Baking powder: The ultimate guide

Oh, the joys of seeing your cake mix rise in the oven are all thanks to baking powder and its friend, baking soda. Both are rising agents, also known as leaveners. Although they do the same job, they do react in different ways. Here’s the ultimate guide to help you choose which raising agent to use and the right quantities.

Baking powder or baking soda?

To get a reaction out of baking soda you’ll need to mix it with some form of acidity such as lemon, brown sugar, buttermilk or yoghurt. Without these two components, the mixture will not be able to produce carbon dioxide which will impact the rise and leave a nasty metallic taste behind. Baking soda is a great rising agent to use in recipes for cakes such as carrot cake - find out how to make our favourite here.

Baking powder vs baking soda

Baking powder, however, is made up of baking soda, cream of tartar and a little cornflour. These three components make baking powder more agile. This is because the acidity in cream of tartar reacts with the baking soda. Getting all sciency here, this means baking powder has the right ratio in every measurement, so, no more acidic ingredients will need to be added. However, overall it is weaker, so if used alone, baking powder is great for things like cookies, as not much rise is needed.

Baking soda is stronger than baking powder so make sure you measure accurately. It also comes in handy for cleaning carpets, whitening teeth and unclogging drains;  you know, since you’ll have some left over.

How does baking powder work?

Baking powder is a double agent which means it requires two reactions before a rise can happen. The first reaction happens when baking powder gets wet. For example, when you add liquids and eggs to dry, sieved cake mix. The second reaction will take place in the oven.

Baking powder baking in the oven

Baking powder needs heat to activate the rise in a bake, which is why it’s mainly used in sweet things like cakes and not in bread which uses yeast to rise in room temperature.

When to use both?

If you’re making a lemon drizzle cake or sticky toffee pudding, you may need to use baking powder instead of baking soda. This will help control the acidity and the flavours from the lemon and syrup from being totally absorbed in the reaction.

However, some recipes will require both rising agents. Sometimes, a reaction created by baking powder may not have enough oomph, so a sprinkling of baking soda is needed to create the ultimate rise. It’s all about creating a balance. Take care and follow the recipes as using both will impact the colour and taste of your bake.

How much baking powder to plain flour?

Baking powder is often used to create homemade, self-raising flour, which is the vital ingredient for some cakes, bread and puddings. If you’re unsure how much baking powder to use to make self-raising flour, just stick to this basic rule:

For every 110g of plain flour add one teaspoon of baking powder.

How much baking soda to replace baking powder?

Baking soda is strong stuff so you won’t want to add too much into your cake mix or it’ll start to leave a metallic taste with every mouthful. To make it even more tricky, adding too little baking soda will make your bake flop with an inadequate rise. This is why it’s vital to be exact with the measurements.

measuring spoons for baking soda and baking powder

Typically, you should use ¼ the amount of baking soda for the amount of baking powder needed. Do remember that as baking soda is a singular agent, make sure you mix with the dry ingredients first as once liquid is added, the reaction will start to activate.

How to test if baking powder is fresh?

If you’ve dusted off the pot of baking powder that’s been sitting in the back of your cupboard for far too long, test its strength before use. Ideally, baking powder should be stored in a sealed, airtight container and in a cool and dry environment, as exposure to humidity can reduce its power.

You can test baking powder and baking soda freshness by assessing their fizz. Just add a ¼ teaspoon of your chosen leavening agent to 1 tablespoon of vinegar. The greater the fizz and bubbles, the fresher the agent.

With all this talk of cakes and fizz, check out our collections, which are perfect for a celebration.

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