Baking - General, Ingredient Insights

When to use Baking Soda, Baking Powder or Both

I have noticed that some recipes use baking soda, some use baking powder, and some use a bit of each. I don’t know why I never looked into this before, but I got curious to find out why some recipes would call for both leaveners.

soda vs powderLet’s start by defining them. They are both chemical leaveners. Baking soda is simply sodium bicarbonate. It will only work as a leavener if it is combined with moisture and an acidic ingredient (eg. lemon juice, chocolate, fruit, buttermilk, cream of tartar); this combination causes a chemical reaction that produces bubbles of carbon dioxide. As the batter is baked, the heat causes the air bubbles to expand, increasing the product’s volume and making it rise. It starts to react immediately, so any batter made with baking soda needs to be baked as soon as it is mixed to maximize its leavening power.

Baking powder is baking soda that has been premixed with a dry acidic ingredient (monocalcium phospate on my container), so just needs the moisture added to make it work. There are two types of baking powder. Single-acting baking powder has the same reaction as baking soda, where it needs to be baked immediately to maximize the leavening. Double-acting baking powder starts to react immediately, but needs heat in order to maximize its leavening power. Double-acting is what is most readily available in grocery stores now, and allows you to let a batter sit for a while (15-20 minutes) before it needs to go in the oven. Very convenient if you happen to forget to preheat your oven!

And now onto the question of why a recipe would call for both leaveners. I looked this up at the Joy of Baking, and here’s what they say: “When a recipe contains baking powder and baking soda, the baking powder does most of the leavening. The baking soda is added to neutralize the acids in the recipe plus to add tenderness and some leavening.” (Read more:

So there we have it. If a recipe calls for both, it was probably tested and found to need something to ‘neutralize the acids’ and/or needed a bit of a boost in the rising department. Too much of either leavener on its own can also create an unpleasant taste, but in a balanced combination can make a recipe work beautifully.

Baking - Breads, Ingredient Insights

Waffles: Yeast vs. Baking Powder

With my waffle maker came a small collection of waffle recipes, and I was surprised to see that they all used yeast for leavening. Growing up we just used a box of pancake mix, which contains baking powder (somehow they always tasted different from pancakes, even from the same box!), so I thought that waffles were always a quick-bread.

I also noticed in the small recipe booklet that most of the recipes called for separated eggs, where you had to beat the whites to stiff peaks and fold them in to the rest of the batter at the end. This sounded like a lot of work, so the first few times I used my waffle iron, I followed a recipe that you let sit overnight. The yeast would work its magic overnight (kind of like the no-knead bread), and then it was ready to cook when I got up in the morning. That recipe makes nice, crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside waffles, that I must say were more like what I’d get in a restaurant than the pancake mix ones we made at home.

I made some waffles on the weekend, but followed a recipe from my favourite bread cookbook, which used baking powder, and also called for separated eggs. I was curious to see what the difference would be. These waffles came out much more dense, and reminded me more of a soft muffin. They were still good, but a very different texture from the lighter yeast ones with which I’m now familiar.

I was also more inclined to try a recipe with separated eggs because I could just toss the egg whites into my mixer and let them whip up while I got all the other ingredients together. It was a breeze! So now I will also have to try one of the yeast recipes that uses separated eggs and see how that goes. What a sacrifice, to have to eat more waffles!

Baking - Breads, Ingredient Insights

Secret Ingredient for Fluffy Biscuits

Many years ago I cut out a tip that was written on a flour bag: “The Lemon Juice Secret for baking bread naturally.” It suggests that adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for every 4-5 cups of flour will add lightness and volume to your yeast doughs.

I am more inclined to make quick breads, like biscuits, on a whim for dinner, using baking soda or baking powder rather than taking the time to make yeast rolls or bread. When using baking soda or powder, one needs to add something acidic to cause a chemical reaction and create the leavening; most often a recipe will list buttermilk or cream of tartar.

I always knew that if you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can substitute some lemon juice mixed with regular milk. I often think about that tip I cut out when I’m making biscuits, and in my recipe it lists regular milk and cream of tartar. I used lemon juice and milk instead of cream of tartar a couple times in my biscuits, and since then it’s all I use. The recipe calls for 2/3 cup of milk, and I usually put in 1-2 teaspoons of lemon juice, letting the juice and milk sit to blend for a couple minutes, where it becomes a bit curdled, before mixing it in.

Ever since I started making biscuits that way they have always been light and fluffy, and now it’s the only way I’ll make them. I hope you will have the same result if you give it a try!

Ingredient Insights

What? Aluminum in my Baking Powder?

Several months ago I started noticing that every muffin or biscuit I made had an odd taste to it. At first I thought it was the flour I was using. I had bought some small bags on sale, so I figured they had just gone off. But when I used the infamous King Arthur Flour and still noticed it, I knew that it couldn’t be the flour. Everything tasted almost as if I had mistakenly used baking soda instead of baking powder, a mistake that most bakers do not make more than once! I knew I hadn’t made that mistake again, and it also had a bit of metallic aftertaste (also unpleasant). I decided to check the ingredients in my baking powder.

We had recently moved to the U.S. and didn’t bring any of our pantry supplies with us, so we bought everything new. I didn’t see a familiar brand of baking powder, so I had just bought the store brand. When I decided to look at the ingredients I was surprised to see a form of aluminum (sodium aluminum sulfate). I’m well aware of the concerns with consuming aluminum, so I immediately looked this up on the internet. Continue reading “What? Aluminum in my Baking Powder?”