In today’s Pastry Forum, we tackle the culinary conundrum of…
Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda: What’s the Difference, and Why Should I Care If I Destroy The Planet Earth?
For those of us who want a “basic” understanding of baking soda and baking powder (the science geeks are now tittering at my pH pun), both ingredients have an alkaline component. Mix an alkaline substance with an acidic one and you get gas bubbles; how these bubbles interact and travel through batters and doughs causes them to “rise” or inflate.
[For the impatient, science-minded among you: NaHCO3 + H+ → Na+ + CO2 + H2O. I imagine my chemistry teacher, Dr. Shanoski, weeping with joy that I retained anything whatsoever from her class.]
Plain alkaline sodium bicarbonate is plain baking soda. Add a dry-chemical acidifying agent to it and Viola! Now you have baking powder in a can. Both baking soda and baking powder work through an alkaline-acid reaction, but here are some fundamental differences bakers actually care about:
Baking soda works immediately when you add it to a wet mixture containing an acidic ingredient such as cocoa, vinegar, citrus juice, yogurt, or honey. It’s fast acting and you should be, too. Work quickly to get your batter over/under/onto cooking heat before the reaction exhausts itself. Typical uses: pancakes, quick breads, and neutralizing acidic tummy-aches.
Baking powder is usually sold as “double-acting” which means it has both slow- and fast-acting acids already incorporated in the powder. The fast-acting acid works at room temperature, and the slow-acting one works at oven temperature. This is especially useful for the absent-minded bakers among us who go outside to yell at the dog to stop barking and then start pulling weeds, temporarily forgetting about the half-finished Cornmeal Strawberry Cake on the kitchen counter.
All is not lost if I can get that cake into the oven in a reasonable amount of time. Which brings us to Global Warming. Remember those gas bubbles created by the alkaline-acid reaction? That’s CARBON DIOXIDE, one of the primary greenhouse gases! Plus you heat the oven to 350 fossil-fueled degrees. This is my evil conspiracy to destroy the planet one tiny, delicious molecular interaction at a time.
Ozone-Destroying Cornmeal Strawberry Cake
An exothermic tribute to Dr. Shanoski. Recipe adapted from allrecipes.com
[Note: I hate cooked strawberries, and yet this is the most fabulous cornmeal cake I’ve ever had. Also note the presence of both baking powder AND yogurt, suggesting the heavy cake batter requires an extra acid boost to rise.]
Preheat oven to 350 earth-scorching degrees. Grease and flour a 9” round cake pan.
Sift together and set aside:
1-1/3 c. plain cornmeal
2/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
In a large bowl, cream together until light:
3/4 c. unsalted butter
1-1/4 c. sugar (all or mostly white)
Add to sugar mixture one at a time:
1 t. vanilla extract
Add and alternate the dry ingredients with:
1/2 c. plain yogurt
You're gonna need it
Don’t over-mix. Fold in:
1 c. sliced or chopped fresh strawberries
Bake for 45-50 minutes in your climate-hating oven, until an inserted knife or toothpick emerges clean. Cool cake for 30 minutes before inverting onto a serving plate. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or just a dusting of powdered sugar.
What are YOUR thoughts on global warming, thermonuclear cornmeal cake, ozone-huggers, and/or NaHCO3?
Tisa Watts is co-owner of Mouse and Fork, a website that offers premium gift sets for home and garden. To join her mailing list, click here. If you find something inspiring on this blog that you’d like to repost, please link back to Mouse & Fork. Thanks!