Baker’s Ammonia is a leavening ingredient called for in many old world recipes, especially those from Scandinavia. In German baking, it’s known as hirschhornsalz or “hartshorn.” Unlike baking powder or soda, Baker’s Ammonia (ammonium carbonate) leaves no unpleasant alkaline off-flavor in baked goods.
It is used for cookies, crackers and cream puff-type pastries, items which are small, thin or porous. It is not used for cakes or other large items because the ammonia gas cannot evaporate from these items. You will notice an odor of ammonia while baking, but this will quickly dissipate and the baked product will not have an odor or taste of ammonia. Because Baker’s Ammonia has a tendency to evaporate when exposed to air, it should be stored in a jar with a tight cover. It will not spoil, but will “disappear” if not stored properly.
Baker’s ammonia/ammonium carbonate/Hartshorn was the primary leavening agent used by bakers before the advent of baking soda and baking powder in the 19th century. In fact, certain recipes for European and Middle Eastern cookies and crackers still call for it today. While the smell when cooking may be a drawback, again, that smell dissipates leaving no smell or taste in the baked item. By way of “fun fact,” baker’s ammonia is the stuff that was passed under Victorian ladies’ noses to revive them when they swooned! Because of its noxious scent, it is used to leaven only low-moisture baked goods like crisp cookies and crackers that thoroughly dry out during baking.
Many find that when swapping baker’s ammonia for baking powder in a recipe for crisp sugar cookies, not only could the two products be used interchangeably, but the baker’s ammonia/ammonium carbonate/Hartshorn produced a lighter, crunchier crumb. This is because when its tiny crystals decompose in the heat of the oven, they leave minuscule air cells in their wake from which moisture easily escapes. Furthermore, this leavener leaves none of the soapy-tasting residue of baking powder or baking soda. It works so well, many become hooked and use this for ALL their crisp baked goods! The complaint is that it’s hard to find, so order from us as needed!
Sugar Cookies/Holiday Cookies with Niblack Ammonium Carbonate/Hartshorn/Baker’s Ammonia
Yield: 80 to 100 cookies
1 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt (up to 2 teaspoons, to your taste)
7 to 8 cups Niblack all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons Niblack Hartshorn (see note)
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand-held mixer, beat together butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, then the salt. Mix in 7 cups of flour, alternating with milk.
- Dissolve hartshorn in ¼ cup water and add to dough; blend. If needed, add enough of the remaining cup of flour to make a good dough. It will be soft.
- Cover and refrigerate several hours until dough can be rolled.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Divide dough into thirds or fourths. Use one portion at a time and keep the rest refrigerated. On a well-floured surface and with a floured rolling pin, roll out one portion of dough at a time to about ¼-inch thickness.
- Cut shapes as desired and place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until cookies puff and are light brown on the bottom. They should remain unbrowned on top. Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.
Notes: Cookies may be sprinkled with Niblack decorating sugar before baking. If you prefer, stir together 2 cups of powdered sugar with 3 tablespoons of milk and ¼ teaspoon of vanilla to make a glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the hot cookies and sprinkle with decorating sugar. Let dry thoroughly before storing in a cookie tin.
- Hartshorn/baker’s ammonia/ammonium carbonate: One ounce is sufficient for 2 tablespoons. You may have to use the back of a spoon to break up any clumps of hartshorn in order to measure it.
- This recipe makes a lot of cookies. It can be easily halved or bake half and refrigerate the other half for several days before baking.
Cookies, per serving (based on 100): 80 calories; 2g fat; 1.5g saturated fat; 10mg cholesterol; 1g protein; 14g carbohydrate; 6g sugar; 0.5g fiber; 25mg sodium; 5mg calcium.