Like any other Swede who has moved out of Scandinavia, I have a special place in my heart reserved for Swedish food. Even though I have lived in Texas for the past seven years, I honestly do not think I have gone more than a week without either eating or making something Swedish. It not only brings me joy and a sense of security, but it helps me feel connected to everything and everyone back home.
During lockdown last March, I fell in love with baking. This was not so much because of the baked goods themselves, but more because of the joy it brought to my family. Baking provided me with the opportunity to connect with my brothers on a different level, which is something I was extremely thankful for since I would be going off to college in only a couple of months. I remember baking a cake with my youngest brother the weekend before leaving, cherishing every moment of our time together.
As one can imagine, I had been completely deprived of baking after living in a 16-square-foot dorm room without a kitchen for three months. Since baking serves as a form of subconscious therapy for me, it was in the forefront of my mind when my plane landed at the airport the day before Thanksgiving. I was more than excited to try all the new recipes I had saved during fall semester.
I wanted my first project to be something that everyone in my family would enjoy, so I decided to make a household favorite: my grandma’s famous drömmar, which translates into “dream cookies” in English. These crispy yet fluffy cookies are fragrant dollops of goodness, and I can guarantee that every Swede would say that they deserve a spot on their top five list of treats. Even though I grew up eating them at least every other week, I had never made them myself. Fortunately, the recipe did not ask for many ingredients; a simple mixture of sugar, butter, flour, vanilla sugar, and raising agent would do. The last ingredient in the recipe caught my eyes; it was something that I had never eaten nor heard of before. Surprised, and a little bit confused, I read it out loud to my mom: hjorthornssalt. In English this translates to “deer horn’s salt,” but it is not actually made out of deer antlers (anymore). Of course, the chemistry nerd in me decided to do some research.
As there used to be an abundance of deer roaming around northern Europe, people would pick up the antlers after they had been shed, and use them to make this type of salt. Nowadays hjorthornssalt is a synthetically made ammonium bicarbonate, and it can be found in a plethora of countries across Europe. Since I am such an avid baker, I was shocked to find out that it is actually a common raising agent in several Scandinavian recipes as well. I was a bit skeptical to use it at first due to its pungent smell. Nevertheless, I opened the bag, and a scent reminiscent of cat pee began to fill my nostrils. As the hjorthornssalt converted to gas, the dough turned into a porous texture and the cookies that covered the baking sheet began to look like miniature summer clouds. Thankfully, once the cookies were fully done, the odor was replaced by a wonderful smell of vanilla. The salt gave the cookies a texture that was different than anything I had tasted before. These Swedish delights were fluffy and light but still had a good crunch to them, and their buttery vanilla taste gave them a perfect ratio of sweet to savory. As the name implies, these cookies truly tasted like little dreams in my mouth.
I am currently back at college, so dreaming about these cookies will have to do for now. My next project is going to be mastering the skill of baking cinnamon rolls, but that’s a story for a different time, with a different special ingredient.
Cover photo courtesy of The Culinary Jumble.