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.