Tag Archives: ammonium carbonate

Enlightenment on Leavening

Posted on

There’s not much that can hold a candle to enlightenment. Sorry. Couldn’t help that pun.  January in Michigan causes us to get a bit loopy in the short cold days and lack of sun.  🙂

As a “Kitchenaire” at Bygone Basics (www.bygonebasics.com) I help a lot of people experience kitchens in the way they developed as the heart (and the stomach) of the homes of our establishing country.  We do a lot of exploring of old customs and current ones…and the how and why of them.  It is a great way to learn our history and culinary heritage.

One question I get a lot is “What is the diference between baking soda and baking powder?”

It is honestly a fabulous question.  And certainly due a good answer.  The short answer is…Baking powder is baking soda-plus.  In other words.  Baking powder has baking soda plus other agents that help it leaven in blends that only baking soda doesn’t do as well in.

Some recipes call for multiple leavening ingredients. Crumpets, for example call for yeast to raise the dough like a bread and then a baking soda and warm water solution is added right before cooking.

A bit longer explaination is that baking soda alone does well as a leavener in mixtures that include an acidic ingredient.  This could be buttermilk (lactic acid), vinegar, sour cream, molasses, lemon juice and honey (yep honey).  BUT….when the recipe requires leavening and there are little to no acidic ingredients, baking powder is your secret weapon.  Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and added acidic ingredients, such as cream of tartar, to help with leavening.  Baking powder cannot be used as a single substitution in recipes that call for baking soda.  Your recipe will fall flat. (sorry, another pun, I guess, I’m a bit “light” headed)  As a rule of thumb, baking soda is used in cookie recipes and baking powder is used in more neutral recipes ( that contain flour, sugar, milk, oil, salt) like cakes and biscuits.

Yeast is the biological leavener for Bygone Basics' artisan stone baked bread.

A note on leavening…because I can’t help myself.  I looked it up in Wikipedia to see if I could share the knowledge in an easy to understand way.  According to that source, there are multiple types of leaveners in food stuffs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leavening_agent).

Biological:  Anyone who uses yeast in breads, or makes beer or wine is going to understand the use of microbes and their resulting gas release as part of their life cycle.

Chemical:  These are used in everyday modern baking.  Baking soda, powders.  Used to release carbon dioxide (usually that is the gas) when heat is applied.

Bygone Basics' hierloom recipe for Chocolate Chip cookies calls for a lot of oats, nuts, chocolate...and baking soda.

Valerie’s note:  In the case of baking soda, it begins acting immediately, before heat, (resulting in recipes falling flat if there is a delay in baking)….FYI….this is also where baking powder helps…delayed actions…aka double acting baking powders have an ingredient that waits for the heat of the oven.

Mechanical:  Think….meringue.  Mechanical leavening is the introduction of trapped air into the ingredients through whipping or whisking.

Steam/air/gas injection:  Water is flash expanded into steam in the case of pop-overs.  Nitrous oxide is used to “leaven” aerosol “whipped” cream.

There is a leavening agent that isn’t mentioned much anywhere these days.  Ammonium Carbonate.  It was the predecessor of modern leavening chemicals.

It was mainly used in heirloom recipes of northern Europe and Scandinavia.  I have learned that you cannot substitute baking powder or baking soda in these old recipes and get the same light airy results provided by Ammonium Carbonate.   One of my husbands favorite childhood memories involves a recipe called Princess Gems.  It’s leavening agent is Ammonium Carbonate (aka Baker’s Ammonia or Salt of Hartshorn).  I was determined to give him that memory this last Christmas.  It took some doing, but I managed to secure some of the historical leavener.  Right in the old recipe card are the instructions not to breathe in the fumes from the leavener.  (It doesn’t mention not to breathe when you open the oven door when baking them, but that’s another story)  The ammonia bakes off in the oven and leaves an incredibly light and melt-in-your-mouth airy cookie.

Does anyone else have an old recipe that called for Ammonium Carbonate?  Please, share it with me!!!  I am truly fascinated by old recipes and ingredients.

Well…until next time.  I’m delighted that you read this blog.