July 17, 2016

German baking: Amerikaner

There are various stories about why this popular treat is called an "Amerikaner", but none are particularly satisfactory. My favourite is that the traditional leavener, ammonium hydrocarbonate (or bicarbonate), could be shortened to "ami-ca", which doesn't make much more sense in German. The German word for the above is either Hartshornsalz (ammonium bicarbonate) or Hirschhornsalz (ammonium hydrdocarbonate) -- literally, "deer horn salt".* The use of either of these ammonia salts gives a unique texture and flavour, and although recipes abound that call for baking powder, it seems generally agreed that those ones are lacking in the special signature flavour created by the Hirschhornsalz.

German baking categories don't include soft cookies in with the firm/hard ones. The soft ones are regarded as a small cake, even though as single portions go, they're dauntingly large. Think of an oversized muffin top with the texture of a velvety pound cake, that has been flipped upside down and glazed on the flat side. Locally, these are most often made with a white glaze, although a couple of places offer half-and-half white and chocolate glazing. They are sometimes compared to American Black-and-Whites -- another possible origin story.

I decided to make smaller ones, for better portion control. The regular ones are twice the size of these. I used a disher to scoop the batter, but in order to get the coveted perfectly round shape, next time I will probably use a pastry bag to pipe the wet batter onto the parchment paper. It's definitely a learning process.

A final note on ingredients - most of the recipes I've seen online call for a package of vanilla pudding powder, which is merely cornstarch with vanilla flavour and a pinch of salt. I've added these ingredients separately.

Safety note: ammonium bicarbonate is an irritant to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. The heat from your oven causes a certain amount of it to sublimate, which releases it as a gas into the hot air inside your oven. If your face is in front of the oven door when you open the oven to remove the cookies, you will get a face-full of ammonia gas. Don't do it; instead, shield your face whilst opening the oven door, to give the gas a chance to disperse. If possible, open a door or window or use a hood fan for additional ventilation while you are cooking with this chemical. For more information, click here.


Makes about 20 "small" cookies

100 grams unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
100 grams sugar (I used raw sugar, but it wasn't specified)
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup minus one teaspoon milk
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 pinch of salt
250 grams cake flour
5 grams ammonium hydrocarbonate/bicarbonate (if you must substitute, try 2 teaspoons baking powder)

For the glaze

250 grams confectioner's sugar
Enough lemon juice and/or water to make a thick glaze

Preheat the oven to 190 C Over/under (375 F) with a rack in the middle.

In a mixing bowl, combine the butter and sugar and beat until light. Add the eggs, beating well after each addition, until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla extract to a 1/3 cup measure, and fill the rest with milk. Add to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, and beat well.

In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, ammonium bicarbonate, and salt. Stir to combine. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture, and stir just to combine. Note: ammonium bicarbonate stinks like, well, ammonia. This will disappear as it bakes. Try not to inhale too deeply.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop or pipe about a tablespoon of batter onto the parchment and test-bake for 8 - 10 minutes to see if it spreads out the way it should (if not, you may need to add another tablespoon of milk).

Bake, watching it like a hawk - you do not want these to burn. They should remain pale, but get a bit golden on the bottom. Repeat until you've used all the batter.

If the dough spreads to your satisfaction, lay out six more cookies on the parchment paper (remember to give them lots of room to spread in all directions) and bake until just golden. They will be very tender and a bit fragile. Remove them to a rack to cool, and spread the bottoms thickly with glaze, leaving them glaze-side up to set.

* While ammonium hydrocarbonate was originally harvested from deer horn, amongst other things, this brand is vegan so no deer were harmed or used in the making of this recipe.

July 03, 2016


I continue to be inspired by my vacation in Marrakech last year, and as you can see I have many more Moroccan recipes still to explore.

Harira is a traditional soup from Morocco, and while it is enjoyed year-round as an appetizer or light meal, it gains particular significance during Ramadan, for many households being a significant dish for iftar, the traditional meal that breaks the daily fasting during that month. Its recipes are as varied as the households they come from, but generally are all based on a combination of tomatoes, legumes, a starch such as rice or pasta, green herbs, and spices. Meat is an optional component, but used in fairly small quantities as it is not the focus of the soup. I've used lamb in this version, because we have such an excellent supplier of good quality lamb that I cook with it as often as I can, but beef or chicken could be used instead or the meat could be omitted entirely. For a meatless, vegan harira, I would double the amount of lentils, and possibly also increase the amount of chickpeas.

The soup is thick and hearty, and always served with bread. As part of iftar, it might also be accompanied by dates, hard boiled eggs, small savoury pastries, even homemade pizza. Iftar is served just after sundown, and although it is Ramadan right now, we are not Muslim so we enjoyed the harira at our usual dinnertime.

This version of harira is pretty close to the one I first tried at the market restaurants that spring up every evening in Jemaa El Fna, the main square of Marrakech. It is adapted from MarocMama's recipe.

Harira with Lamb

Makes 7-8 cups

1 medium yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
5 large roma tomatoes
225 grams lamb, diced small (optional)
1 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 small pinch saffron, crushed between fingers (optional)
400 grams cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup dry green or brown lentils (washed)
30 grams spaghettini or other thin pasta (broken into short lengths)
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
5 cups water

Prepare your mise en place: roughly chop the onion and garlic together, and the tomatoes and herbs each separately.

In a food processor, puree the onion and garlic until smooth (a tablespoon of water may help this process).

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion/garlic puree, and stir and cook for a few minutes. Increase the heat slightly, and add the meat, if using. Stir and cook the meat until it has lost its raw look on all sides.

Add the tomatoes to your now-empty food processor and quickly puree. Add the pureed tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped herbs, salt and the spices, and stir well. Add four of the five cups of water, and bring up to a simmer. Add the washed lentils and chickpeas, and stir through. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer, and let cook for an hour, to let the lamb get tender. This can be reduced to 30 minutes if you aren't using the meat - long enough for the lentils to get tender.

While the soup is simmering, whisk together until smooth the remaining cup of water with the flour. Let it stand while the soup cooks, so that the flour fully hydrates.

When the lentils are cooked and the lamb has had some time to get tender, add the broken pasta and stir through. Then, stirring constantly, add the flour/water mixture in a thin, steady stream. The soup will start to thicken very rapidly, but keep stirring it until all of the flour mixture has been added. This is a very thick soup. Cook and stir for another 20 minutes, to allow enough time for the raw taste of the flour to cook out, and for the pasta to cook. You will need to keep the burner on its lowest heat and stir the soup regularly, to prevent the scorching. Serve as an appetizer or whole meal, with bread and any other accompaniments you like.