The Legend of Joulutortut

Back by popular demand! It’s Joulutortut season!

Joulutortut are buttery, delicious, star shaped Finnish Christmas cookies.
And they have prune filling.
Yes, prunes.
When I was a little kid, I loved Joulutortut without fear. I did not know that prunes were looked upon with such suspicion. (Let’s face it, no fruit endures more mockery than the prune.) I just thought they were the yummiest cookies on earth. But when I started going to school, I realized that Joulutortut, much like my mom’s Finnish accent, were strange.

So for years, I just wanted her to make American sugar cookies in the shape of Santa Claus and Christmas trees, glittering with sugar crystals and frosting. Those always went over very well at school parties. The Joulutortut usually remained untouched. One year, I even left them at home, instead of facing
Joulutortut ostracism from my classmates. But that was nothing compared to the shame I felt when mom discovered what I’d done. She cried and said I was embarrassed about my Finnish heritage, and ungrateful that she’d made the cookies at the crack of dawn, before leaving for the clinic at 8am.

While attending college in London, I knew I wouldn’t be home for Christmas, and I asked her to send me the recipe. She wrote it down on a tablet of Dulcolax Laxative paper. As you can see, she crossed out the word “laxative” and drew an elf and a Christmas tree. But she kept the slogan, “for gentle, predictable relief of constipation.” Because that’s the kind of kick-ass woman she is.
Every year since then I’ve hosted a little Christmas gathering, and I offer Joulu Tortut with pride. Guests are still wary of prunes, but they have to admit the cookies are fantastic. And to anyone who doesn’t like them, why, that just means there’s more for me.

From Kaisa Dutton
-1 cup butter (softened)
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1 egg yolk
-8 oz pkg of cream cheese
-2 cups white flour
-2 teaspoons heavy (whipping) cream

Boil 1 bag of pitted prunes with 1/4 cup of water, 1/2 of cup sugar and a couple teaspoons of fresh lemon juice. After boiling, let this mixture simmer for about 30 minutes until it is soft. Give it a stir once in a while. This simmering also gives the kitchen a lovely, Finnish Christmas scent.


Mix all the dough ingredients in a large bowl with your hands. (It must be your hands! No mixers, no spoons.) Once all the ingredients are well mixed, let the dough chill for a few hours. Then, sprinkle flour on your clean kitchen counter. Take half the dough out, leave the other half in the fridge. Roll it out and cut into several 3 inch squares with a knife. Cut slits in all four corners of each square. Fill the center with a couple teaspoons of prune filling. Then create the star by pulling down alternate corners of the square. Press the alternate corners down into the filling to make them stick. Do the same with the second half of the dough.

Bake Joulutortut on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for…well, until you start to smell the butter and cream cheese. About 15 minutes. But really, just peer in the oven and look at them. If they have a nice golden color, they’re done. Cool on baking racks.

Serve with good strong coffee and say, “Hyvää joulua!” (Merry Christmas!)

UPDATE: Here’s a video I made to help you in the kitchen!

Finnish Christmas Cookies: Joulutortut


6 thoughts on “The Legend of Joulutortut

  1. OH! so wonderful!! thank you!! I am always looking for new Finnish Recipes that are real, traditional. I make Nisu at Thanksgiving and Christmas each year (the day before each) for my friends and Family. It is my great grandmother’s recipe. ❤

  2. I’ve made my version of joulutortut for years, using a different dough recipe and shaping them like empanadas because I used to burn the tips of my the star-shaped cookies. I don’t know what dough recipe I used for those joulutortut. This year I want to make the star-shape again but my Finnish cook book has a rather complicated recipe so I’m anxious to try your mom’s recipe. Kiitos ja hyvää joluaa!!

  3. I’m so glad I found your recipe. I have an old print out of the recipe I got off of AOL food years ago, but what always struck me was the story behind it.

    Since all of those years ago I have incorporated this recipe into my own Christmas traditions and when anyone asks about the cookies I launch into the story about a young girl who just wanted to assimilate and how my heart broke at the purposefully forgotten cookies.

    Thanks for sharing!

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