UNRUH: Baking ingredients

Berny Unruh is a Family and Community Wellness Officer for the Cottonwood Extension District.

I love cooking on a cold winter day because it seems to lift my spirits. My latest interest is scones and with that I had a few questions about the ingredients and their purpose in baking.

I often get questions at the extension office about baking soda and baking powder. The one thing you need to understand about baking soda and baking powder is that they are not the same thing. Baking soda is in baking powder, but they are not interchangeable.

Baking soda is chemically known as sodium bicarbonate. It is used to chemically leaven doughs and batters when mixed with an acid. Combining baking soda with an acid produces a chemical reaction that releases carbon dioxide, causing food to expand and become fluffy. If you still have light and airy pancakes, that’s the baking soda at work.

Some may place baking soda in the refrigerator as it will absorb persistent commands in that environment. This is a great use for baking soda, but don’t use this baking soda for cooking and baking!

Baking soda is often labeled with an 18 to 24 month expiration date, but you can always test its effectiveness by mixing 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of vinegar. It is still usable if it fizzes.

Baking soda becomes reactive when exposed to acids (buttermilk, vinegar) and must be used immediately or the carbon dioxide producing bubbles will begin to burst and result in a flat, dense product rather than something light and airy. So it’s probably not a good idea to make and hold a dough for a long time. It’s best to use it right away (or at least within an hour) especially once the baking soda and acid ingredient have been combined. Protecting those bubbles is also why you’ll want to mix the batters lightly. Vigorous mixing will cause the bubbles to burst.

baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and powdered acids. It is usually found in recipes that do not require additional acids because it already contains acid. Like baking soda, it causes products to rise by producing carbon dioxide; however, it does so in two phases. First, the baking soda in the powder with one of the acids begins to produce bubbles of carbon dioxide when mixed with wet ingredients. The second rising phase occurs when the other powdery acid reacts with the remaining baking soda, producing more bubbles when exposed to heat above 170°F. This two-phase rise method is known as double acting. There are single-acting baking powders; these powders only rise once during the heating stage of baking. Your recipe will specifically call for single-acting baking powder if needed. Most baking powders are generally double-acting.

Like baking soda, you can test it to see if it’s still effective. Put a teaspoon of baking powder in a small bowl and mix in a tablespoon of warm water. If the baking powder does not fizz when wet, it is no longer active and should be discarded.

Baking powder is usually dated for 18-24 months, but will last indefinitely if left uncontaminated. Contamination occurs when the same measuring spoon is used to measure other ingredients before it is used to measure baking powder.

Don’t have baking powder? You can create your own. For every 1 tsp baking powder, substitute: 1/4 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar and 1/4 tsp cornstarch OR 1/4 tsp coffee baking soda plus 1/2 cup buttermilk, sour milk, or yogurt (for this substitution, you’ll want to halve the liquid in the recipe)

All of these products should be stored in their original containers in a cool, dry place – not above your stove. The heat and humidity of cooking could alter them chemically.

I will be giving a presentation on scones on Friday, February 25 at noon at the Extension Office, 601 Main, Hays. More information will be available soon.

​Berny Unruh is the Family and Community Wellness Officer for the Cottonwood Extension District. She can be reached at 785-628-9430 or [email protected]