Welcome to the first of the Baking Elements posts! After numerous questions from friends, co-workers, and clients on baking tips, I thought I would start a series to answer some of the most common and also the slightly outlandish queries I’ve received about baking. If there are any burning questions you have on the science of baking – send them my way!
One of the most common questions I’ve received is:
“What is the difference between baking soda & baking powder?”
While both are leaveners, these two ingredients are related, but act quite differently.
Baking soda is an alkaline, which means that when it is combined with an acidic ingredient (i.e. yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream, brown sugar, molasses) it produces carbon dioxide gas bubbles that cause a batter or dough to rise.
Baking powder is made of a combination of baking soda, cream of tartar and cornstarch. Baking powder needs to mixed with any liquid in order to release carbon dioxide gas bubbles for leavening a batter or dough. To add to the confusion, there are also two types of baking powder: double-acting & single-acting. Most recipes call for double-acting baking powder, which contains two acids – one releases gas when it comes into contact with liquid, and the second when exposed to oven heat. Single-acting baking powder contains a single acid, and releases gas as soon as it comes into contact with liquid.
Usually people ask me about the difference between these two common leaveners because they realize halfway through a recipe that they have run out of one or the other and want to know if they can substitute them for each other.
“HELP! I’m out of baking powder!”
To make your own 1 teaspoon of baking powder:
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
5/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
“EEK! I’m out of baking soda!”
While I don’t highly recommend it, if you are truly in a pinch, you can double the amount of baking soda called for in the recipe with baking powder. For example, if your recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of baking soda and you are out, you can use 3 teaspoons of baking powder.
My real recommendation in this case would be to run out to the store (or send someone!) to get some baking soda. The extra cornstarch and cream of tartar that are in baking powder that you’ll be adding to your recipe in this substitution may alter the taste or texture of your final product.