Friday, March 11, 2005

Layer Cake with Baker's Ammonia

 Posted by Hello

I have very fond memories of this cake dating back to my college years. It was a popular offering of tea parties at that time. The look is quite elegant with many thin biscuit layers sandwiched between pastry cream. Recently, someone requested the recipe in's forum, and several people responded. Meanwhile, I made my own little Internet search on baker's ammonia, also known as ammonium carbonate or Hartshorn. I found out that as a leavening agent, it is a precursor to the baking soda and baking powder that we use these days. It readily breaks down into a gas when heated (causing the leavening), but unless it escapes completely, it may leave a hint of the smell of ammonia. For that reason, it is generally used in cookie recipes where it doesn’t have to fight its way out of a deep batter. Cookies made with baker's ammonia are more crisp and delicate than cookies made with other leaveners. It is not affected by age, but it will evaporate if not kept in an airtight container. In US, one cannot find baker's ammonia in supermarkets, but it can be mail-ordered. So I did, and my two tiny packages of white, smelly powder arrived yesterday. I must say that I found the smell really offensive, but of course, that did not stop me from making the cake since I knew from past experience that the end product would be very tasty.

For the biscuits

3/8 c milk
3/8 c melted butter
3/8 c sugar
2 eggs
1 heaping tbs of baker's ammonia
Flour as needed

Put the eggs and sugar in a medium-sized bowl and beat with an electric mixer until combined. In a seperate small bowl, mix the milk and melted butter. Stir ammonia into some of the flour. Add this to the whipped eggs alternately with the milk-butter mixture as you mix on low-speed to form the dough. Continue adding flour and mixing until the dough holds together and is just firm enough to roll. Shape it into a log and cut into 8 equal pieces. Gather each piece into a rough ball and rest them for 10 minutes or so. Meanwhile, flour your rolling surface. Roll each ball of dough to a 9-inch round. You can use the leftover scraps of dough to make a ninth biscuit. Prick each round with a fork like you would a pie crust. Place as many biscuit layers as you can fit on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350F oven until the biscuits are light golden in color. Bake all the biscuit layers in this manner.

For the pastry cream filling:

1 lt milk
3 heaping tbs flour
1 c sugar (I used less)
2 eggs
3 tbs butter, cut into chunks
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour. Add the cold milk, mix well and cook until the mixture thickens and starts to boil, stirring continuously. Turn off the heat, add chunks of butter and whisk until they melt.

For assembly, put a biscuit on a serving plate. Pour some warm pastry cream to cover. Add the second biscuit on top of the pastry cream and repeat until all the biscuits are used up. Cover the top and sides of the cake with pastry cream. Refrigerate overnight or at least a few hours. You can serve the cake as is or cover the top and sides with 1 c of slightly sweetened and whipped cream like I did.