By Wif Stenger
In our search for the best cup of seasonal glögi (mulled wine) to stoke our holiday cheer, we visit Hvitträsk, architect Eliel Saarinen's lakeside manor in Kirkkonummi, close to the Finnish capital.
Half an hour west of Helsinki stands Hvitträsk, a stocky fairytale mansion atop a wooded hill. Majestic steps lead down to a lake on whose shores the sharp-eyed may spot prehistoric rock art. The first to do so was composer and sybarite Jean Sibelius. A century ago, he was a frequent guest at the house, along with other leading artists of the day.
Eliel Saarinen and two other hot young architects, Herman Gesellius and Armas Lindgren, built Hvitträsk as their shared home. It was known among pre-independence Finland's elite for its fine dining and wild parties – indeed, one of the architects soon moved out amid a spouse-swapping scandal.
The 1903 mansion, built in the rustic National Romantic style, is now a museum. The guesthouse where Sibelius, Maxim Gorky and other luminaries stayed is now Hvitträsk's restaurant, run by Tiia and Ville Dillemuth. The mood today is more discreet, but glowing with holiday spirit. According to the hosts, the best way to bring holiday cheer to anyone coming in from the cold is to hand them a steaming glass of glögi.
Glögi is the Finnish version of mulled wine, known as glögg in other Scandinavian countries and Glühwein in German-speaking areas. The Dillemuths have created a distinctive Hvitträsk version of the drink, based around blueberries.
"We took our inspiration from the amazing blueberry forests that surround the house and the fact that the Saarinens loved blueberry pie, even at Christmas," explains Tiia. While Finns typically serve the drink with gingerbread cookies, the Dillemuths accompany it with blueberry-oat cookies.
Jars of their glögi spice mixture are available at Hvitträsk's traditional Christmas market. The annual handicraft bazaar has been held in and around Hvitträsk's buildings for decades. "Some of the same grannies have been selling their woollen goods here ever since 1975," says Tiia with a grin.
Most Finns simply buy premixed glögi off the shelf at grocery stores or state-run Alko liquor outlets, serving it with raisins and blanched almonds. These days, though, many people seem to be favouring the simple and homemade for Christmas – which goes for drinks as well as food, cards and gifts.
Finnish food blogs are buzzing with exotic glögi recipes involving blood-grapefruit juice, cherries or almond liqueur. Cookbook author Marianne Kiskola suggests strawberry juice spiked with cinnamon, vanilla and ginger, while Sami Malila's Moomin cookbook offers a favourite based on blackcurrant juice.
In recent years blonde glögi has gained popularity. For instance, the artsy Angel Restaurant, located in an old wooden house in Turku, southwestern Finland, serves Altia's white-wine glögi, which a hostess says "suits our food, customers and atmosphere". The establishment's celestial mood, filled with angels, cherubs and whimsical creatures, epitomises the season in Finland's "Christmas City" – and becomes positively divine with a warm golden glögi.
Glögi variations from Hvitträsk
Simmer 20–30 minutes; strain. Makes about 1.5 litres of glögi.
Boil for about 5 minutes; purée with wand blender.
Add 1 tablespoon of purée per glass, along with dried blueberries and almonds (whole or sliced).
The alcohol evaporates in the cooking process. If desired, the glögi can be "strengthened" with 2 cl of Koskenkorva Vodka Vanilla or Becherovka herbal bitters.
Hvitträsk royal glögi
Moisten rim of wine glasses and dip in gingerbread crumbs.
Add 1 tablespoon of glögi concentrate (cook above recipe until condensed by half or use commercial mixture) to each glass.
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