Reader Anna writes in with some interesting questions about chemical leaveners in cookies.
Baking hundreds of Christmas cookies every year, here are a few questions that are troubling me:
1) a lot of recipes mention adding the baking powder or the bicarbonate of soda and then keeping everything in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Wouldn’t that counteract the very action of the leavener?
2) some recipes (mainly handwritten, from Aunt X or Mrs.Y) specify in the procedure: mix this and that ingredient, add the flour, mix and in the end add the leavener mixed with a couple tablespoons of milk (or some other liquid).
3) when do you use baking ammonia as a leavener?
Interesting stuff, Anna. Regarding question #1, you can store cookie and muffin doughs containing chemical leaveners in the refrigerator. It is true, especially in the case of baking soda, that the reaction starts when the leavener gets wet (the other occurs when the chemical gets hot…this is the second action in “double acting” baking powder). However cookie doughs especially contain more fat than moisture, so there’ll definitely be enough “pop” left in the dough to raise the cookies the next day.
Concerning question #2 it’s hard to know without seeing the recipe, but the technique of mixing the leavener with liquid probably does two things: initiate the reaction and disperse the leavener evenly through the dough. Not being a regular cookie maker I haven’t seen that before, but it doesn’t strike me as a problem, particularly if the cookies are going to be baked fairly soon after.
Regarding baker’s ammonia, you’ll only want to use that in recipes that specifically call for it, usually Scandinavian or Northern European cookie recipes. Baking ammonia (also called “hartshorn” because it was originally derived from deer antlers) is generally used for very thin and crispy cookies, since it’s important that all the ammonia be able to escape during the bake. Some people are alarmed when they use the stuff for the first time, when the kitchen suddenly fills with a strong ammonia odor. That’s actually a good thing, as it means the ammonia is leaving the cookies! However it’s perfectly safe to use and creates a flavor and texture that can’t be achieved via any other means.
Hope this helps, Anna!