When I go through busy, stressful seasons, I tend to bake a lot. “Stress-baking” was what one of my roommates in college called it. During final exams my kitchen sink would be full of bowls and spatulas and measuring cups, and the counters would be full of brownies and chocolate chip cookies and lemon lavender shortbread.
Recently, it’s been a busy time in both my professional and personal life, and whenever I get stressed or overwhelmed, I end up in my kitchen with my hair up in a messy bun, just like my younger self did.
Most recently I tried my hand at a classic Swedish cookie called drömmar. The literal English translation for drömmar is “dreams” and the cookie itself is most commonly referred to as the “Swedish Dream cookie.” The recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of baker’s ammonia (also called hornsalt or ammonium carbonate.) I had to special order it on Amazon, and when it came in the mail I opened it up and took a sniff and immediately started coughing. It smells terrible. Like high school chemistry class chemicals, or YMCA pool water.
While I mixed together the ingredients—butter and flour and sugar and vanilla and oil, and then added in the teaspoon of hornsalt, I thought, “There is no way these are not going to taste like YMCA pool water.” While they all baked together in the oven, the kitchen filled with the bitter fumes that made my eyes sting, and I again thought: “There is no way these are not going to taste like YMCA pool water.”
But after I pulled them out of the oven, and let them cool, I tried one and felt like my entire body melted into a pile of sugary buttery goo. They’re truly such little dreams come true. Like buttery pillows you want to rest your head on at night. The hornsalt is the crucial ingredient to get the right texture. And, for the record, they did not at all taste like YMCA pool water.
And you know I can’t help but think: this is exactly what writing is like. Right?
When you begin, you have the goal and intention to make something delicious. But as things get going, as you mix things together, things don’t smell like how you want them to. Doubt creeps in and you begin to think: “There is no way this is not going to read like whatever the literary version of YMCA pool water is.” But the beginning is always icky. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott calls this the “sh*tty first draft. ” But you can’t get to the dreamy final draft without it. And you have to hang in there during the sting and the stink and trust that the editorial process—and perhaps a critique group’s help—will bake out the yuck.
Because you can’t reach your dreams without a little bit of hornsalt.
Drömmar Swedish Dream Cookies
(Recipe thanks to “Cultures of the World: Sweden” published by Cavendish Square in 2015)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened.
1 1.4 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. baker’s ammonia, also called hornsalt or powdered ammonium carbonate
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
In the bowl or mixer, beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Slowly add the oil with the mixer on low speed. Add in the baker’s ammonia and flour and beat until combined. The dough will be on the drier side. Form 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until cookies have just begun to set. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer cookies to a wire cooking rack and let cool completely.
Note from Adria: I’ve seen other recipes which include coconut, but I’m not one for coconut. I’ve also seen recipes call for almond extract rather than vanilla, which I’m going to try next time!