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October 2005

Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder Redux

 

At least three times now I have seen responses to the question, "What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder?" answered with something like, "Baking powder makes baked goods rise up rather than spread, while baking soda does the opposite."1

To test this, I performed a simple experiment.  I made two mixtures.  Both contained 150 grams of all purpose flour.  To one of these, I added 1 teaspoon of baking powder.  To the other, I added one teaspoon of a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar and cornstarch measured to contain the same amount of bicarbonate of soda as was in the baking powder2.

Each was then blended with 1 cup (228 grams) of water.  On an electric griddle, pancakes were cooked from these mixtures, measuring 3 tablespoons of batter per pancake and alternating them on the griddle to compensate for unevenness in the surface temperature.  Because they wouldn't be eaten, the pancakes were allowed to cook through from the bottom without flipping them.  Flipping might have caused random compression of the height of the pancakes.

After they were cooked, the pancakes were measured for average diameter and maximum height.  The results appeared as follows:

  Baking Baking
  Soda Powder
Average Diameter 81.3 mm 83.7 mm
Average  Height 15.3 mm 14.3 mm

So, contrary to the sources mentioned, the baking soda pancakes rose slightly higher while the baking powder pancakes spread slightly more.  I expect that a larger test than the simple one I did in my kitchen would show that the small differences which I found are not signigicant.

The lessons, as always, are to be skeptical of a lot of the "kitchen wisdom" you read and to try things out for yourself.

To see what the real differences are between baking soda and baking powder see Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder.  To see more kitchen myths, read KitchenSavvy Kitchen Science.

1. The sources are Kitchen Wisdom: Harrowsmith's Sourcebook for Cooks (1991); the Iowa Gazette, August 16, 2005; and a cooking website whose URL I can't recall.

2. To get the proper mixture for the baking soda mixture, I referred to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, to determine the sodium level in "baking powder, double-acting, straight phosphate" and in "baking soda".  The straight phosphate formulation was used as it most closely resembled the manufacturer's ingredients for the baking powder I had on hand.  Based on the sodium ratios, I mixed 3 1/3 teaspoons of baking soda, 6 2/3 teaspoons of cream of tartar and 2 teaspoons of cornstarch.  I then used 1 teaspoon of that mixture.  The ratio of baking soda to cream of tartar is recommended by Shirley O'Corriher in Cookwise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed


 





Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward




Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Do I Need to Use Unsalted Butter?

Q: Lots of recipes call for unsalted butter, which I don't usually have on hand.  Do I need to use unsalted butter?  How would I replace it with salted butter?

-- Michelle

Some cooks claim that there is a noticeable taste difference between salted and unsalted butter, so my first suggestion would be to try it for yourself.  Make the same recipe with salted and unsalted butter and see if you can tell, or if you care about, the difference.

Generally, you can replace unsalted butter with salted butter measure for measure.  If you do, then you will need to reduce the salt in the overall recipe by about 1/2 teaspoon per cup of butter used.  For some recipes, this may not matter.  For others, like classic puff pastry, you may find it too salty if you don't.

There is some variation in the manufacture of butter.  Some brands may contain more or less salt, so you may want to start with less added salt and taste test, where possible.  Don't test anything containing raw eggs or other ingredients that may not be safe until they are cooked.

Continue reading "Do I Need to Use Unsalted Butter?" »




Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Substituting Dried Herbs for Fresh

Q: If a recipe calls for fresh herbs and I only have dried, or the other way around, what is the substitution?

-- Dave

The general rule of thumb is that one part of a dried herb has about the same strength as three times that amount of the fresh.  If a recipe calls for two tablespoons of fresh sage, for example, then you could substitute one third that amount or two teaspoons of dried sage.

Of course, that is just an approximation, and may not hold true for all cases.  Because dried herbs go stale, the amount required may be more.  On the other hand, for some herbs, the ratio may  be more or less than 1::3.

In practice, it is better to start with a smaller amount, maybe using 1 part in 4 when substituting dried for fresh, and then taste the result and adjust if necessary.  For substituting the other way around, fresh for dried, start with twice the amount and work your way up.  In cooking, it is almost  always easier to add more of something than it is to take away too much.

The problem comes, however, when the recipe doesn't allow you to taste ahead of time.  In that case, you just have to use your best judgment on the flavors involved, and the quality of your ingredients to decide how much is appropriate.  I still would be conservative, as I would rather the dish be slightly under-flavored instead of overpowering it with the taste of the herbs.


If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward



Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Complete vs Complementary Protein

Q: Would you please tell me what the difference is between complete and complementary proteins.

-- Angie

Proteins are the basic building blocks for all living cells.  They are made up from chains of smaller compounds called amino  acids.  There are 20 amino acids that are important to human health.  Of these, your body is able to manufacture most itself from carbohydrates, fats and other amino acids.  That leaves nine amino acids that you need to get from your diet, called the Essential Amino Acids.

Meats and eggs contain all nine of the essential amino acids, and in about the right combinations for use in the human body, and so are called Complete Proteins.  Other protein sources, such as beans, grains and nuts, do not contain all nine essential amino acids, or contain them in quantities that are not in the same proportions as needed, so they are called Incomplete Proteins.

Continue reading "Complete vs Complementary Protein" »




Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward