Monday, February 28, 2011


There are two main chemical leaveners in the baking world: baking powder and baking soda. Quick breads are "quick" because they are leavened with a chemical leavener versus a yeast-leavener (yeast takes longer to leavened). What is a leavnener exactly? Any ingredient that are used to increase volume, slightly lighten the texture, and cause carbon dioxide gas bubbles, which cause the batter/dough to GROW!

I will talk about the two main chemical leaveners: baking powder and baking soda. Think you intermix 'em? Maybe so. Once you know the details and "science" behind the two, your baking will become a success!

BAKING SODA: aka bicarbonate of soda; It is a alkali, thus it is used in conjunction with an acid ingredient. Such as: buttermilk, yogurt, molasses, citrus juices, and sour cream. Baking soda neutralizes acidity and causes a nice "tender crumb" in a baked good. Baking soda also reacts instantly when mixed with a liquid and/or acid, thus all baked goods that use baking soda, need to be baked immediately.

BAKING POWDER: is baking soda, an acid (like cream of tarter), and a moisture-absorber (like cornstarch). Why cornstarch? It keeps the soda and acid dry and makes sure they "do not react together" when properly stored. There are actually 3 types of baking powders in the baking world:
-Double acting baking powder: The most popular and common! Double acting baking powder begans to "act" when exposed to liquid and heat ( like from an oven). Thus, batter made with baking powder do not have to be baked immediately.
-Single acting and phosphate baking powder: Very uncommon in American baking due to the popularity and ease of double-acting baking powder. Both of these start "acting" when exposed to a liquid ingredient.
Out of baking powder? Try mixing 1/4 tsp baking soda and 5/8 tsp cream of tarter together.

So, when creating a recipe, how do you know if the recipe needs baking soda or baking powder?
Baking soda needs an acid to "balance" it or it may give off a chemical taste.
Baking powder, since it contains an acid and base, is often paired with netural ingredients like milk, cream, etc.

What if a recipe calls for both, baking soda and baking powder?
When you use both, the baking powder mainly does "the work." The baking soda is there to netuarlize the acid, give a nice moist crumb, and do a little leavening.

What happens if you add too much baking powder or baking soda to your batter?
Too much will cause a bitter and metallic taste. The baked good products will "rise" very fast, then "fall" in the middle, causing an irregular shape. Too little chemical leavener? You product will be a "shallow" and small shape and have a coarse texture.

Can you subsitute one for the other?
Since baking powder already contains baking soda, you can use baking powder when a recipe calls for baking soda. But DO NOT use baking soda when it calls for baking powder.

Here is a little "tip" on how to remind yourself the difference:
Baking soda: Needs only one item (liquid) to activate.
Baking powder: Needs two items (liquid +heat) to activate.
Baking soda recipes: Use baking soda OR powder (you may need to add 1/4 tea more baking powder when using it instead of baking soda.)
Baking powder recipes: Use ONLY baking powder

Make sure you properly store your chemical leaveners in a dry, cool, and dark place like your pantry. Double check the expire date to makes sure you are using quality baking powder or soda. Tip: if it is over one year, toss it and buy a fresh leavener!

Happy Baking!