QI am pretty new to baking, but I want to learn. I’ve noticed some recipes call for baking soda, some for baking powder, and some for both. Are baking soda and baking powder the same thing? Can I use one instead of the other?
Your question is a very common one. Lots of people wonder about the difference between baking powder and baking soda, and lots of people get them mixed up when they’re baking — with some decidedly disappointing results.
Both baking soda and baking powder are leaveners, which means they make your baked good rise. But there are some very important differences. Baking soda is also known as sodium bicarbonate. When it is mixed with an acid, it releases carbon dioxide. The tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide form pockets in your cakes and cookies, making them lighter and fluffier. Vinegar, lemon juice and buttermilk are common acids, but some unexpected ingredients bring acid to a recipe as well, including chocolate and brown sugar.
Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar (or some other powdered acid) and cornstarch. While the baking powder is sitting in your cupboard, the soda and acid don’t react. But introduce liquid and heat and — tada! — it’s rising time.
For every teaspoon of baking powder, combine 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for baking soda.
One last note: While baking soda and baking powder keep for a long time — about a year when tightly covered — they do eventually lose their power. Test your baking soda by mixing it with about twice as much vinegar. It should foam up. You can do the same with a pinch of baking powder in some hot water.
Thanks for your question, Violet, and enjoy learning in the kitchen!