Sunday, October 3, 2010

Today's Bread Disaster: Baking Soda is not Baking Powder

If you've ever looked at a recipe and thought "I wonder if I could substitute baking soda for baking powder" I can now tell you that the answer is a resounding "absolutely not" (although apparently pretty much everyone in the world knew the answer to that question except for me!).

I attempted to bake a tea bread recipe that I've been really excited about this morning. Half way through I realized that I couldn't find my baking powder. Now I'm 99% sure that I picked up baking powder last time I went food shopping, but I couldn't seem to find it this morning. As I looked at hte baking soda I thought "how different can it really be? I might as well give it a try."

Yuck. The most disgusting bread is now sitting in the kitchen (as soon as I get up the energy I'll go take it to the garage and toss it out). Tomorrow I plan on giving the recipe a second try.

There just doesn't seem to be as much wiggle room in baking as there is in cooking. At least there isn't when, like me, you have no idea what you're doing!


  1. Ok, here's the deal. Baking powder contains an acid along with baking soda. Baking soda works in recipes that have acid because it's the acids reaction with the baking soda that causes the gas bubbles that make the mix rise properly and also neutralizes the taste of the baking soda. Think about what happens if you mix vinegar with baking soda, you get frothy bubbles and salty water. Mix the same baking soda with plain water and you get yucky tasting water. There are even quick bread recipes out there that use baking soda, but have sour milk or yogurt as part of the batter. My recollection (since I'm not currently looking at a cookbook) is that usually you have to use less baking soda than you would baking powder in that sort of recipe. Your cookbook may even have an emergency substitution formula for making baking powder out of a combination of cream of tartar and baking soda (the cream of tartar supplies the acid). My sister made this mistake at least twice while we were in high school, the first time because she, like you, didn't know the difference. The second time she simply read through the recipe too fast.

    My kids and I worked our way through a book on kitchen chemistry in our early years of homeschooling (I can't even remember the title, but you might be able to do a search on Amazon). It really clarified some things about how mayonnaise gets made, what things are acidic and what things are basic, what happens when you use different sorts of flour in muffins, and why baking soda works.

    Rachael Ray says she doesn't bake and I gather it's because she also finds there isn't much wiggle room in baking. However, once you understand a few basic principles there actually is wiggle room in baking as well. Hence I was able to turn my neighbor's recipe for sour cream banana bread into chocolate chip, walnut, yogurt banana bread without a failure. Trust me, you'll learn. Sometimes making a mistake is one of the best ways to learn.

  2. You actually can substitute baking soda for baking powder, you just have to add a little cream of tartar with it. Check out this list:

    Baking is definitely more finicky, but I make substitutions a lot (reducing sugar, oil, etc.) You will learn over time what you can and can't substitute! And check out the comments/reviews when you find recipes online...people often share the substitutions they made that turned out fine.

  3. This kind of happened to me before. I know that baking soda and powder are not the same but once when I went to buy powder and picked up soda instead and it wasn't until I was in the middle of baking I realized my mistake. Just yesterday I was telling my grandmother, she sent me to buy soda but I didn't get any and I remarked that I didn't even see baking powder to make a mistake.

  4. Baking is Chemistry. If you don't do exactly as the recipe specifies it won't turn out the way you want. Cooking is art, you can mix and match and not have to worry about the results too much. I would suggest that if you do any baking, stick to the recipe until you know and understand why a particular ingredient is or is not interchangeable. I can easily substitute raisins for chocolate chips or substitute all spice for nutmeg. But if I change sugar for honey or whole wheat for all purpose I have to be careful with quantity and perhaps adding an additional ingredient to assist the recipe along. Honey is a liquid while sugar is a solid. Also, honey is 3 times sweeter. This can drastically change the recipe. If you're not sure about substituting an ingredient, look it up and see what other people have done.

    Here is a great website on making bread and what each ingredient does in the recipe:

    It's amazing that salt and sugar are so important in a bread recipe when it comes to the speed of yeast growth.

    Good luck with your baking. And stick to the recipe next time. :)

  5. You can substitute Baking Soda for Baking Powder but since it is 4 times as strong you'll need to adjust your recipe.

  6. I was going to suggest to you what Elizabeth already stated to you.

    Baking Powder = baking soda and cream of tarter


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