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{5} Cavallucci

When I started doing my annual Christmas baking project all those years ago, I tended to focus on what I knew, and with the exception of panettone, pretty much everything was from Northern Europe. Over the years I’ve looked beyond the well-known bakes, which has led me to look more and more at Italian Christmas cookies.

We have all seen those rainbow cookies with a chocolate glaze, but what I find interesting are the traditional regional specialities. Every part of the country seems to have its own unique baked goods, often reflecting the traditions and ingredients of the area the recipe comes from, which makes it rewarding to explore, as well as to make and then eat. Yes, unlike looking at lots of churches and medieval villages, exploring the culinary landscape has the bonus of being delicious. And today’s Christmas treat takes us to the city of Siena. Meet my batch of cavallucci.

cavallucci1
The name cavallucci literally means “little horses”. They are said to date back to the time of Lorenzo de’ Medici (also known rather modestly as Lorenzo the Magnificent and who ruled Florence in the late 1400s). Their name comes either from the fact that the original cookies had an impression of a horse on top, or due to the fact they were eaten by stable hands who worked as part of whatever passed for the postal system of the gentry in those days.

Fortunately the flavour of cavallucci is very far removed from anything horse-like. They contain a lot of walnuts and candied orange peel, as well as traditional spices including coriander and aniseed.

cavallucci2
Luckily, this is a recipe that is fairly simple to make. Once you’re prepared the dry ingredients (flour, nuts, spices, candied and dried fruits), you add a sugar and honey syrup to forma dough. This is left to cool for a moment, then rolled out and sliced into individual cookies for baking. No fancy moulds, no intricate decoration, no gilding and no messing around with icing or tempered chocolate. What a relief! And if you’re looking for a vegan option, swap the honey for your favourite syrup. Or if you’re a honey fan, you can swap some of the sugar and water for more honey.

cavallucci3
These are very rustic-looking little morsels of festive cheer. They look like they have been dipped in sugar, but they’ve actually been rolled in flour before baking. I think it looks rather nice, as it goes them a slightly snowy appearance, and it means the cookies have a more balances level of sweetness.

As I was making these, I was reminded of that other Siena classic, panforte. You prepare the dry ingredients, add lots of spices, nuts and candied peel, then bind it all with a sugar syrup, although the ratios of ingredients are different, and cavallucci include some raising agent. I did wonder if a raising agent was traditional, and I think it probably is not, but most of the classic recipes that I found, including that of the Siena tourist board, suggest using baker’s ammonia. I used this too as I have some in my baking cupboard, and I’m always on the look out for a recipe that uses this most stinky of ingredients. It certainly makes the cavallucci puff up nicely in the oven and you get a lovely light texture, with a crisp outside and slightly soft centre. If you can’t get hold of baker’s ammonia, other recipes suggest using baking soda, so it should be alright to use that instead – if you do give it a go, let me know how you get on.

To make Cavallucci (makes 50)

• 200g shelled walnuts
• 100g candied peel (e.g. orange, lemon, citron)
• 30g icing sugar
• 2 teaspoons baker’s ammonia
• 2 teaspoons ground coriander
• 1 teaspoon mixed spices
• 1/4 teaspoon aniseeds, crushed
• pinch of black pepper
• 650g plain flour
• 300g white sugar
• 150ml water
• 25g honey

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper rubbed lightly with some neutral oil.

2. Roughly chop the walnuts and candied fruits. Put in a large bowl and add the icing sugar, spices, baker’s ammonia (or baking soda) and flour. Mix well.

3. Put the sugar, water and honey into a saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved and there are no crystals left (you want the sugar to just dissolve, but do not let it boil). Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a few minutes, then pour the liquid over the dry ingredients. Mix well with a wooden spoon. It should be firm but sticky.

4. When the mixture is still warm but cool enough to handle, take teaspoons of the mixture and drop onto a plate dusted with flour.

5. Roll each piece into a ball (it should be coated lightly with flour), place on the baking sheet and flatten to around 1cm thickness.

6. Bake the cavallucci for around 15 minutes until they are puffed up, but they are still pale (they only get a very slight colour during baking).

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{12} Rhubarb Half-Moon Cookies

That’s the end of 2014! Hope you had a blast! I spent the evening in central London to see the fireworks, which is something I haven’t done for about ten years. It might have been chilly, but we were all wrapped up and there was enough champagne and fireworks so that we didn’t really notice how cold it was. Today all the decorations came down and it was back to normal with a bit of a bump. Hey ho…

Today is also the final instalment of the 12 Bakes of Christmas. I usually aim to get them all done before Christmas, or at least before New Year’s Eve, but this year, things went slightly awry. I would love to imagine that I am an organised person, and I had all the best intentions about the bakes I was going to do. Everything would be done in good time. Festive baking would be stress-free. For my final bake, I had something quite impressive in mind too. I hunted around for the ingredients. I even bought a special mould! And then I made them…and they were really awful. Unperturbed, I put it down to a mistake I must have made, and had another go. Also dreadful. It turns out that my baking skills were spot on…it was just that my chosen recipe (which you may notice I’ve avoided naming) simply was not actually that nice! So, I had to abandon my original plan, and go on the hunt for something else to round off this year’s baking. But what?

Well, as fortune would have it, someone read last year’s post about hálfmánar, or Icelandic half-moon cookies. I had used prune filling, but my Icelandic reader told me that apparently this is not really authentic (based on a straw pole of some Icelandic people, which I am willing to accept as 100% scientific). So I was given his mum’s recipe for making them, using rhubarb jam (which I love) as well as baker’s ammonia (which is my all-time favourite novelty baking ingredient). And so it was settled – I would just have another go at one of my favourite recipes from last year, just a more authentic version of it.

rhubarbhalfmanar

As with so many things, nothing beats an authentic recipe – the pastry is great (that baker’s ammonia makes they very light and airy) and the rhubarb jam really is nice in these things, a nice combination of tart and sweet. And yes – better than the prune fulling I used last time! I also took a little more time this year with the finishing – I used a scalloped rather than round cutter on the pastry, used a fork to get good, deep crimping on the edges, and brushed them with a little beaten egg to get a good colour and shine. They also provide a nice alternative to all those rich, spiced goodies at this time of year – lighter and a little unusual.

One final confession – this is not 100% my reader’s mum’s recipe. The recipe I got looked like it would make quite a lot of biscuits, so I divided it by three, which still yielded 25 little rhubarb pastries. Have some pity – when you do twelve recipes in rapid succession, you do get rather a glut of baked goods, and there are limits to how much my friends are willing to eat!

rhubarbhalfmanar2

Finally, I hope you’ve enjoyed the 12 Festive Bakes of Christmas series for this year. I’m sure we’ll be kicking off again in about 11 months’ time!

 To make Rhubarb Hálfmánar (makes 25):

• 165g flour
• 80g sugar
• 80g butter
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1 medium egg

• 1/2 teaspoon baker’s ammonia
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• rhubarb jam
• milk, to seal
• beaten egg, to glaze

1. Start with the pastry: in a bowl, rub the butter into the flour. Mix in the sugar, spices and baker’s ammonia. Mix in the egg and work to a soft dough (add a dash more flour if needed). Chill in the fridge overnight (the dough will be quite soft, but will firm up in the fridge).

2. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

3. Make the biscuits. Roll out the pastry, then cut out 8cm diameter discs of pastry (use a round or scalloped cutter – I used scalloped). Put about a quarter of a teaspoon of rhubarb jam in the middle of each piece. Moisten the edges of the pastry disc with milk, them fold in half. Use a fork to seal and crimp the edges.

4. Beat an egg and brush the top of each bookie.

5. Bake the cookies for around 10-12 minutes until golden.

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{9} Elisenlebkuchen

One of my favourite Christmas treats is the German Elisenlebkuchen, packed with nuts, citrus peel and spice, and the base coated in dark chocolate and finished with a sugar glaze that takes on a frosty appearance. They are pretty much Christmas in a biscuit.

Now, if I’m going to dare to call these things Elisenlebkuchen, then I need to be careful what goes into them. I earn some credit for the hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, various spices and lemon and orange peel I’ve used, but I would have scored a great big fat zero if I had let just one dash of flour get anywhere near them. As a mark of quality, these things are made wheat-free. As a result, they have a fairly flat shape, but the flavour is rich and the texture soft and dense.

elisenlebkuchen

My fondness for these is in part due to what goes into them – nuts, spices and candied peel. However, it is also due to the fact that they are one of the first biscuits I got to know. Unlike today, when we’ve got easy access to foreign Christmas goodies, it used to take a bit of work. Panettone, marrons glacés and Lebkuchen had to be searched out, found only in places familiar to those in the know. So it was with these biscuits. The specific brand I loved were Bahlsen Contessa, and they were sold in a branch of Spar where my grandmother lived. The German woman who ran the shop had a few of them in at the end of the year, so no visit was complete without a trip to pick up a box of Lebkuchen. I liked to pick off the chocolate and then eat the soft cake bit.

elisenlebkuchen2

While there are rules about what you can use, you still have some scope to play around. Various recipes seemed to suggest using just almonds, but I wanted to add a bit more depth to my attempt, so I used equal parts of hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds. For the candied peel, I changed the common 50/50 mixture of orange and lemon, using mostly orange, and relying on fresh lemon zest to provide the zing.

And finally, the spices. The traditional approach is to use Lebkuchengewürz (Lebkuchen spices). However, I had run out of this so I let my creativity run wild. Cinnamon, cloves, mace, ginger, cardamom, star anise and a dash of white pepper went in there. You can go with whatever you like, but I would aim for mostly cinnamon with just a dash of the more powerful spices. Also keep in mind that the flavour will mature as they are stored, getting stronger with time, so if you go with lots of really forceful spices such as cloves or black pepper, you might send your guests running to the kitchen for water. Going heavy on nutmeg, coriander or cardamom, in contrast, probably invokes less of a risk!

When it comes to finishing these Lebkuchen, you’ve also got a few options. They often feature whole almonds arranged either individually or in a circle on top. They can be left as they are, or coated with a simple glaze of icing sugar and hot water. This has a magical effect when you leave it overnight, taking on a white, frosted appearance. Alternatively, you can coat them entirely in dark chocolate, which works wonderfully well with the citrus and spices. I went from something that combined the two – the glaze on top, with a layer of chocolate on the bottom.

If you buy these, they tend to be on the large side, around palm-sized. I made them more bite-sized. Which…arguably means…you can enjoy twice as many. I think all in all, they take a fair bit of time to make (you need to allow for overnight drying of the icing, and then fiddling about with tempering chocolate and so on) but nothing is particularly difficult and the result is really delicious.

To make Elisenlebkuchen (makes 32):

For the biscuits:

• 3 eggs
• 150g soft light brown sugar
• 75g white caster sugar
• 200g ground nuts (walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts)
• 25g flaked almonds, crushed
• 100g candied peel, very finely chopped
• 1 lemon, zest only
• 1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice
• pinch of salt
• 1/2 teaspoon baker’s ammonia

For the glaze:

• 100g icing sugar
• 2 tablespoons boiling water

 To finish:

 • 250g dark chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line four baking trays with greaseproof paper, and rub each very lightly with oil.

2. Separate the eggs. In a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, beat the yolks with the brown sugar until pale and fluffy (around 3 minutes).

3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until you have soft peaks. Add the caster sugar, and whisk on a high speed until you have a stiff meringue.

4. Fold the meringue into the egg yolk mixture in three batches. Stir in the ground nuts, crushed flaked almonds, candied peel, lemon zest, spice, salt and baker’s ammonia.

5. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag, and pipe out rounds onto the trays (I did eight per sheet – each one around 4cm diameter).

6. Bake the biscuits for 20 minutes, turning the tray mid-way through, until they are puffed up and browned. When done, remove from the oven, allow to cool and remove from the paper and cool on a wire tray.

7. Once all the biscuits are baked, make the glaze by mixing the icing sugar with the boiling water. Brush the glaze onto the domed side of the biscuits, and leave overnight to dry (the glaze should dry fairly quickly, and take on a “frosted” appearance by the next morning).

8. Finally, melt the chocolate and use to coat the flat side of the Lebkuchen.

Worth making? Definitely. These taste pretty much like the pure essence of Christmas, and well worth the time they take.

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{6} Springerle

I’ve done a few posts recently that involve the magic powder of the kitchen, baker’s ammonia. It’s fun to use as it gives off a blast of ammonia fumes during baking (OK, not fun, but quite dramatic), and produces amazingly light baked goods.

Once I managed to track in down in London (hint – it’s in Scandinavian Kitchen near Great Portland Street), I looked around to see what I could use it in, and quickly came across one of the most fancy biscuits I’ve ever seen, German SpringerleThese are made from an aniseed-flavoured dough, and the biscuits are formed into intricate designs using presses, resulting in some very fancy shapes indeed. They are then left to cure until to surface is dry, and then baked to get the baker’s ammonia going. At this point, the cookies expand dramatically, jumping four to five times in height.

I’m not going to write too much more about Springerle here, as I’ve written all about them in a guest post at All The Live Long Day, so I’ll let you read that at your leisure. It also has some links to where you can get hold of the special biscuit presses that you need to make Springerle as well as some ideas of how to make patterns with things you may have at home if you lack the patience to track down the specialist tools.

However, I will share some of my experiences for making these cookies if the mood should take you. The recipe I used (set out below) is easy to make, and rolling out the dough presents no challenges. However, I found it tricky to get the moulds properly covered in flour to make sure that the imprint was sharp and, eh, the mould was not covered in the dough. A few attempts ended fruitlessly, with me scrubbing the mould out with a toothbrush, then waiting for it to dry before I could have another attempt. So had I wasted my time and money? Well, no. A simple trick solved this problem – it wasn’t necessary to get the flour into the mould, as long as you had a barrier between it and the dough. So I dusted the top of the rolled dough with flour, and voila – perfect impressions of flowers, cocoa pods, houses, harps and abstract designs.

Springerle_2

Another tip that makes life easier is to cut the dough into pieces once it has been rolled, and then press with the moulds. When you press down, the dough at the edges gets pressed out slightly, so if you just use one giant piece of rolled dough, you can get some distortions. Use individual pieces – no problems! Then all you need to do is trim the edges, and re-use the scraps to make more cookies.

Springerle_1

Springerle_4

Once all the cookies has been pressed, they need to sit out for around 24 hours until the surface is dry and they look pale. I tried experimenting with a few different sizes – some very small biscuits (the side of a two pence coin) and some very large ones the sizes of playing cards. Against my expectations, when the Springerle are too small, they warp in the oven and go lop-sided. In contrast, the larger ones puff up evenly. I had expected the larger ones to be prone to cracking, but this proved not to be a problem. So it seems to me that going for large, intricate designs if the way forward.

As you can see below, after baking, the Springerle keep their shape remarkably well. There is a bit if puffing up at the edges, but the designs themselves are almost unchanged. The only thing you need to watch during baking is that they should remain pale. Watch them carefully to make sure that they don’t brown.

Springerle_5

springerle_6

Once baked and cooled, I tentatively tried one of my Springerle. I’m happy to report that for all the hard work involved (and let’s be honest, there is a lot of hard work involved in these things), they taste delicious. Light, slightly chewy and aromatic from aniseed. There’s a tiny hint of lemon in there too, just to enhance the aniseed, but not so much as to over-power it. They really make an unusual addition to the festive table.

Springerle are also noted as a biscuit that gets better if left to cure after baking. They should be stored in an airtight tin, but if they seem too dry, just add a piece of apple or a slide of bread to the tin (be careful to check in from time to time – no-one is a fan of mouldy apple…). This seems to be a common trait among biscuits made with baker’s ammonia – they all seem to get better it allowed to sit for a while.

And finally, just in case you are curious about the various patterns that you can find, in addition to the big tray above, I also got hold of this rather jolly pine cone pattern. They were also left to dry for 24 hours, and the baked versions retained the pattern with pin-like sharpness.

springerle_cones

To make Springerle (recipe adapted from House on the Hill):

Makes around 50 pieces

• 1/4 teaspoon baker’s ammonia (or baking powder)
• 1 tablespoon water
• 3 eggs
• 300g icing sugar
• 55g unsalted butter, softened
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon aniseed extract(*)
• 450g plain flour
• grated rind of 1/2 lemon

1. Dissolve the baker’s ammonia in the water, and leave to one side.

2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until pace and fluffy, around 10 minutes. Add the icing sugar in thirds, beating well after each addition, then add the softened butter and beat until combined. Add the baker’s ammonia mixture, the salt, aniseed extract and lemon rind. Mix well.

3. Start to add the flour to the egg mixture. Once the mixer gives up, add the rest of the flour, and use your hands to combine everything until you have a stiff dough.

4. Take portions of the dough and roll out on a well-floured worksurface. Aim for 1/2 cm or 1/4 inch. Sprinkle the top lightly with flour (a tea strainer is the ideal way to sprinkle the flour), then use your press to make the pattern. Trim the edges of the cookies, then transfer to a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.

5. Leave the cookies to dry, uncovered, for 24 hours.

6. Preheat the oven – at this stage, it’s an art rather than a science, so it’s best to test with one cookie to make sure they don’t burn. The temperature should be 120° to 160°C (255° to 325°F) – the test cookie should puff up from the base. The bottom should be barely coloured, and the top should not be starting to brown. Allow 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of the cookie.

(*) Be careful what you use – my aniseed extract had the strength of aniseed liqueur. If you’ve got something stronger, such as pure oil, you may need less – a lot less!

Worth making? I’m really glad that I finally got the chance to make Springerle. Sure, they are fussy, tricky and take a lot of time, but they taste great and have a wonderful traditional flavour. Worth trying if you’ve got the time, patience and inclination.

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{5} Serinakaker

In the traditional carol The Twelve Days of Christmas, the fifth day was greeted with five gold rings. As a nod to that, today’s recipe is for golden biscuits called serinakaker from Norway. Yes, it turns out that Norway is a bit of a goldmine when it comes to unusual festive ideas in the kitchen department, and these are also one of the classics in their “seven sorts” baking tradition.

serinakaker_1

From rather simple ingredients, the end result is a plate of rich, buttery shortbread. If you can also get hold of baker’s ammonia, they also have a super-light texture and crisp finish (but baking powder will also do just fine). They are finished off with an egg wash to give them a golden colour, and sprinked with chopped almonds and pearl sugar. I think they look nicer if you chop whole almonds, so you have a bit of contrast on the cookies. A quick search on the web also shows that Norwegians love these things, so you can’t really go wrong!

serinakaker_2

To make Serinakaker (makes 40):

• 150g butter, softened
• 100g icing sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 egg, beaten
• 250g plain flour
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baker’s ammonia or baking powder
• 1 beaten egg, chopped almonds and pearl sugar, to finish

1. In a bowl, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and pale . Add the egg and beat until the mixture is very fluffy.

2. Put the flour and baker’s ammonia (or baking powder) in a bowl and mix well. Add one-third to the butter mixture, and mix until combined. Add another third of the flour, mix well, then add the final third and mix. Cover the dough and leave in the fridge overnight to chill.

3. The next day, preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

4. Remove the dough from the fridge. Shape into a long roll, and cut into 40 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, and place on the baking sheet (you might have to bake in 2-3 batches). Flatten each with a fork, brush with beaten egg, and sprinkle with pearl sugar and chopped almonds.

5. Bake for around 12 minutes until golden, turning half-way (and watch out for the fumes!).

Worth making? Very easy to make, and the results are far better than the level of effort should indicate.

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{3} Sirupsnipper

Today I’m going to go back to more “traditional” festive baking, and that involves looking north, to our neighbours in Norway.

As it turns out, Norway is home to some very unique and interesting recipes for Christmas. I’d always assumed they were very much like those of Sweden and Denmark, but they have their own personality. In addition, there is a festive tradition called Syv Sorter (“seven sorts”) whereby you bake – you guess it – seven different things in order to have a properly generous Christmas spread. Some suggest there is a fixed list of items to choose from, but there seem to be about twenty different traditional bakes. While the list of what people include varies rather a lot, today’s recipe – sirupsnipper – seems to feature in most people’s lists. If you want to see some of the other recipes in the list, see here.

How I have missed these biscuits is, frankly, beyond me. They include lots of spices (which I love), and the dough should be cut into a diamond shape using a fluted pastry cutter (which I did not own, and thus had to make a fruitful trip to the wonderful Divertimenti kitchenware store). In order to be authentic, they also require one of my favourite (and rather odd) baking ingredients, good old baker’s ammonia. It makes sure that the biscuits are properly light and crisp, even if it does cause your kitchen to smell of ammonia while baking (the resulting biscuits are perfectly safe to eat though). You can use baking powder if you don’t have baker’s ammonia, and the biscuits will still taste good.

sirupsnipper

The flavours in sirupsnipper are cinnamon, ginger, aniseed and white pepper, but the resulting taste is surprisingly subtle. None of the spices is too strong, and the overall flavour is a mild gingerbread with the rich flavour of syrup. I thought they tasted a little like Belgian speculoos biscuits – very crisp and lightly spicy, which are great with coffee.

The dough is made one day, and the baking happens the next day, so that the flavours can develop a little before baking. Rolling out the dough and cutting into shape was all very easy, and I ended up with some smart-looking biscuits before baking. While in the oven, however, the sharp edges got a little less sharp, and I wondered what I could do.

Finally, and out of curiosity, once I had a table groaning with cookies, I left the last batch of six to dry overnight. I reasoned that letting the cut biscuits sit, uncovered, might mean that they would hold their shape better when baked. Well, as it turned out, this had two effects. The shape did indeed stay sharper, but the crisp “snap” was gone in the baked biscuits. I have no idea why this happened, but the biscuits were far better when not left to sit overnight. So there you have it – a little test by me so that you’re not left wondering what if…

And with that, we’re one-quarter of the way through out Twelve Bakes of Christmas. However, if I were a Norwegian having a go at the Seven Sorts challenge, I’d be almost half-way there. Maybe next year!

To make Sirupsnipper (adapted from tine.no):

A word of caution – this recipe makes about 100 biscuits! It is easiest to make batches of these cookies, rather than trying to bake them all in one go.

• 150ml double cream
• 150g golden syrup
• 150g white sugar
• 100g butter
• 450g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
• 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon ground aniseed or star anise
• 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
• 3/4 teaspoon baker’s ammonia or baking powder
• 3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• flaked almonds, to decorate

1. Put the cream, syrup and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. Add the butter, stir until melted, then leave to cool until lukewarm.

2. In the meantime, mix the flour, spices, baker’s ammonia and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl until fully combined. Add to the syrup mixture and mix to smooth dough. Cover well and leave to sit overnight.

3. The next day, preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

4. Roll out portions of the dough (thickness of 3mm) and use a fluted pastry cutter to shape into diamonds (or just use a knife). Transfer to the baking sheet, then dab a little water in the middle of each biscuit and lay a piece of flaked almond in the middle.

5. Bake the cookies for around 5-6 minutes until golden (turn half way). Remove from the oven, cool for a moment, then transfer to a wire tray to cool.

Worth making?This is a great recipe, and I’m just confused I’ve never seen it before. Simple crisp, spicy cookies, and perfect if you need to bring a large box to feed colleagues.

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{10} Loftkökur (Icelandic Air Cookies)

Sometimes,  just do something random. And it doesn’t come much more random than Icelandic cookies.

I have no connection to Iceland, and have never been. However, it does intrigue me. I would dearly love to visit the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa at some point in the near future and spend some time walking across the lunar-like landscapes. I was also vaguely affected when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano that brought European air travel to a standstill last year. But…that’s it. Being honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever even eaten anything Icelandic.

Nevertheless I read about these air cookies and it struck me as a bit of fun. So here we go – my tenth Christmas bakes post!

The point of these cookies is exactly as their name suggests – they should be light, light, light. They are a doddle to make – icing sugar, cocoa powder and egg. But the magic is the raising agent – ammonium carbonate – which means they puff up spectacularly. As you can see – a six-fold increase in volume!

You can see above the traditional way to make them – use a biscuit press with a ridged attachment, then cut into individual pieces about 5cm (2 inches) long. 

Then I put them in the oven…and boy did they rise! What was less exciting and, frankly, rather alarming was the fact once they were done, I almost managed to gas myself on ammonia fumes.

OK, somewhat of an exaggeration, but there was certainly a pong that filled the house, and I am very, very glad I attempted this on a sunny but breezy winter morning. The doors could be opened, and the stink was dispersed relatively quickly. I knew this stink-fest was on the way from when I made Swedish drömmar biscuits but even when you know it is coming, the sheer impact of the smell never fails to surprise.

Anyway, with the drama of the mystery smell overcome, and the house once again fresh-smelling (i.e. not of ammonia), the cookies were ready. They look good and, given the earlier smelly experience, they don’t stink. That’s what I want in a biscuit – one that doesn’t make the eyes water! The cookies are crisp and like a little like dry meringue, but not quite the same texture. But fun. They are also hollow in the middle, so they are indeed light as a feather!

The “ridged” look is traditional, but if you don’t have a biscuit press to hand, then fret not! A little online research revealed that you can also make other shapes, and I was very taken with this idea of straws – I tried it, and the result was great – I still got “lift off” and the resulting straws were light and crisp

I’ve written a little bit about the history of ammonium carbonate before (here). It’s funny stuff, but if possible it’s worth getting hold of it – in fact, if you want to make these air cookies, you must have ammonium carbonate to make them work. Nothing, but nothing, will work in its place!

So try them – and good luck! Or gangi þér vel as they (apparently) say in Reykjavik. But of course, I’ll need to visit to be sure!

To make Loftkökur:

• 300g icing sugar
• 1 teaspoon baker’s ammonia (ammonium carbonate)
• 2 1/2 tablespoons (30g) cocoa powder
• 1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Lightly grease a non-stick baking tray.

Mix the icing sugar, baker’s ammonia and cocoa powder in a bowl. Add the egg and mix well. Use a spoon at first, but you’ll need to use your hands to get the dough to come together. It will be quite stiff.

To shape the cookies, you have two choices: (1) put the mixture into a cookie press and press. Hey presto, the dough comes out. Cut the resulting strip into pieces – aim for cookies about 5cm (2 inches) long; or (2) roll into very long, thin “sticks” of dough.

Bake the loftkökur for 10 minutes – watch them puff up, but be careful of the fumes when you open the oven door.

To get ammonium carbonate in London, you can buy this from Scandinavian Kitchen in the city centre (61 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 7PP), tel: 020 7580 7161. Tube: Oxford Circus.

Worth making? Loftkökur are worth trying for the novelty factor alone! Normal chocolate meringue is a bit easier on the nose, but if you’re looking for something quick and easy to do with kids (who will screech with delight when the pong makes itself known), then this might just do the trick. Just make sure it’s a nice day, and there is plenty of wind outside so you can air the kitchen out as necessary

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