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Prairie Fare: Add to the Levity of Baking with These Tips

Photo by Molde at morgueFile Photo by Molde at morgueFile
Why do some recipes have two leavening ingredients?

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“I have a column idea for you, Julie,” one of my friends mentioned as we were enjoying a soup and bread potluck at a women’s group. Oh, yes, there were plenty of delicious cookies and bars, as well. We were admiring a plate of treats on the table.

“Why do some cookie recipes have baking soda and others have baking powder, and still others have both?” she asked. “I’m trying to decrease the number of recipes I have, so I’m trying them and saving the best ones,” she continued.

I think everyone around the table would have volunteered to be taste testers.

I gave a quick explanation and thought to myself, “Yes, that’s a good column idea.” Then the conversation turned to the current media star, trans fat, because baking success also depends on the type of fat. That topic will deserve a column of its own. Stay tuned.

When baking, you are a “kitchen chemist” because a satisfactory baked product requires a tested formulation, accurate measuring skills and the right ingredients. Baking soda and baking powder are chemical leavening ingredients that expand the air bubbles produced in your batter during the mixing process.

Baking soda, which is chemically known as sodium bicarbonate, requires an acidic ingredient to produce carbon dioxide. Brown sugar, molasses, chocolate, honey and sour cream are examples of acidic ingredients often found in recipes that use baking soda as the leavening agent. Carbon dioxide is the gas responsible for the rising of baked goods.

Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and a powdered acid, such as tartaric acid. Baking powder can be classified as slow or fast acting.

Slow-acting baking powder may contain sodium aluminum sulfate or anhydrous monocalcium phosphate as the acids. In that case, the mixture does not produce gas until the mixture is heated. Double-acting baking powder contains two types of acids. One acid dissolves quickly and the other dissolves slowly. It begins its leavening action immediately and again when the mixture is heated.

Measure your leavening ingredients very accurately because baking soda has four times the leavening power of baking powder. A heaping teaspoon of baking soda will not do any good in your recipe and can lead to heavy or fallen cakes or bitter or soapy-tasting cookies. Technically, you only need about 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to leaven a cup of flour.

Back to the question: Why do some recipes have two leavening ingredients? I consulted a baking chemistry book by Shirley Corriher for her take on baking powder and soda in the same recipe. This chemist, who writes cooking and baking books, prefers baking powder because it is carefully formulated and very reliable. It does not leave a soapy aftertaste as soda might if there is not enough acid in the mixture.

However, you cannot swap baking powder for baking soda.

Fortunately, through formal and informal experimentation, recipes have been created and passed on through the generations. Find the ones that appeal to your tastebuds, then keep moderation in mind as you taste-test. You can ensure baking success with these tips:

  • Measure accurately. Instead of scooping, spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level it off by scraping with a knife.
  • Use the type of fat called for in the recipe. If you swap solid shortening, such as butter-flavored shortening, for butter, then add the recommended amount of water specified on the package.
  • Don’t overmix cookies or quick breads. They can become tough because the gluten protein in the flour develops with mixing.
  • Don’t eat dough that contains raw eggs. Yes, the dough is tempting, but it could contain salmonella bacteria. You don’t want to experience this foodborne illness.
  • Preheat your oven to the recommended temperature.
  • For best results, bake one pan of cookies at a time in the center rack. Let the baking pan cool in between batches.
  • Have fun. Put on some festive music during holiday baking and take a dancing break! You might burn a cookie’s worth of calories.
  • Make your own food gifts with the ideas in these online publications: “Gift Mixes in a Jar” at and “Cornmeal Master Mix at

Here’s a “make-your-own” cornmeal mix recipe from our master mix series. The online publication also includes a corn muffin and biscuit recipe. Check out the “Gift Mixes in a Jar” for a soup to go with it.

Cornmeal Master Mix/Cornbread

7 c. cornmeal

2 c. unsifted regular flour

4 Tbsp. baking powder

1 1/3 c. nonfat dry milk

1 Tbsp. salt

1/4 c. sugar

1 c. shortening

Combine all the dry ingredients and stir carefully to blend. Add shortening and use a fork, two knives or a pastry blender to blend the shortening into the dry ingredients. The mixture should look like cornmeal. Label with date and store in a covered container in a cool, dry place (or in the refrigerator) for up to eight weeks. The mixture yields 14 cups.

How to make oven cornbread:

2 c. Cornbread Master Mix

2 eggs, beaten

1 c. water

Optional ingredients: 1/3 c. chopped onion, 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Measure Cornbread Master Mix into bowl. Combine eggs and water in large measuring cup. Pour 1/2 cup water-egg mixture over mix and stir to blend. Add remaining 1/2 cup water-egg mixture and beat until smooth. Pour into a well-greased 8- by 8-inch pan or a 10-inch iron skillet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 136 calories, 19 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 5 g of fat, 1.6 g of fiber and 270 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Dec. 12, 2013

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
Photo by Molde at morgueFile
(baking soda girl.jpg - 641.78 Kb)
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