Dream a little dream…

As you may have worked out by now, I have a bit of a thing for Scandinavian food, so I have turned my hand to making a Swedish specialty called drömmar (droo-mar).

The name translates as “dreams”. As you would expect from something with that sort of name, they are very light, melting little morsels. You’ve probably got a little bit of Mama Cass going around you head by now…

Now, the lightness really is their star quality.

These are really quite simple biscuits – just butter, sugar, flour and a dash of vanilla. The magic comes from what you add to make them rise. Not normal baking powder, but ammonium carbonate. This difference matters – it doesn’t just give baked goods a little lift, it releases a lot of gas so things get very puffy indeed. It was a bit of a saga to find this stuff, so I was quite excited to finally try making a cookie that I associate with my time living in Stockholm.

However, this magic powder has a downside. It stinks to high heaven!

I found this our pretty quickly. I made the dough – a breeze, took no more than five minutes (helpfully no need to bother chilling the dough) – shaped the biscuits, and put them into the oven. Boy did they rise!

Then…when I opened the oven to remove them, as expected, there was a horrid pong of, well, ammonia fumes that filled the kitchen for a moment. All I can say is that I am very, very glad I attempted this on a bright, breezy summer day, as all the windows were open and so the stink was quickly dispersed.

Having experienced the stink issue, but with the house once again fresh-smelling (i.e. not of ammonia), the cookies were ready.

They look good and strangely (given the earlier experience) they actually have a pleasant butter-with-a-hint-of-vanilla aroma. And they taste very good. Like shortbread, but with a very airy texture. You can see from the picture below that there are massive air pockets in the cookies, so they really are light as a feather – when you pick them us, they just don’t weigh anything. Most odd. Quite dreamy indeed.

When just baked, drömmar are crisp and light, but left overnight, they become a little softer. Either way is delicious, but which you prefer is up to you. Every Swedish mormor or farmor (grandmother) will have their own recipe, so this is just one version. There are others out there, and I make no claims that this is the only way to make them!!!

Biscuits made, I did a little research on this stinky but effective raising agent. Ammonium carbonate was originally known by the more poetic name salt of hartshorn, and was apparently derived from the horns of the male red deer (!). If you’re worried this might be cruel, I’m happy to note the antlers appear in the spring and are naturally shed each year, and in any event, these days you buy the chemical powder in stores. It inevitably features in German and Nordic baking, given that these are the areas in which the red deer might be found wandering in the forest, and in a lot of recipes, nothing else will really do if you want the requisite lightness. If you’re a curious Londoner, and don’t have deer roaming in the back garden, then you can buy it here.

The only limit on using this raising agent is that you need the stinky stuff to be expelled from the biscuits during baking – so it’s fine for small cookies, but you wouldn’t want to use it for a large cake. And just a couple of wise words to conclude – don’t eat the raw dough, as it tastes nasty until you bake it, and in case you are wondering – all the chemical stuff turns to gas, so there is nothing left in the cookies once they have been baked, and they are just sweet-smelling and tasty. And don’t we all like a bit of culinary alchemy?

If you’re still not happy using ammonium carbonate or just can’t find the stuff, use baking powder. You’ll get some lift, not as much as with the real thing, but still tasty.

So…relax, stick on a bit of Mama Cass, make a cup of tea and enjoy a couple of drömmar. Happy baking!

To make drömmar (makes 30-35):

• 200g unsalted butter
• 170g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons vanilla sugar or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon ammonium carbonate
• 250g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°C). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy. Fold in the vanilla and ammonium carbonate.

Work the flour into the mixture until you have a soft dough.

Take tablespoons of the mixture and roll into balls. Place on the baking sheet (don’t flatten them), leaving at least 5cm (2 inches) between them.

Put the cookies into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. The balls will flatten down and then puff up, but will stay very pale.

Worth making? I was dubious about using ammonium carbonate in baking, but actually the outcome was great. The biscuits are lighter than anything I have ever made before, and there is of course the novelty factor of the stinky baking process. The mixture is ready in about 5 minutes, and can be made in less than 30 minutes from start to finish. As they say in Sweden – lycka till!


Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

11 responses to “Dream a little dream…

  1. I was actually thinking of Doris Day or Diana Krall; I had no idea there was a Mama Cass version of one of my favorite songs!

    My parents have decided we’re making lebkuchen this year for Christmas, so we’ll have to buy some hartshorn. It’s good to know I can use it for something else the rest of the year. These drömmar look yummy!

    • That’s so funny – I only know the Mama Cass version, so it was a surprise to me to hear the others. It’s interesting to hear the different takes on the same song. Plug into Spotify sometime and listen to a few of them back-to-back…amazing what each artist brings to a song.

      Good luck with the christmas cookies! It’s probably a bit early to start, but good that you’re trying with the good old ammonium carbonate. I’ll be using it this year too. It will be interesting to see how they are different from the usual ones made with baking powder.

      And in the meantime, I suppose we can dream…

  2. Funny and interesting baking adventure. I had no idea that ammonium carbonate came from deer antlers. Great post!

  3. peasepudding

    They look amazing, I was thinking I had not used that raising agent before until I read where it comes from and realized I had used it when Germany.

    • Thanks. Really pleased with them. Funny that you pick on the German theme – I am interested to see how my attempt at Lebkuchen works out later this year – I’ve got a good recipe in terms of flavour, but I suspect that they will be amazing when I use this stuff to make them rise.

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  6. Rebecka

    I never made drömmar until this fall, and don’t think I’ve used much ammonium carbonate in baking before (maybe once or twice as a kid). I read about the stink and was prepared (hell, I’ve studied chemistry. I know ammonia)… and nothing! I’ve baked with ammonium carbonate about 6 times the last month, and no stink. Actually my dad came by to pick me up one day as I was baking chocolate drömmar and commented on the lovely smell of my apartment. So weird. And it worked fine, the cookies were great and airy.

    • Ha ha, maybe I over-did it on the effect of the ammonia. In my case, I got a blast of it when I opened the door to the oven, but it goes quite quickly. Also, it depends on the biscuit – I got a lot of ammonia from the drömmar and serinakaker, but none when I made Springerle or sirupsnipper.

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