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Leavening Agents for Baking
Ammonia Cookies
Gem Cookies


Derived from the Latin "levare", meaning "to raise". The raising action that aerates dough and batter during mixing and/or baking provides greater volume and a distinct cell structure.

Leaveners are classified as "aerating", "chemical", and "yeast".

Aerating Leaveners

Whole eggs, egg whites, butter, shortening, lard.

Work on the principle that a volatile substance will produce vapors that will be captured within food as it dries and sets during baking to give structure to baked goods.

Whole eggs are beaten until light, egg whites until fluffy. During baking, the moisture in the eggs or whites expands as water vapor. At the same time, the heat of the oven firms the crumb structure.

Butter and solid fats flavor as well as leaven. They are generally low in moisture, so they are worked into the dough to form thin, alternating layers of fat and dough. The moisture in the dough evaporates, producing water vapor which is trapped by the moisture-proof fat, resulting in a flakey, aerated pastry.

Chemical Leaveners

Baking powder, baking soda, ammonium carbonate.

Chemical reactions occur between two or more ingredients, specifically between alkali and acid, to produce carbon dioxide. The reaction starts when liquid is added to the mixture.

Some example of acid ingredients include sour milk, buttermilk, sour cream, cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate) and vinegar.

Baking powder is a combination of both alkaline (sodium bicarbonate) and acid (cream of tartar) ingredients. It was invented to insure consistent results in recipes.

Most U.S. baking powders are double acting, i.e., they release gas during mixing and again during baking. The reaction is slower than that of old fashioned single action baking powders.

Yeast Leaveners

The oldest known leavener, this one-celled microorganism divides and multiplies at a phenomenal rate when subjected to moisture and heat.

Yeast remains dormant at temperatures below 50°F, and are killed at temperatures above 120°F.

Adding a small amount of sugar will enhance development, but too much sugar (greater than 6% flour total) will stop yeast growth.

Salt inhibits yeast growth. Whole milk is not good for proofing yeast, because milk fats coat yeast cells and inhibit cell growth.

Compiled by Deborah DiCintio-Lang, Master Cake Decorator
Fante's Cake Decorating Course Instructor

Note: One suggestion for ingredients to make a yeast similar to the popular Italian PaneAngeli brand, is to use one part baking soda to 4 parts vanillin.

Ammonia Cookies

From our old friends at

Ingredients needed:
Half ounce Baker's Ammonia (ammonium carbonate)
1 cup milk
Half cup shortening
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 egg, well beaten
Half ounce oil of lemon or 1 ounce lemon extract
5 cups sifted enriched flour

- Preheat the oven to 350&°F.
- Add the milk to the ammonium carbonate and let stand for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Cream the shortening and the sugar; add the egg, lemon flavoring and the milk mixture.
- Stir in the flour until well blended.
- Chill.
- Roll the dough to one-fourth-inch-thick on a floured board.
- Cut into 3-inch squares.
- Prick with a floured fork.
- Bake on a greased baking sheets at 350°F for 15 minutes or until slightly browned.

Makes three and one-half dozen.

Princess Gem Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1 cup Crisco
2 tsp Ammonium Carbonate
2-1/2 cups flour
1 cup coconut, shredded
2 cups sugar
Confectioners sugar for rolling

Cream butter and Crisco well.
Add sugar and Ammonium Carbonate, and mix well.
Mix in the shredded coconut.
Add flour a little bit at a time, mixing well.

Roll pieces into balls about 3/4" round.
Place on greased cookie sheet one-inch apart (as cookies spread during baking).

Bake in a pre-heated 350°F oven for about 10 minutes.
Remove from oven when edges become slightly brown.

Cool the cookies on a rack.
When cooled, roll in confectioners sugar.
Roll until the sugar is thick.

Store in a container with a tight-fitting lid.
These cookies can be frozen.

Fannie Farmer's Rye Gems

1-2/3 cups rye flour
11/3 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup molasses
1-1/4 cups milk
2 eggs
3 tablespoons melted butter

Mix and sift dry ingredients, add molasses, milk, eggs well beaten, and butter.
Bake in hot oven in buttered gem pans twenty-five minutes.

Fannie Farmer's Hominy Gems

1/4 cup hominy
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup scalded milk
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup corn meal
2 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter

Add hominy mixed with salt to boiling water and let stand until hominy absorbs water.
Add scalded milk to corn meal, then add sugar and butter.
Combine mixtures, cool slightly, add yolks of eggs beaten until thick, and whites of eggs beaten until stiff.
Sift in baking powder and beat thoroughly.
Bake in hot buttered gem pans.