Among the things I found when putting away my many cookbooks was a copy of the Lemon Biscuit recipe contributed by Mrs. H. Graber to the 1906 Berlin Cook Book. I’d experimented with the recipe years ago and shared it at a hands on cooking workshop I was leading. I can no longer remember what the workshop was all about but I know that it involved historic cooking on a wood stove and understanding recipes.
For many years I’ve been interested in the various leavening ingredients used in baking. I was familiar with baking soda, baking powder and cream of tartar but hartshorn and potash were unfamiliar. These leaveners turn up in old recipes although hartshorn (also known as baking ammonia, hirschhornsalz, or ammonium carbonate) is still used in certain German cookies. So where do you get it? How does it look? I’ve bought it in envelopes and tubes in stores selling baking supplies or German food. It is a white powder that looks like salt but smells like ammonia. It was originally made from deer horn.
I creamed the sugar and lard and then added the eggs. The next problem was how much hartshorn and lemon extract to use. The first time I made this recipe I based my decision on an examination of other similar recipes found in cook books and hand written recipe collections. Mrs. Graber’s recipe works with 1 teaspoon of hartshorn and 5 teaspoons of lemon extract. Some recipes suggest dissolving the hartshorn in the milk and then adding it. It seems to work well. I know 5 teaspoons of lemon extract seems excessive but trust me you need that much to get the lemon flavour to appear in the finished cookie.
Once the milk, hartshorn and extract combination was prepared I measured the flour and salt and mixed everything together by alternating milk and flour. Don’t bother tasting this dough. It is not pleasant for raw nibbling and of course tasting any raw dough containing eggs is a risk.
I rolled the dough and cut the cookies using a glass. The cut cookies went on a greased sheet and I baked them at 350 degrees F. for at least 10 minutes. They should be browning round the edges when removed from the oven. Beware — if not baked long enough the cookies will taste and smell of ammonia. The cookies also need to be thin so the ammonia will evaporate. Your nose and eyes are the best judge for baking time.
I think Mrs. H. Graber is Louisa Hopp wife of Henry Graber. Their daughter Eleanora is also a contributer to the Berlin Cook Book and their future daughter in law also contributed some recipes. I suspect this cookie comes from 42-year-old Louisa’s family since her parents were born in Germany. Henry was born in Buffalo NY and his parents were also from Germany. He worked in a shirt factory.
So why bake with hartshorn if you end up smelling ammonia? The advantage of hartshorn (baking ammonia) is the result. It doesn’t taste of ammonia once baked and it produces a crispy cookie that stays crispy even in humid weather or in rainy weather like today. I think of Mrs. Graber’s Lemon Biscuit as a cookie for grown ups.
2 cups white sugar, 2 eggs, 1 1/2 cups lard, 3 cents worth hartshorn, 5 cents worth oil of lemon, 1 cup sweet milk, 1 pinch salt. Flour enough to stiffen.