Alright gang. I’m starting up a new Tuesday tradition here called:
If you love cooking and baking as much as I do, then at some point in time I’m sure you’ve had questions about the ingredients you cook with. Why do we add salt in baked goods? Why do we have different types of flour and where is each one best used? How many different kinds of peppers are out there and what are the differences between them? How does yeast work? You know, the questions that delve not into just WHAT ingredients we use to put our recipes together, but more importantly, WHY we use them.
Because, after all, if we are able to better understand why we combine the ingredients we do, we can take one more step forward towards becoming better cooks and bakers for our families and for others. So are you with me?
I’m going to take that as a yes and jump feet first into our first Beyond the Basics Tuesday. I don’t know about you, but one of those mysteries of baking that I’ve always wanted to learn a bit more about is the difference between baking powder and baking soda. I want to know what exactly it does and why exactly we need it in our recipes.
What they are:
Baking Soda…. Is another name for sodium bicarbonate. As you probably already know, it has many different uses, cooking being one of them.
Baking Powder… Is a combination of baking soda, cream of tartar, and cornstarch. So why the difference and when should you use one vs. the other? Let me see if I can map out a few differences for you:
Baking Soda requires an acidic ingredient (chocolate, honey, buttermilk, sour cream and brown sugar are all examples) and a liquid in order for the reaction to take place. The reaction occurs immediately.
- Baking Powder, in comparison, contains 1 part baking soda to 2 parts cream of tarter to 2 parts cornstarch. In baking powder, the cream of tarter acts as the needed acidic ingredient to assure that the baking soda reaction is properly balanced every time. The reaction using baking powder is usually two fold. You will have an immediate reaction when added to your batter and a second reaction once your dish heats up in the oven and hits 140 degrees.
- And what exactly is the reaction I’m referring to? When you mix up your ingredients in your bowl, you introduce air bubbles throughout. When baking soda or powder is introduced, it releases carbon dioxide that helps to enlarge those bubbles and hence rise your baked good. Similar to the way yeast reacts only much more immediate.
So how do we know how much baking powder or soda to use? In doing my research I came upon an awesome guideline to help determine the amount of leavening to use in your recipe:
For each cup of all purpose flour called for in your recipe use no more than 1 to 11/4 teaspoons of baking powder or 1/4 tsp of baking soda.
And which is the better choice to use?
Based on what I read and learned, I’ve come to the conclusion that in most cases, baking powder is the better leavening agent for the job. It already has the acidic reaction built in, so you don’t need to worry about having the correct amount of an acidic ingredient present in order to neutralize the base (the baking soda).
There are some cases where baking soda works well and an example would be when you’re cooking with an acidic ingredient like the ones I mentioned above. It’s why, for example, you’ll typically see baking soda in addition to baking powder added into a chocolate cake recipe. It helps to neutralize the extra acidity of the chocolate.
So hopefully this all helps a bit to clear up the whole baking powder vs. baking soda mystery. I really just skimmed the surface and could literally write pages and pages more on the topic. But I won’t put you through that. Instead I’ll share a few practical tips with you before signing off:
- It is always best to add your soda/powder to your recipe as close to last as possible (mixing it in with your other dry ingredients and then adding them together with the wet ones works well) so you can delay the reaction until the end of the mixing process.
- Once the baking soda or powder is added to your batter, less is more when it comes to mixing. If you over mix your batter, you could release the air bubbles that have formed and hinder your baked good’s attempt at rising.
- If a recipe calls for only baking soda, it’s because there is some type of acidic ingredient being used to neutralize the soda’s base.
- Baking powder can start to lose it’s strength after being open for about 6 months. To test the health of your powder, grab a 1/2 cup of hot water and throw 1 tsp of powder into it. If you don’t see a whole lotta bubble action, it’s time to get yourself a new container.
- To make your own baking powder simply mix 1 Tbsp of baking soda with 2 Tbsp of cream of tartar and 11/2 Tbsp of Cornstarch.
Thanks for sharing! I'll try to reach back into my brain and see what questions I had before about baking/cooking. I know I had plenty but being out of the kitchen for a while isn't helping me remember them.
Sarah @ Mum In Bloom says
Julie this is a great idea. I'd always wondered about those ingredients and now I know all kinds about them. Love the tips on how to use them and why.
Question – Please help me master the art of making a sponge cake! Again and again mine don't rise 🙁 Is Angel Food Cake easier? Are they the same thing?
OK Chick says
I had no idea you can make your own Baking Powder. Thanks for the tip. you learning something new everyday. 🙂
Ma What's 4 dinner says
Oh wow! Look at you go. You're like the Mommy Alton Brown!
Lots of yummy love,
Alex aka Ma, What's For Dinner
Stopping by from SITS and the 31DBBB thread.
I think this is a great idea for a series, Julie. Great hints and tips. I had no idea baking soda contained all those ingredients!
that's very interesting! now if only I can remember it!!
Julie…I love this addition to the blog. As bakers, it's important to understand food chemistry, and this post helped to remind me of some of the things I learned a couple of years ago. I have become religious about using fresh baking powder (I mark the date on the container when I buy it and always through it out after 6 months)
Julie, this is a terrific idea and your first installment is wonderful. I can't wait to see what your next ingredient will be.. Have a great day. Blessings…Mary
Thanks for such an informative post on some basic ingredients. I learned so much and I thought I knew the major differences already.
Wow! This is great! I was so excited when I saw you were doing the SITS challenge. What a wonderful lesson! I can't wait to read more of them!
Tanantha @ I Just Love My Apron says
Great information here. Love it! I used to wonder, well I still do, what the difference between baking soda and powder is and what the reaction would be on baking. Now I got the answer. Thanks a lot Julie!
Did you know that you could substitute seltzer for baking soda?
Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds says
Although I can't remember my exact screw up, I once put the wrong one in my banana bread and it came out really fluffy, like cake.
It was actually kind of a neat accident that I might do over again because I liked the texture.
Thanks for the research and info….interesting!
Lindsay @ Pinch of Yum says
How do you have time for this kind of information… AND you're a mom!? I'm impressed! Thanks!
Simply Life says
ahhh, I never knew this! Thanks!
Thanks for the info! Very useful especially if I run out of baking powder or find that it isn't so fresh.
I don't even bake that much, and I found this post incredibly interesting! I always wondered what the difference was between the two, and your tips are great!