Recently, reader Fruityoaty commented here about two kinds of special cookies utterly unknown to me. They were included among his/her(?) top 3 favorites, the third being rugelach. Fruityoaty is clearly a discriminating, (self-described) "cookie monster". Of course, I could not rest until I tried both kinds.
Investigating the first of the two, "drommar", I discovered that the recipe included an ingredient famous for its prebaking stinkiness....ammonium carbonate a/k/a "bakers' ammonia", a/k/a "hartshorn." (If you have been here before, you will see the digression coming a mile away, like unto a train wreck which cannot be stopped. But I will get to the cookies, and how to make them, sooner or later, I promise.)
Bakers' ammonia smells pretty awful in its container, and you can smell it while it's "baking off" in the oven, too. In the container, it is a lot like a whiff of a ghastly gas station toilet, but it is not a strong whiff, and mixing it into the drommar dough at the same time as the almond extract has an ameliorating effect. The baking smell is more akin to wet socks. When the cookies are done, the stinkies have vanished, and only the sweet baking smells remain. It makes for a lighter, crisper product than baking powder, but you can really only safely use it in thin things, like cookies. Try it in a cake, and you can't bake it long enough to burn off the smell. And of course, nobody wants a cake that smells like, well, feet. This oderiforous powder is particularly handy for cookies for which you need or wish to chill the dough, because only heat, and not liquid, activates the leavening.
Coincidentally, I have been thinking about smells quite a lot lately. The redfox and S. gave me a wonderful Christmas gift of a gift certificate to a super-fancy perfume shop, along with 7 samples of very elegant and unique perfumes. It was hugely entertaining trying to decide among them, reading about the seemingly odd ingredients, and seeing how the scents, on my skin, changed from the bottle and then over time. I enjoyed it so much that I wound up ordering more samples, before I made up my mind.
Eventually, I picked something called "Mure et Musc", which is primarily a combination of musk (which I thought I didn't like) and blackberry (I thought I didn't like fruity perfume either.) It doesn't smell like either of these things to me, but rather like its own, unique self (and wonderful). I can't imagine that I will ever tire of it; it is pretty much magical. A close second in my deliberations was composed, mostly, of fig. Who knew?
Anyway, turns out there are many perfume devotees out there, and entire blogs (replete with comments), and , of course, books, devoted to the discussion and reviewing of perfumes. There are perfume sophisticates who describe the smells much in the way a wine expert discusses a tasting, noting elements that clodhoppers such as myself cannot detect, let alone evoke in metaphor. If you are interested, and check out one such blog, it will link you to many others.
Aside from the emotional resonance and memory triggering powers of scents, anyone interested in food and flavor is kind of automatically interested in the sense of smell, which plays such a large part, we are told, in taste. As children we were probably all treated to the popular science class demonstration where we were instructed to hold our noses, and had trouble telling apples from raw potatoes. I figured the reason this all seemed more mysterious than illuminating to me at the time, was my failure to grasp the lesson.
But it turns out that there is still some pretty lively debate going on about how the sense of smell functions. I've been reading a book called The Emperor of Scent, by Chandler Burr, the perfume critic (!) at the New York Times (I wonder if they've always had one?). It is a fascinating (so far) story about a biophysicist-and perfume aficiando- called Luca Turin, who has been making waves (ha, sorry), with a vibration theory of how the sense of smell-and the nose-work, which theory is counter to the accepted wisdom in the mainstream scentific community. This book is written for the layperson (I couldn't follow it otherwise, I'm sure), and I will undoubtedly be unable to evaluate whatever position is ultimately taken...but it is good fun. Perhaps I am the only person who had not yet heard about this, but if not, you might like to check it out.
Still, I will drag myself from meanderings about other things that smell bad, and result in good eats (asefoetida?), or smell dire and taste good (brie, and some frightful smelling fruits, the names of which I forget-probably due to the olfactory trauma), and back to the making of the drommar which you see before you. The Swedish recipe can be found at Epicurious, along with the author's account of her childhood trips to the drugstore to buy the stinky stuff. I got mine from the Baker's Catalog , King Arthur Flour's ever useful online shop.
These cookies don't look like much, but they are absolutely great. Really. Lovely texture- crunchy, chewy, melting, all of these, and a subtle, satisfying taste. At least, that is the verdict on the just cooled batch. I will add a comment tomorrow as to how these age in the tin. Unless somebody eats them up first. Stay tuned for (soon), Fruityoaty's other favorite, "alfajores", from Argentina.
As promised update on cookies in the tin: Not much chew, lovely and crispy, taste even better the 2nd day. These really are gorgeous cookies- many thanks to fruityoaty for the tip.