Baking With Ammonia

A little baggie of white powder sat on our counter.

“Um, what’s that?” Andrew inquired.

“Ammonia!” I declared with delight. “I’m going to make ammonia cookies.”

“Where did you find this stuff? With the cleaning supplies, or baking supplies?”

“The cleaning supplies… but it should be fine, right?”

“What? No!”

“Hahaha JUST KIDDING! It’s with the baking stuff. Because this is Steinbach. If you’re gonna bake, you need ammonia to add some delicious flavour,” I informed my skeptical husband.

Turns out this was not a Mennonite food practice that Andrew could get behind. In the end his concern for our insides being eaten away sealed the fate of that ammonia. It was thrown out.

On many occasions, I’ve found myself standing by the baking ammonia at Main Bread & Butter, staring with longing. There’s just something about that weirdly refreshing chemical-ish flavour, and that scent that melts the hair in your nostrils. Both my grandmas made ammonia cookies… and so did one of Andrew’s grandmas! I remember her serving them to us when we visited. I think that may have been the last time I’ve enjoyed an ammonia cookie. But it won’t be the last!

I’ve assumed ammonia was always used for its delicate flavour profile, but apparently the use of ammonia in baking goes back to our ancestor’s time in northern Europe, where it was used as a leavening agent.

I’ve counted 27 recipes in the Mennonite Treasury that require ammonia. Most are for perishky. Check out the variety of cookies you could make with ammonia!

  • Zuckerneusse (peppermint cookies, right?)
  • Perishky
  • Rogenmehl Kuchen (these appear to be rye flour & spice cookies)
  • Peppermint Cookies (delicious)
  • Molasses Ammonia Cookies
  • Tante Greta’s Perishky (Tante Greta added orange rind)
  • Kringel
  • Tea Kringel
  • Lebkuchen (this involves walnuts and cardamom!)
  • My Original Cookies by Mrs. J. I. Warkentin (I’m tempted to try, based on the name alone)
  • Soft Cookies (aka Grandma Cookies!)
  • Jam Filled Cookies
  • White Cookies
  • Orange Cookies
  • Brown Perishky (because brown sugar)
  • Brown Chocolate Cookies (also because brown sugar)
  • Burnt-sugar Cookies (requiring a daring 4 teaspoons of ammonia)

By the way, I also learned from Wikipedia that ammonia is also used in Buckley’s cough syrup to help alleviate symptoms of bronchitis! Oh, and it’s also a good photographic lens cleaner. Nice!