If you have been baking for a while, or have followed a recipe, you probably have come across these ingredients, baking soda and/or baking powder. You may have at time forgot one or the other resulting in anything from a surprising good result to a gummy final product. So what are these ingredients, what do they do and why are they so important, you may ask.
Leavening agents (also called leavens or raising agents) are substances used in doughs and batters to produce gas bubbles (mostly carbon dioxide) which in turn raises, lightens and softens the baked goods. Chemical leavening agents create gas bubbles through a chemical reaction, when an acid and alkaline mix in the presence of moisture. The most common chemical leavening agents in baking are baking soda and baking powder.
Baking soda (Sodium bicarbonate) is an alkaline that slowly breaks down when heated producing sodium carbonate, water and carbon dioxide, in turn creating a bit of leavening. This reaction is however too slow during baking, so your baked goods will taste strongly of baking soda leaving an unpleasant bitter and soapy taste in your mouth, literally. To prevent this most recipes that use baking soda usually include something acidic such as buttermilk, natural cocoa (not dutch processed) or molasses. When baking soda reacts with an acid in the presence of moisture, it immediately creates carbon dioxide and balances out some of acidity of the final product. When baked are cooked the carbon dioxide bubbles expand in the batter or dough raising the final product.
Note: When using baking soda it is important to bake or use us the batter/dough as soon as possible or the bubbles will work their way out of the batter or dough reducing their raising capabilities.
Baking Powder is baking soda mixed with a dry acid and a times a little corn starch. Corn starch keeps the mix dry preventing the baking soda and the acid from reacting. This in turn extends the shelf like of the baking powder. Baking powder can be added to any batter whether it includes an acid or not. There are two kinds of baking powders, single acting and double acting baking powder.
Single acting baking powder
Single acting baking powder is usually just a mixture of baking soda and cream of tartar (twice the amount of cream of tartar as baking soda). Once moistened, the baking soda will react with the cream of tartar creating bubbles.
Similar to a recipe with baking soda and an acid in the recipe, the air bubbles will expand when heated. When the batter sets the cavities left by the air bubbles will remain, leaving a light, softer raised product. Also similar to using baking soda and an acid you should bake or use the batter/dough as soon as possible because if left for too long, the air bubbles will work their way out and reduce the amount of raise.
Make your own baking powder
You can easily make your own single acting baking powder for immediate use. To make 1 teaspoon of baking powder, mix 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda (two parts of cream of tartar to one part of baking soda). Remember to use it immediately for maximum lift.
Double acting baking Soda
This is the most common kind of baking soda you will find in stores. It is just the single acting baking powder taken a step further. The cream of tartar is usually replaced with two kinds of acids, one just like cream of tartar that reacts to the baking soda as soon as it gets wet, the other that doesn’t begin to react until it’s heated. This gives you more lee way even a window to let the batter or dough rest.
How to determine when to use baking soda or powder and how much is needed
In any baked goods there are structural and decorative ingredients. Structural ingredients as the name states, give the baked good structure and help keep their shape. Decorative ingredients do not help give the item structure but add weight. So if your product has a lot of decorative ingredients, you will need extra lifting power. Think of it this way, you will need more man power to lift a sofa than a stool.
- Wheat flour and a liquid – Liquid mixed with wheat flour creates gluten with gives strength and structure.
- Eggs – Protein in eggs gives structure and strength
- any non-wheat flour or grains
- “optional extras:” fruit, nuts, chocolate chips/chunks, cheese, vegetables, etc.
When & How To Use Baking Powder
A rule of thumb usually is for every cup of flour use 1 teaspoon of baking powder. If you have a cup or more of decorative ingredients add an additional 1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda per cup of flour.
For example: If you have a recipe that calls for 2 cups of flour and 11/2 cup of raisins, you will use 3 teaspoons of baking powder as opposed to 2 teaspoons if you omitted the raisins or if you used just 1/2 a cup instead.
When & How To Use Baking Soda
Unlike baking powder, baking soda depends on the acidity in the recipe. Since most ingredients do not have equal acidity, the amount used to react with baking soda differs from ingredient to ingredient. It is also important to note 1/4 a teaspoon of baking soda can replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder as long as it has an acid to neutralise it. If the amount of baking soda required to neutralise the acid is less than an equivalent of baking powder that is needed, add the additional baking powder.
For example: We saw above for a recipe that calls for 2 cups of flour and 11/2 cup of raisins will need 3 teaspoons of baking powder. If we use 1 cup of buttermilk instead of whatever neutral liquid we were using – like milk, you will need 1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda to neutralise the cup of buttermilk.1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda will replace 2 teaspoons of baking powder, so we will need to add the extra 1 teaspoon of baking powder to provide the needed lift.
1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda will neutralise; Just to name a few.
- 1 cup of buttermilk or sour milk
- 1 cup of milk soured with 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice (DIY buttermilk)
- 1 cup of yoghurt
- 1 cup of sour cream
- 3/4 cup of brown sugar
- 3/4 cup of honey
- 3/4 cup of molasses
- 1 cup of fruit or vegetable juice
- 1 cup of mashed banana
- 1 cup of fruit or vegetable sauce
- 2 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice
- 1/2 cup of natural cocoa (not Dutch processed)
- Add a tablespoon of baking powder to a cup of hot water. If it fizzles and bubbles its good to go if not toss it.
- Add a pinch of baking powder to a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice. If it fizzles and bubbles its good to go if not toss it.
Note: You can choose to use baking powder completely, and forgo neutralising the acid in a recipe. If you do, the flavour and the acidity from the acidic ingredient will be more pronounced. Your baked good will also have a finer crumb and paler colour compared to products neutralised with baking soda.
Try your recipes both ways and see how you like the flavour.