Aunt Alice said that baking ammonia is becoming difficult to find, even at the specialty cake shop in Bismarck. It may soon be a thing of the past; however there is still some interest in what it is and why people used it.
I came across this article in a magazine recently which explained it quite nicely. Baker’s ammonia, also known as ammonium bicarbonate, was the primary leavening agent used by bakers before the advent of baking sod and baking powder.
Certain recipes, such as Hirshonsaltz Keacha from my Aunt Alice, call for baking ammonia. The biggest drawback to this product was its smell. If you recall fainting couches and proper ladies who fainted (I hear it was more from tight corsets than having sensibilities shocked) it was baking ammonia that was passed under a Victorian lady’s nose to revive her.
Because of its unpleasant smell, it was used to leaven only low-moisture baked goods like crisp cookies and crackers that dried out during baking.
Today we substitute baking powder or soda for baking ammonia. The magazine’s test kitchen experimented with ammonia in a crisp sugar cookie. The ammonia was substituted for baking powder because they didn’t have Aunt Alice’s recipe which calls for ammonia in the first place. They found it can be used interchangeably. The baker’s ammonia however 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. PLUS, it doesn’t leave a soapy-tasting residue that sometimes comes from soda or baking powder.
The conclusion was they would probably use it more often if it was more readily available because of the difference it made…. hmmmm.
You can find the recipe for Hirshonsaltz Keacha under the recipe tab on this website. The baking ammonia, you may have to find the earlier post for the websites from which to order the stuff… until next time – Gute Essen.