September 12, 2008

Desert Sand Cookies

After slightly poking fun at Mrs. Akerstrom-Soderstrom in an earlier post, I felt guilty. I mean, a Princess can't help that she's a Princess, right? If I were a princess, I, too, might decorate pigs' heads with butter. Hell, if I had princess-time and princess-money, I might even decorate my entire lawn with butter! Anyhow, to make up for my rhetorical missteps, I decided to prepare one of the recipes from Mrs. AS's book, Swedish Smorgasbord: 100 Recipes for the Famous Swedish Hors d'oeuvres (1937). What better way to honor the memory of a culinary princess than by keeping her sugary art alive!

I've been crazy-busy this past week with lesson planning, essay grading, etc. During weeks like this, sometimes a smile is hard to come by, especially when you find find 3,308 emails in your inbox all chanting something along the lines of, "Sorry I couldn't come to class today...Could you let me know if I missed anything?"

I needed to bake the rage, to knead out all of the accumulated stress before it exploded into something drastic & thunderous & nuclear. If I didn't bake--and soon!--eruption would be imminent. Pushed to the limits, there's no telling what I would have to do. Perhaps I'd be forced to break a piece of chalk in half. Haha, yes! That would teach 'em! (I think I need a hardcore guidebook.)

To avoid having to break a perfectly good piece of chalk, I instead turned to Mrs. Akerstrom-Soderstrom, Princess of Repressed Emotions. I didn't have the time, nor the patience, to create any of the complicated appetizers from the book; there would be no "Veal Saute with Peas" gracing my plate this week (or ever). I needed something sugary, something simple. It was then that I stumbled upon recipe #98: Desert Sand. Even though the title sounds a little less than comforting, the recipe itself was more Paula Dean than Komodo Dragon. I saw "Butter," and I saw SALVATION!

Since this recipe is old, I had to make one slight adjustment. It called for "salts of hartshorn," known scientifically as "ammonium carbonate" and colloquially as "baker's ammonia." Salts of hartshorn is an old leavening agent derived from the crushed horns of red deer (or Harts). "Harts' horns" (2 words) slowly evolved into "hartshorn" (just 1 word), most likely to signify this substance's transition from animal to household ingredient. While salts of hartshorn is difficult to find in the States, it is still used in parts of Northern Europe and Scandinavia.

I do not have access to the horns of Harts, and I therefore had to do a little research to find an adequate substitute. Ammonium carbonate was the forerunner to such contemporary leavening agents as baking soda and baking powder. While many sites said that using baking powder would not result in the same fluff or puff in my cookie, they said it was the next best thing.

Also, when I refer to this recipe in the future, I will definitely be adding an egg or two. The current recipe does not call for eggs, but that is probably because the hartshorn would have given the dough the umph it needed to rise and soften. The baking soda was not enough to make these cookies rise to their full potential. They were delicious, don't get me wrong, but they could have been softer, smoother, airier.

However, the sandy texture of my, uh, Sand Cookies could also have been the result of my overly aggressive oven. A few days ago I bought a portable oven thermometer, only to realize that my oven temperature has been off by 150 degrees! No wonder my cupcakes burned to a crisp. I should have heeded to the warnings of the Princess herself: "too hot an oven will make them hard." Oh, Princess...always making me out to be the clumsy other sister when my cookies go awry!

What follows is the original recipe for Desert Sand cookies from Swedish Smorgasbord: 100 Recipes for the Famous Swedish Hor D'oeuvres. Enjoy Mrs. AS's really specific directions in some parts of the recipe (make sure "with one finger" that your hartshorn is dissolved), followed by that good old fashioned inexactitude in other parts (bake your cookies "in a rather low oven-heat"). This recipe leaves a lot of room for improvisation, especially in terms of toppings: jam, dulce de leche, lavender cream cheese icing, etc. These are sturdy cookies, ready for you to knead and devour whenever work-rage strikes!

Desert Sand


7.5 oz. butter
An even 7.5 oz. suger
1 Tbs. vanilla sugar
1 tsp. salts of hartshorn (I used 1 tsp. baking powder)
1 Tbs. tepid water
2 cups flour

Brown the butter carefully in a saucepan, stirring the while, and watching it closely so that it does not get too brown. Pour it into a bowl, and add the sugar while the butter is still hot. Place the bowl in a dish of cold water, and stir the mixture until it is light, creamy, and cold.

Dissolve the hartshorn in 1 Tbs. tepid, not too warm water, making sure, with one finger, that it is completely dissolved. It may then be poured into the dough. The vanilla sugar and flour should also be added and stirred in.

Shape the dough with 2 tsp. turned towards one another, so that the cakes take the shape of the spoons and acquire a smooth surface. They should be placed on well-buttered baking sheets.

Bake them on double sheets in a rather low oven-heat for about 45 minutes, until the surface of the cakes crack a little. It will then be necessary to lower the heat still further. The cakes when baked should not be noticeably darker than the dough, and they should be spongy and floury on the outside. Too hot an oven will make them hard.

Enough for 60-65 cakes.

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