Baker’s Ammonia a.k.a. Hartshorn

You don’t have to be a chemist to spot a certain pattern in the names of chemical leavening agents. Potassium carbonate. Potassium bicarbonate. Sodium carbonate. Sodium Bicarbonate. All are compounds that release CO2 when they’re either reacted with acids and/or degraded by heat. The logical question at this point is: are there any other carbonate salts out there that do the same job and that you can also safely eat?

Yes there is: ammonium carbonate (or sometimes bicarbonate) also known as “baker’s ammonia”. You mean people use ammonia in baking?? Well, sort of. A carbonate (or bicarbonate) salt of ammonia. If you’re German or Scandinavian you’ve probably heard of it: baker’s ammonia, also called hartshorn or “salt of hartshorn.” It gets that name because the original source of the compound was the antler of the male deer (hart). These days it’s industrially produced.

The interesting thing about baker’s ammonia is that it really does make your kitchen smell of ammonia during baking. However if you’re using it right all of the chemical evaporates out leaving nothing but the finished goods behind. What sort of goods? Usually very thin, crispy cookies like German springerle and/or Scandinavian ginger cookies, which owe part of their flavor to the shade of ammonia that the hartshorn leaves behind. I know, it sounds disgusting but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

If you can’t find any baker’s ammonia but want to make a recipe that calls for it, you can substitute baking soda. Since baker’s ammonia is a little more potent than baking soda you’ll need to add about 25% more soda to the mix. So, for every teaspoon of baker’s ammonia you’ll need to use 1 1/4 teaspoons of soda.

Be aware that baker’s ammonia shouldn’t be kept too terribly long as it can “spoil”, i.e. degrade into a mixture of ammonia and ammonium bicarbonate that smells pretty horrible and doesn’t do much for your cookies either.

8 thoughts on “Baker’s Ammonia a.k.a. Hartshorn”

  1. I’ve become a big fan of baker’s ammonia. It gives such a wonderfully crisp texture, nothing else even comes close. But I use it only in recipes that originally call for it. I’ve never swapped it for baking soda in a recipe that calls for baking soda. I’ll have to try that at some point.

    1. Hey there! While you can substitute soda for baker’s ammonia it’s not a good idea to do the reverse. If a recipe isn’t specifically made for it — especially if the thing you’re making is thick and not thin — the ammonia might not completely bubble out. But that doesn’t say you can’t experiment! Let me know what you come up with!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

  2. I thought it interesting when I ordered it that it is touchy to ship. HA I will confess I have a hard time using it. I’m VERY sensitive to ammonia smell. My mom used to use it (shows my age) for cleaning when I was a kid and I’d gag and have to leave the house while she did it. I agree it mostly bakes out but until that happens it is very difficult for me to remain in the kitchen with the odor. If someone is looking for a place to get it I think King Arthur Flour still stocks it and will ship it. Maybe Amazon too. KAF was where I got mine. I think I used it once and couldn’t talk myself into doing it again. HA

  3. Hello! I just used I today in a chocolate cookie recipe. The 3 key ingredients are almond paste, crumbs of chocolate cake cookies and bakers ammonia. Do you know where to find more recipes to use it in? Can it be used in bread or baguette recipes ? Thank you!! Cheers Kevin

    1. Hey Kevin!

      King Arthur has a few as I recall, since they sell baker’s ammonia. Beyond that a good ol’ Google search will probably yield more than a few!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

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