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Baking Powder and Baking Soda Basics


There are very big differences between baking powder and baking soda

Baking with either baking powder, baking soda, or yeast can be a challenge for inexperienced cooks. Too little or too much can alter the taste dramatically - in a bad way. Mismatched quantities can also cause a beautiful dish to fall flat on its face - literally. Substitutions are just as dangerous when it comes to making dough and batter.

Yeast, baking powder, and baking soda are leavening agents - they cause things to rise. When dry ingredients are mixed with wet ingredients and stirred, mixed, or kneaded, tiny air pockets form. When you place a leavening agent in the mix, a chemical reaction occurs that fills the air pockets with carbon dioxide. As they enlarge, the batter or dough begins to rise.

Not all recipes require that "yeasty" taste - and many more delicate breads and batters require baking powder, which will not affect the flavor. Baking powder is a blend of cream of tartar, sodium aluminum sulfate (S.A.S. or alum) and/or baking soda (an alkaline), and cornstarch. The last ingredient keeps the product dry and bulks it up to just the right proportion. Baking powder is usually sold as "double-acting." That means it must contain two acids (cream of tartar and S.A.S.) to create two risings: one during kneading and the second during baking. Single-action power rises only during kneading. Therefore, it cannot "rest" but must go directly to the oven for baking while the rising is still in action.

When baking soda is used, one of the wet ingredients must be an acid. This would include buttermilk, yogurt, lemon, chocolate, vinegar, and lime. If there is no wet acid, then baking soda and cream of tartar can (in a 1:2 ratio) can be used. These combinations will cause a single-rise action.

The bottom line between the two: baking soda can substitute for baking powder (plus the wet acid), but not the other way around.

Yeast, if frozen, will last a very long time. Baking soda is long-lived, too. Baking powder, however, will lose potency over time. Before using baking powder, "proof" it by adding one teaspoon to one-half cup warm water. It should start reacting immediately by fizzing.

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