Ammonia smell, baking in Korea & whining

Posted on: Mon, 03/08/2004 - 12:32pm
Sandra Y's picture
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Joined: 08/22/2000 - 09:00

I moved to Korea a few months ago and I'm having a terrible time with my baking. I've always liked baking, but since coming here I have to bake a lot more, since I don't trust any of their cakes, cookies, etc., for my PA son.

But the ingredients here just aren't the same as what I'm used to at home. I was having a horrible time with bread making. Korean yeast sucks!!! Yeast bread isn't really something they eat traditionally, so no big surprise, I guess. I finally found some French yeast. French people know how to make dough rise, lol.

Then the stuff still wasn't rising so I figured maybe their flour is too low-protein. I always used all purpose flour in the States, but I tried bread flour here and finally I was able to make some decent pizza dough.

My oven is way too small. Koreans don't use ovens much. They cook on grills or stovetops for most foods. I've got a tiny German/Korean oven that has a convection feature that does crazy things and if I don't use the convection then the heating is uneven. The bottom won't brown.

OH WOE! (Don't even ask me about my %$&* Korean washing maching)

Now I'm having a problem with an ammonia smell in cakes and muffins. I looked it up on the internet and found that some kinds of baking soda can cause this. But I'm still using Arm & Hammer that I brought from home. I used up all my Calumet baking powder though, so I'm using Korean baking powder. That must be it, but why would baking powder smell like ammonia??

The last thing I made was cinnamon apple muffins with a streusel topping. Not only did they smell like ammonia but one of the muffins had a big clump of something sour/bitter/salty in the streusel topping and I had to spit it out. Gross! It must have come from the butter. Korean butter is greasy and when you melt it, you notice it has more solids than American butter--it's all cloudy and clumpy. So I've been buying Australian butter when I can find it.

Basically I just want to complain because I'm batting about .500 with my baking lately and I'm getting sick of throwing out half of what I make. For his birthday, my son asked me to make cookies instead of cake because my cakes are all turning out weird (kind of flat with an ammonia smell).

But does anyone know about this ammonia smell?

Posted on: Mon, 03/08/2004 - 1:16pm
momma2boys's picture
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Joined: 03/14/2003 - 09:00

Sandra, sounds like you are in desperate need of a care package! Do you have someone who can send you stuff? Maybe make friends with someone military who can buy your stuff at the commissary?
Have you checked the ingredients of the baking soda? Does it list baking ammonia or ammonium carbonate? I did find this for you. Hang in there! How long are you living there?
CHEMICAL LEAVENERS: Baker's Ammonia, Baking Powder & Baking Soda. (How Chemical Leaveners Work).
QUESTION: If you don't use enough leavener in some recipes, your cake won't puff. But, if you use too much leavener, the cake still won't puff up. Why?
ANSWER: Because, says Shirley Corriher, a cookbook author and food chemist, when you use too much leavener the bubbles in the cake batter will get too big, run into each other, float to the top and pop! Then there aren't enough bubbles left to hold up the cake.
So, you can see why it's important when you are cooking to follow the ingredient list and instructions exactly and measure carefully.
BAKER'S AMMONIA (AMMONIUM CARBONATE): Don't confuse this with ordinary household ammonia, which is poisonous. A type of baking powder, it yields a very light, airy product, but can impart an ammonia flavor to baked goods. It's best used in cookies, which are flat enough to allow all of the ammonia odor to dissipate during cooking. Northern Europeans still use it because it makes their springerle and gingerbread cookies very light and crisp. Look for it in German or Scandinavian markets, drug stores, baking supply stores, or a mail order catalogue. It comes either as lumps or powder. If it isn't powdered, crush it into a very fine powder with a mortar & pestle or a rolling pin.

Posted on: Tue, 03/09/2004 - 3:37am
ajas_folks's picture
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Joined: 04/28/2000 - 09:00

How big is your oven? Big enough for a small baking stone? If so, know any military who can get you a small baking stone through the Bx/Px?
Do you have a fine-mesh sieve you can sift the leavenings through before adding to baked goods? I've found that helps me a lot as I re-learn baking in a sometimes humid climate (southwest Texas). I was having a terrible time with tiny dots of leavening that were making for bitter spots in baked goods.
As an aside (well, wildly veering off topic) are you enjoying the KimChee? My husband would die for a batch of fire-hot-spicy, fresh Kimchee. Can't seem to find an air force spouse here who happens to be Korean & will make some!!
Hang in there & happier baking!
EB

Posted on: Tue, 03/09/2004 - 4:49am
pgrubbs's picture
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Joined: 10/27/2003 - 09:00

I agree- sounds like you need a care package! Let me know how I can help!

Posted on: Tue, 03/09/2004 - 8:09am
Sandra Y's picture
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Joined: 08/22/2000 - 09:00

Momma2boys,
That must be it. I found info about an ammonia smell from baking soda, but your info was about baking powder, so that's got to be it. Maybe if I try some different brands, I'll find one without the ammonia. This morning I made pancakes and the smell was pretty strong while they were hot (it dissipates somewhat as they cool off). Thanks!
ajas folks, I used to use a sieve for that purpose and I stopped using it after we got central air in our Chicago house. I guess I need to start again! Isn't that awful when you get a clump of baking soda in your mouth?
pgrubbs, my sister sent me a big box with safe candy for my son, along with a bunch of baking stuff--shortening, Hershey chips, vanilla, yeast...it cost her $114 for the postage! A friend came on a business trip and he brought me molasses and quick oats. My mother is my next victim, and I'll be sure to put baking powder on the list.
It is so odd moving to a foreign country and finding out what isn't available. There are so many little things that are hard to find. But I know when I go back in the summer, there will be Korean things I miss and can't get in the States. When I return to Korea in the fall, my luggage will be full of baking ingredients, that's for sure. Baking is just not done much here, and the ingredients aren't of the same quality. I can't even get whole wheat flour.

Posted on: Wed, 03/10/2004 - 8:58pm
Donni's picture
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Joined: 11/06/2000 - 09:00

Sandra Y...had a thought...have you tried sourdough baking? I'm not a "sourdough baker" but I understand from those that are, the baked goods (breads, sweets, etc.) are wonderful. With all the baking you do, your starter would never go bad!

Posted on: Sun, 03/14/2004 - 12:20pm
Sandra Y's picture
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Joined: 08/22/2000 - 09:00

Donni,
I bake quite a bit but I'm not adventurous--I strictly follow the recipes. Sourdough is a little intimidating to me. But at your suggestion, I looked it up on the internet and it does look interesting. I love the taste of sourdough bread.
I made a cinnamon quick bread the other day, and since it called for baking powder, I tried making my own. I mixed baking soda, cream of tartar and cornstarch (the recipe was on the internet). It worked, sort of. It rose properly, but there was a chemical smell& taste while the bread was warm. I almost threw it away, but decided to wait. The next morning, the smell was mostly gone. There was a very very faint smell, but I tend to be able to detect baking soda in almost everything homemade. So it worked out pretty well. I guess I'll continue using the homemade until my mother can send me some from the U.S.

Posted on: Mon, 03/15/2004 - 5:14am
becca's picture
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Joined: 05/22/2001 - 09:00

Sandra, have you tried searching online for a catalog company, like King Arthur, that might be More local, but importing the baking goods you need? Maybe that might prove cheaper than the shipping charges from the USA?? Just a thought. becca

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