removing the stem and core.

If you can’t find the tiny Seckel pears, look for the smallest ones you can find in the market. This is a simple and delicious way to prepare them. This is a dessert I first had in Finland at the home of a food-loving friend, Kaija Aarikka.

  • 8 tiny Seckel pears or 4 larger pears
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme

Vanilla Cream

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon creme de menthe
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • Fresh or roasted thyme leaves

Kaija’s Roasted Pears with Minted Cream and Thyme. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)
Kaija’s Roasted Pears with Minted Cream and Thyme. (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the pears, standing up in a shallow baking dish. Drizzle the lemon juice over and sprinkle with the sugar. Pour the water into the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange the thyme sprigs around the pears. Bake pears for 30 to 40 minutes or until a fork easily slides through the flesh in the thickest part of the pear. Larger pears will take a little longer, an extra 20 minutes or so. Whip the cream until stiff and add the creme de menthe and sugar. To serve, stand the baked pears in a dessert dish and top with a dollop of the minted cream. Sprinkle with chopped or roasted thyme leaves (from the pear roasting pan). Makes 4 servings.

Grace's Favorite Apple Date Nut Cake with Salted Caramel Icing (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)
Grace's Favorite Apple Date Nut Cake with Salted Caramel Icing (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Grace's Favorite Apple Date Nut Cake with Salted Caramel Icing

Then, of course, there’s my mother-in-law’s favorite apple cake that I love to make in the fall during the apple harvest. Choose a locally grown apple that is slightly tart. I think the batter is best mixed up in the food processor.

This recipe is one that I received shortly after our wedding, and it has continued to be a favorite of ours for all these years. You can bake this moist cake in a Bundt pan or in a 9-by-13-inch pan. If you use a Bundt pan, don’t be alarmed if the cake batter doesn’t quite fill it up. The drizzle of Icing is just enough to decorate the cake and offer a bite of sweetness to each piece of cake.

  • 4 medium sized apples, peeled and chopped (about 4 cups)
  • 1 cup chopped pitted dates
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup cold, strong, coffee

Salted Caramel Icing:

  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Powdered sugar as needed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch Bundt pan or a 9-by-13-inch cake pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss the apples, dates and walnuts with the 2 tablespoons flour; set aside.

In a large bowl, or in the work bowl of a food processor, blend the sugar and butter together until creamy; beat in the eggs. Add the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, cloves, soda and baking powder. Process or mix until the batter is smooth. Add the apple mixture and mix or process until evenly blended, then mix in the coffee. Turn into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a wooden skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake. Cool the cake on a rack. Drizzle cake while still warm with the icing.

Grace's Favorite Apple Date Nut Cake with Salted Caramel Icing (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)
Grace's Favorite Apple Date Nut Cake with Salted Caramel Icing (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Meanwhile, prepare the Caramel Icing: In a 2-quart saucepan, mix the whipping cream and sugar; bring to a boil, stirring, and cook 2 minutes. Add the corn syrup, salt, butter and vanilla. Stir. If the icing seems to be too thin, add a few tablespoons of powdered sugar to thicken it up.

Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks.