The Baking Poofers

The corner kitchen cabinet in our farm home held a mother lode of baking fun for this future Miss NiNi!

It sat nestled between the east wall and attached string of upper cupboards and towered over the counter top on which stood Mom’s early 1950’s Hamilton Beach white and black stand mixer.

Various containers were tucked inside this designated Cabinet of Interest. Of note were multiple flavorings and extracts in small glass bottles. Aromatic spices in red and white tins innocently seasoned the scent of baking within its four walls.

Also included in this mix of baking essentials, Dear Readers, were two seemingly benign yet vastly important vessels—the golden box of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda and a red and white cylindrical tin of Calumet Baking Powder.

Why did Mom think it necessary to purchase each of them? After all, don’t baking soda and baking powder fill the same purpose in a recipe?  

The answer is both “Yes” and “No.”

Getting a Rise

In the world of baking science, each acts as a leavening or rising agent. However, the conditions in which they have an opportunity to showcase their talents differ.

First of all—baking soda and baking powder can very easily be confused! Other than the colors of their containers, the ingredients even look somewhat alike. Unless one pays particular attention to the recipe, just the names themselves might cause one to think that it’s okay to substitute one for the other. But should that be done?

Baking soda is a base mineral. I’m calling it “Poof #1.” When it comes into contact with something acidic such as vinegar, lemon juice, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, honey, or molasses in a recipe, it goes to work and produces carbon dioxide. Bubbling appears. The resulting baked product will be taller and lighter in texture thanks to this wonderful duo of baking soda base and acidic liquid ingredients.

On the other hand, it takes baking soda to make baking powder or “Poof #2.” But what else is included in baking powder to make it uniquely different?

Baking powder is about one-third baking soda with some extra additives including an inert ingredient.

Okay, Dear Readers, this is where it gets a little academic. It takes an inactive ingredient such as cornstarch to keep the mixture from reacting.

You might say, “Isn’t this a little puzzling, Miss NiNi? How can baking powder be “Poof #2” if it has a “non-poofer” in the mix?”


The Power

The answer is this. Baking powder is ready to release its poofing power but only when it is combined with a liquid—not necessarily an acidic liquid. Then the soda and acid that make up the baking powder itself combine to produce carbon dioxide—those bubbles again—to start the lifting power process in a recipe.

Therefore, Dear Readers, it is of utmost importance that once you start combining wet and dry ingredients, complete the recipe and get it into the oven. Give the “poofer” every opportunity to do an A-number one job!

Interestingly, when perusing the various brands of baking powder, be certain to note if it is labeled single acting or double acting.

Single acting starts working when combined with a liquid.

With double acting baking powder, lift in a recipe comes about two ways—when an acid is introduced into the recipe and when it is combined with heat. Two lifters can be better than one! Without fail, Miss NiNi uses double-acting baking powder.

Pay Attention…

Always, always, follow the recipe’s ingredient list. Miss NiNi does not recommend substituting baking powder for baking soda and vice versa. No siree!!

Be that as it may, Dear Readers, please do realize that some recipes require an extra booster and call for both baking soda and baking powder.

Even if your baking soda is not in a golden box and your baking powder is not a member of the Red and White Tin Club, each of these leavening agents have an intended purpose to ensure that you have baking success!

Thank goodness for these two baking “poofers!” Otherwise, intended lighter-than-air baked treats would be flat as a pancake!