13 July 2012

Vanilla Dreams

A few weeks before I moved back to the UK, I finally managed to buy a new baking book. One that I'd had my eye on since it came out the year before.

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It's by Jan Hedh (in Swedish), one of the leading pastry chefs in Sweden, and is called "277 sorters kakor". This translates to "277 types of biscuits/cakes" and is a play on the Swedish concept of "kafferep" and "sju sorters kakor". That is "coffee rope" and "seven types of biscuits" and refers to a very old Swedish tradition where women would gather and drink coffee and eat biscuits. According to Swedish wikipedia, this was usually done for a wedding or a funeral, but I'm not sure those were the only reasons for such a gathering. For starters, ladies could get a few hours' break from husband and children. These events are expected to last for a whole afternoon I would think.

The seven types of biscuits is what kafferep-etiquette required as a minimum! This doesn't count bread rolls, buns and other such items. Another must was of course the Princess cake.

So, for Lundulph's last Swedish lesson for the term, he asked me to bake something Swedish for him to take along and I picked one very Swedish biscuit - vaniljdrömmar or vanilla dreams. And the recipe is from my new book. The only change I made was with respect to vanilla sugar - this is found in most Swedish recipes calling for vanilla, but I haven't had any in years since I discovered the wonderful bottles of vanilla extract. The original stated 25 g vanilla sugar, which I have replaced with 20 g of caster sugar + 1 tbsp vanilla extract.

Ingredients
Makes 70
300 g plain flour
4 g ammonium carbonate (baker's ammonia or salt of hartshorn)
225 g unsalted butter at room temperature
220 g caster sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees C. Line a couple of baking sheets with baking paper and cut out a couple of additional pieces of baking paper as well.
  2. Sift together the flour and ammonium carbonate, making sure they are well blended.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together with a spoon the butter, sugar and vanilla extract until the mixture is smooth.
  4. Add all the flour mixture and mix to a soft dough, using only your fingers, so the butter doesn't start melting. Don't over-work it, but just enough so that it comes together and is homogeneous.
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  5. Divide up into 5 - 6 pieces and roll each one into a longish sausage, about 2 cm thick.
  6. Cut up each sausage into chunks of 11 g.
  7. Roll each chunk briefly into a ball and place on the baking paper, starting with the two sheets. Don't be tempted to place them too closely together, but leave some 6 - 7 cm inbetween.
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  8. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20- 25 minutes. They should preferably remain pale. If the oven is too hot, they will run out more and become too thin.
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  9. Remove and let cool, while the next batch is baking. Then just before that is ready, carefully slide the dreams off the baking sheet along with the paper, then slide the next batch onto the baking sheet.
  10. Remove very carefully and store in an air-tight box, but line the box with some kitchen tissue beforehand, as these biscuits are very delicate and break extremely easily.

And they are ready to enjoy. But don't even think of dunking them, they will disintegrate!
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There are several interesting aspects to these I think. The main point is the use of ammonium carbonate. This is a predecessor to today's bicarbonate of soda and baking powder and this is the only recipe where I have encountered this before. In Sweden, every supermarket sells packets of salt of hartshorn probably for precisely this recipe. I'm not sure how easy it is to find in the UK or elsewhere. My packet was purchased several years ago and has been kept dry and relatively cool in the larder. It does behave differently to the modern chemical leavening agents and so can't easily be substituted for them.

Another very good aspect is that it was very much easier to make than I expected. I can't remember if I've made these biscuits before, but blending things together, then dividing up into the 11 g portion (and yes, I did weigh each one!) felt a lot easier and quicker than I thought, when I read the recipe originally.

The oven temperature for my bake was 145 degrees actually and comparing to the picture in the book, my dreams ran out perhaps a bit more. Also after 25 minutes of baking, they still retained a slight chewiness in the centre. This is not traditional, but both Lundulph and I found it very appealing.

Mr Hedh also adds the following variations:
Kokosdrömmar - Coconut dreams - add 80 g desiccated coconut to the above recipe. Nötdrömmar - Nutty dreams - add 70 g finely ground roasted hazelnuts. Chokladdrömmar- Chocolate dreams - replace 30 g of flour with cocoa powder.

And he finishes that for Christmas, he adds a little ground saffron to the basic recipe and make saffron dreams. Saffron is very much associated with St Lucia and Christmas in Sweden.

Lundulph commented that the biscuits were very well met in his Swedish class.

Update in January 2019:
These biscuits are turning into quite a staple for me and during the month of January, I've been trying out the different varieties, as a small compensation for not baking and treating my lovely colleagues for ages - work has been extremely busy in the past few months and I've not felt like doing anything. Many of my colleagues had started complaining. Plus, since I purchased a small scoop for these to use as a quick measure, I can easily make a batch in a work-day evening, with over 100 of the little lovelies.

I first made the chocolate version and because I reduced the flour and replaced with cocoa powder, these turned out even more delicate and brittle than the vanilla version. I just about managed to get them to work without disintegrating them. They were all well-met.

Next I tried the coconut version, thanks to finding a somewhat finer desiccated coconut than what I normally use, which saved me some additional processing to make finer. Now there were no adjustments to the other ingredients, so these turned out a bit more sturdy and crunchier. A bit too much for my liking, but if anything they turned out to be even more popular than the chocolate ones, with several people asking for seconds and one of my managers coming back several times. He probably had about 10 of them. And a box of these survived the Royal Mail, since I have colleagues working in other parts of the country and don't get to see them more than every other year or so.

Next on the list is the nutty and saffron variants and also to try out a suggestion from a colleague - orange flavour. I'll need to think about how to achieve that.

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