you want to bake cookies that will fill your house
with the warm scents of the holiday season, this is
not your recipe. In fact, the act of opening the oven
door while these cookies are baking can abruptly clear
your sinuses like a whiff of an ammonia-laced
want to bake cookies that will fill your house with the warm
scents of the holiday season, this is not your recipe.
fact, the act of opening the oven door while these cookies
are baking can abruptly clear your sinuses like a whiff of
an ammonia-laced cleanser. The secret ingredient is
hartshorn, also sold as ammonium carbonate or baker’s
the finished product is a soft, mildly sweet sugar cookie
without a hint of its leavening agent. These cookies are
among my childhood favorites, as baked by my grandmother,
Selma Hesse Koenig. Her decades-old recipe calls for "a
nickel’s worth of hartshorn." That’s about 2
tablespoons, which now costs between $1.50 and $9.95.
is a traditional German and Scandinavian leavening
ingredient, an ancestor of baking powder. It was made from
the antlers of a red deer stag (known as a hart) and was
also used as a smelling salt. Open the lid and you’ll know
cookbooks ascribe different qualities to hartshorn — it
was used in molded cookies such as springerle to help hold
their shape, or in thin, dry cookies to make them crisp. In
my grandmother’s recipe, it helps keep the cookies soft.
used to be widely available at corner drug stores but has
become almost as scarce as an independent pharmacy. Online
sources include kingarthurflour.com.
cookies puff in the oven, so I prefer the dough rolled
thinner, rather than thicker. You could frost them with any
vanilla icing or just sprinkle with sugar before baking, but
I stick with my grandmother’s traditions: She glazed them
while hot and sprinkled them with colored decorating sugar,
causing the sugar to melt and spread like red and green
fireworks. Of course, they may be cut in any shape, and
Grandma used the cookie cutters she had on hand. In her
honor, it’ll be Christmas chickens and ponies again this
80 to 100 cookies
butter, room temperature
teaspoon salt (see note)
7 to 8
cups all-purpose flour
tablespoons hartshorn (see note)
the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand-held mixer,
beat together butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, then
the salt. Mix in 7 cups of flour, alternating with milk.
Dissolve hartshorn in ¼ cup water and add to dough; blend.
If needed, add enough of the remaining cup of flour to make
a good dough. It will be soft.
Cover and refrigerate several hours until dough can be
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Divide dough into thirds or fourths. Use one portion at a
time and keep the rest refrigerated. On a well-floured
surface and with a floured rolling pin, roll out one portion
of dough at a time to about ¼-inch thickness.
shapes as desired and place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake
8 to 10 minutes, until cookies puff and are light brown on
the bottom. They should remain unbrowned on top. Use a
spatula to transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.
may be sprinkled with decorating sugar before baking. If you
prefer, stir together 2 cups of powdered sugar with 3
tablespoons of milk and ¼ teaspoon of vanilla to make a
glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the hot cookies and sprinkle
with decorating sugar. Let dry thoroughly before storing in
a cookie tin.
is also known as baker’s ammonia and ammonium carbonate.
It is available at some spice shops and some pharmacies, as
well as online. One ounce is sufficient for 2 tablespoons.
You may have to use the back of a spoon to break up any
clumps of hartshorn in order to measure it.
have made this recipe several times, once accidentally using
2 teaspoons of salt. I actually liked it better that way.
recipe makes a lot of cookies. I have successfully cut it in
half. I have also baked half and kept the other half
refrigerated for several days before baking.
serving (based on 100): 80 calories; 2g fat; 1.5g saturated
fat; 10mg cholesterol; 1g protein; 14g carbohydrate; 6g
sugar; 0.5g fiber; 25mg sodium; 5mg calcium.