This recipe for Polish Ammonia Cookies -- amoniaczki (ah-mohn-YATCH-kee) -- may sound a little disconcerting but many Old-World recipes call for baker's ammonia, a common leavener before baking soda and baking powder appeared on the scene in the 1850s. If you just can't get past the name, think of these as Polish rolled sugar cookies.
The baker's ammonia makes them bake up crisp and store well. Sprinkle with colored sugar, if desired, or leave them plain.
Don't have any baker's ammonia on hand? No worries. If you run across an old recipe calling for this ingredient, you can substitute an equal amount of baking powder or baking soda (or half of each) for baker's ammonia. Just don't use baker's ammonia as a one-to-one replacement for a contemporary recipe calling for baking powder or baking soda. The results won't be the same. One teaspoon baker's ammonia can be substituted with 1 teaspoon baking powder or 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda or 3/4 teaspoon baking powder mixed with 3/4 teaspoon baking soda. There's more info on baker's ammonia after the directions for this recipe, below.
- 4 ounces/1 stick butter (softened)
- 2 tablespoons sugar (vanilla)
- 1/2 cup sugar (confectioners)
- 2 large eggs (beaten)
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 1 teaspoon baker's ammonia (dissolved in 2 tablespoons water or 1 teaspoon baking powder)
- 2 cups flour (all-purpose)
- Garnish: coarse white or colored sanding sugar
- In a large bowl, cream butter, vanilla sugar and confectioners' sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, sour cream and dissolved baker's ammonia and mix again. Note: If using baking powder, combine it with the flour in the next step.
- Add flour and mix thoroughly. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until manageable, about 2 hours.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Dust a work surface or parchment-lined pan with equal parts confectioners' sugar and granulated sugar. Roll out dough between 1/8- to 1/4-inch thickness and cut into cookie shapes of choice. Remove scraps and repeat with remaining dough. Brush cookies with beaten egg white and sprinkle with sugar, if desired.
- Bake 10-15 minutes or until just beginning to brown around the edges. You want these cookies to be blonde in color. Cool on pan for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack. When completely cool, store tightly covered.
Ammonia by Any Other Name
Baker's ammonia is variously called ammonia bicarbonate, ammonia carbonate, ammonium bicarbonate and hartshorn (the ground horns of harts or male deer). It is still available today as lumps (which should be crushed to a fine powder before using) or in powder form.
The Chemical Process
When exposed to heat and moisture, baker's ammonia turns into ammonia, carbon dioxide, and water, all sources of leavening. Baker's ammonia doesn't need an acid or alkaline to react as baking powder and baking soda do. Baker's ammonia produces a crisp crumb and increases browning, and an unpleasant ammonia odor while baking which dissipates. The off-flavor seems to persist if used in moist baked goods such as muffins and is therefore not advised.