I was happily stirring up a triple batch of banana bread a few days ago when I was dismayed to realize we were out of baking powder! Fortunately, I had the ingredients on hand to whisk together a batch of homemade baking powder. It’s an easy recipe to remember, and it took me just a few extra moments to stir up enough to fill my baking powder container.
Of course, the banana bread came out perfectly; and if you’ve already downloaded the recipe for yourself, you know how good it is!
I was baking cookies with a friend once when she revealed she had no baking powder. “Isn’t baking soda basically the same thing?” she asked, surprised that I wasn’t accepting the brightly colored box of Arm & Hammer.
In a sense, yes; baking soda and powder are both chemical leavening agents that build puffy, gassy bubbles in dough much faster than fast-acting yeast or sour starters do. Hence, things like banana bread, Irish soda bread and baking powder biscuits usually fall under the category of ‘Quick Breads’.
Terms and Conditions
Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate, or alkali), is used in recipes with acidic ingredients it can interact with, like vinegar, lemon juice, buttermilk, non-Dutch processed cocoa, molasses, honey, and so on. Baking soda is instant-acting and batters made with this leavener should always be baked immediately after mixing, with minimum stirring involved.
Baking Powder is a mixture of baking soda, an acid salt, and usually a starch to absorb moisture so that the soda doesn’t react with the dry ingredients until the wet components are added. The acid salt can be cream of tartar. This acid salt takes the place of adding lemon juice, buttermilk or another acidic liquid to your batter; magically, the acid can be wetted by whatever liquids you add to your batter, and activate the baking soda! The cookies my friend and I were making in the story above would not have been sufficiently leavened without baking powder, because there was no acid in the cookie ingredients to activate the bubbling of the baking soda. The third ingredient, a starch, which is technically optional, can be organic cornstarch – or arrowroot powder, if you are minimizing grain ingredients in your diet. If you leave the starch out entirely, you will have to use your baking powder right away, or within a few days or weeks! This is one way Paleo baking powder is different from regular baking powder!
Double-Acting Baking Powder is what you would buy in the grocery store, as packaged single-acting baking powder is generally only sold for commercial baking. As the name indicates, double-acting baking powder leavens twice (hence the double-acting). When the batter is initially mixed, there is an immediate acidic reaction from the cream of tartar, with the wet ingredients of the batter and the baking soda, and carbon dioxide gas is produced. The second reaction comes from a second acid that doesn’t activate until the temperatures are elevated (that is to say, the batter goes into the oven), and the gas cells expand and cause the batter to rise. The second acid is usually calcium acid phosphate or sodium aluminum sulfate, two ingredients that many health-conscious consumers are now choosing to avoid due to possible neurological issues associated with aluminum.
Homemade Baking Powder is not double-acting – if you use homemade baking powder in a recipe I would recommend baking the batter right away and not delaying (so make sure you preheat the oven when you start mixing your ingredients!). Homemade baking powder is used in the same ratio as store-bought. If your recipe is for a batter that sits in the fridge overnight or which specifically calls for double-acting baking powder, know that the homemade one will probably not produce the desired effect; that second, heat-activating acid would need to be present.
How long do these last in my cupboard?
Baking Soda can sit in the cupboard, sealed, for an indefinite length of time. If you are worried that it is too old and you want to test the effectiveness before mixing it into your ingredients, mix 1/4 teaspoon of soda with 2 teaspoons of vinegar. It should bubble up immediately just like in science class.
Baking Powder should only sit in the cupboard for about six months; the components to homemade baking powder, however (soda, cream of tartar, arrowroot/cornstarch), can sit separately in the cupboard indefinitely so you can keep those handy and simply mix up small batches at a time. To test if baking powder is still active, mix 1 teaspoon powder with 1/2 cup hot water; it should bubble up with carbon dioxide immediately.
How much baking powder do I use in a recipe?
If you are creating your own recipe, a good rule of thumb is 1 to 2 teaspoons baking powder to 1 cup of flour. Too much baking powder, and the gas bubbles will expand too quickly and cause the batter to collapse in baking. Too little baking powder, and there won’t be enough gas bubbles and the batter will be dense and tough.
[Paleo] Aluminum-Free Single-Acting Baking Powder for Storage
If you bought this at the grocery store, it would cost twice as much as regular baking powder. Crazy, huh? Use this baking powder teaspoon for teaspoon to replace store-bought baking powder. The ratio is one part baking soda, two parts cream of tartar and one part starch.
Sodium bicarbonate: 1/4 cup baking soda
Acid Salt: 1/2 cup cream of tartar
Starch: 1/4 cup arrowroot powder or 1/4 cup organic cornstarch
Whisk ingredients together, pressing through a mesh sieve if baking soda has clumps. Store in an airtight container for less than six months.
Immediate-Use Starch-Free Baking Powder
The ratio for baking powder is two parts cream of tartar to one part baking soda. This baking powder is meant to be used immediately – do not store it! Since there is no starch, you only need 3/4 teaspoon total to replace 1 teaspoon in a recipe calling for standard baking powder.
To replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder in a recipe, without any additional starches:
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Remember, your baked goods must go in the oven immediately after you mix them, as the carbon dioxide bubbling will have begun the second liquids contacted the acid!