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Basic Kitchen Chemistry

 
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Firstly, I want to thank everyone for the warm welcome on my book's giveaway welcome thread! I'm pleased to see that lot of folks have expressed an interest in homemade baking powder. I started with the same curiosity, especially since baking powder has a shelf life and eventually loses it's ability to make muffins and pancakes rise. So making my own was my first step.

You can pretty much find the recipe for baking powder anywhere on the internet.

Homemade Baking Powder
  • 1 part baking soda
  • 2 parts cream of tartar
  • 1 part corn starch or arrowroot powder

  • But my curiosity didn't stop there, because while I use baking soda often, I never use cream of tartar except for this recipe. Then too, baking soda is cheap and easy to find, but cream of tartar isn't. Was there another way? That's when I got interested in kitchen chemistry.

    A simplified sciencey looking formula for this is:
    an acid + an alkali = carbon dioxide

    The carbon dioxide bubbles up through the batter and when baked quickly, creates light and tender quick breads. In homemade baking powder, cream of tartar is the acid, and baking soda is the alkali. The corn starch or arrowroot powder is the buffer. If I just mixed baking soda and cream of tartar in a dish, they would immediately begin to react and neutralize one another. A buffer slows the reaction down but doesn't stop it. That's why baking powder has a shelf life.

    So, I reasoned, since baking soda is cheaper and easier to find than cream of tartar, what can I substitute for cream of tartar and get the same results? That started me of on a fascinating journey that led to writing How To Bake Without Baking Powder. I researched and experimented, and you can experiment too.

    List of Kitchen Acids:
  • Vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Pickle juice
  • Tangy fruit juice
  • Tomato juice
  • Molasses (treacle)
  • Golden syrup
  • Honey
  • Brown sugar (because contains molasses)
  • Maple syrup
  • Sour milk
  • Sour cream
  • Buttermilk
  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Whey
  • Cocoa powder (natural or non-processed, i.e. not Dutch)
  • Citric acid
  • Coffee
  • Sourdough starter

  • It was a lot of fun to experiment! Taste-wise, my husband never knew the difference.

    So, that's the basic science of baked goods kitchen chemistry. I have to say it's been quite freeing to know that at any time I have the ability to make biscuits or a cake with ingredients I always have on hand.

    Questions?
     
    pollinator
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    Thank you, Leigh for this breakdown. I never knew!

    So, to clarify for example, I would use for a pan of biscuits:

    1 teaspoon baking soda
    2 teaspoons honey
    1 teaspoon arrowroot

    Is that correct?

    Should I mix the baking soda and arrowroot together first, then add the honey so it does not neutralize?
     
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    i’m not leigh, but it doesn’t seem like you need the arrowroot if it’s just going straight in the biscuits? maybe i’m missing something.

    leigh, do you cover your baking-with-ashes experiments in the book?
     
    Leigh Tate
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    Angela Wilcox wrote:Thank you, Leigh for this breakdown. I never knew!

    So, to clarify for example, I would use for a pan of biscuits:

    1 teaspoon baking soda
    2 teaspoons honey
    1 teaspoon arrowroot

    Is that correct?

    Should I mix the baking soda and arrowroot together first, then add the honey so it does not neutralize?


    Angela, the arrowroot is just a buffer for long-term storage, so for a fresh batch of biscuits, you don't need it. If you're going to use honey with baking soda, you'll need 3/8 cup honey per 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. Probably better for a cake!

    Maybe some better options for biscuits would be 1 teaspoon baking soda plus one of the following:
    - 1 cup buttermilk or yogurt
    - 2 teaspoons lemon juice or vinegar
    - 2 teaspoons cream of tartar

    The tartness of the buttermilk, yogurt, lemon juice, or vinegar is neutralized by the baking soda, so whatever you bake doesn't have a sour taste.
     
    Leigh Tate
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    greg mosser wrote:leigh, do you cover your baking-with-ashes experiments in the book?


    Yes! My experiments have their own chapter with the recipe I thought worked the best.

    I have to mention that my husband served as my guinea pig taste tester. When i asked him what it tasted like, he said "a biscuit."

    It was fun doing the historical research for this, and I learned a lot. Some of the historical leaveners discussed in the book are baker's ammonia (hartshorn), potash, pearl ash, and saleratus, along for recipes to try with each.
     
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    greg mosser wrote:i’m not leigh, but it doesn’t seem like you need the arrowroot if it’s just going straight in the biscuits? maybe i’m missing something.

    leigh, do you cover your baking-with-ashes experiments in the book?


    I've been baking this way for a decade now since developing a food intolerance to corn starch (since commercial banking powder almost always uses corn starch). I use tapioca starch instead of corn starch. I didn't always use it since I figured, like you, that is going straight into the oven so it doesn't need the buffer. But then I noticed that my recipes didn't quite turn out the same if I left out the starch. Things turn out more as expected when I include the starch in my baking soda and cream of tartar mix. My hypothesis is that most recipe developers are using commercial baking powder and that teaspoon or so of extra starch into the recipe does make a difference in texture. So when I make up my own recipes, I leave out the starch, but when I'm using someone else's recipe, I add it in to get the expected result.

    Another thing I've noticed is that I get a better rise when I'm using cream of tartar and baking soda if I mix them together first before I mix it into the rest of my dry ingredients. I don't know why but it's pretty noticeable difference in my cakes. If my acid is a wet ingredient, I don't mix them together first; I just mix the wet and dry separately like normal and then combine. And it turns out fine.
     
    Jenny Wright
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    Before I bothered learning the science behind all this, I had some funny results. The first time I tried to make biscuits without baking powder this is what I thought:

    "Cookies are similar to biscuits just with more sugar. I'm mean they call cookies biscuits in England, right? And my cookie recipes all use baking soda and not baking powder. So I'll just use plain baking soda instead."

    Did you know that biscuits baked with just baking soda turn bright orange and taste like metal? 😂 😂 😂 It's because of the chemical reaction that occurs with heat when the baking soda hasn't reacted with an acid. And my logic failed because cookies usually have brown sugar, cocoa powder, molasses, lemon or some other acid which is why they use baking soda instead of baking powder.

    On the plus side, when my oldest kid started baking and making up her own recipes, the first time she made an inedible orange thing, I know exactly where she went wrong and we had a chemistry lesson on leavening. 😁
     
    Leigh Tate
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    Jenny Wright wrote:But then I noticed that my recipes didn't quite turn out the same if I left out the starch. Things turn out more as expected when I include the starch in my baking soda and cream of tartar mix. My hypothesis is that most recipe developers are using commercial baking powder and that teaspoon or so of extra starch into the recipe does make a difference in texture. So when I make up my own recipes, I leave out the starch, but when I'm using someone else's recipe, I add it in to get the expected result.


    Interesting, and something I've never noticed in my own baking, probably because the ratio of starch in baking powder compared to flour would be pretty small. I do notice a difference in texture depending on the kinds of flours I use, for example, white, versus whole wheat, versus oat flour, versus rice flour, versus gluten-free flour.

    Jenny Wright wrote:Another thing I've noticed is that I get a better rise when I'm using cream of tartar and baking soda if I mix them together first before I mix it into the rest of my dry ingredients. I don't know why but it's pretty noticeable difference in my cakes. If my acid is a wet ingredient, I don't mix them together first; I just mix the wet and dry separately like normal and then combine. And it turns out fine.


    Sounds like a good tip.

    Jenny Wright wrote:Did you know that biscuits baked with just baking soda turn bright orange and taste like metal? 😂 😂 😂 It's because of the chemical reaction that occurs with heat when the baking soda hasn't reacted with an acid.


    I've never seen the bright orange happen, but without acid (or enough acid) the baking soda will indeed taste bitter or metallic, especially if a lot of it is added!

    It's very fun to experiment to figure these things out. :)
     
    pollinator
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    I do love food science. For those of you interested in exploring the topic further, On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee is very well regarded. As someone who can't have much sugar, it's been useful to understand why sometimes it's very difficult to get around using it.

    Baking powder isn't something that I use often, but it's good to know of the alternatives. Cream of tartar I used to use for meringues, it stabilizes them. But alas without sugar meringues aren't something I eat anymore.
     
    Jenny Wright
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    Leigh Tate wrote:

    Jenny Wright wrote:But then I noticed that my recipes didn't quite turn out the same if I left out the starch. Things turn out more as expected when I include the starch in my baking soda and cream of tartar mix. My hypothesis is that most recipe developers are using commercial baking powder and that teaspoon or so of extra starch into the recipe does make a difference in texture. So when I make up my own recipes, I leave out the starch, but when I'm using someone else's recipe, I add it in to get the expected result.


    Interesting, and something I've never noticed in my own baking, probably because the ratio of starch in baking powder compared to flour would be pretty small. I do notice a difference in texture depending on the kinds of flours I use, for example, white, versus whole wheat, versus oat flour, versus rice flour, versus gluten-free


    Thinking further on it, my son and i have a dairy allergy and for a few years another family member had an egg allergy so we often use vegan recipes. There's a lot of fiddling to get vegan recipes to have good texture/crumb so maybe me switching out commercial baking powder was the straw that broke the camel's back, especially without the egg as a binder. Tapioca starch has a gumminess to it so maybe that's what helps when I add it to my baking soda and cream of tartar.
     
    Jenny Wright
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    Another tip for cream of tartar is to buy it in bulk. It will last forever (as far as I can tell) and you can get a pound of it for as much as a tiny jar.

    With all these leavening concoctions, I always wonder who was the first to figure out to add it to their baking. I mean yeast is pretty straight forward and was probably discovered by lots of different people all over the world. But who was the first person to decide to scrape off the crystallized residue in a wine barrel to use it for food. Or the ash water! Who first said, Hey save me some of the ashes from the fire so I can make a cake! Or to grind up an antler- that sounds like such a lot of work!
     
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    Leigh, thank you for posting this topic.

    This is something I am very interested in and I am hoping that this week's book promotion will be very interesting and enlightening.

    So, I reasoned, since baking soda is cheaper and easier to find than cream of tartar, what can I substitute for cream of tartar and get the same results?



    This is exactly why I am so interested in this topic.  Cream of tartar is very expensive and my store just sells a very small container for a big price.

    Maybe I will try Jenny's solution and buy cream of tartar in bulk.

    As a kid, I remember my mother was always using the same old canister of baking powder for year after year.  Maybe she had a trick she used that she did not teach me or baking powder just wasn't the same back then as now.

    Your list of kitchen acids is very interesting as some of those I never would have thought to use.

    I see a lot of experimenting in my future.
     
    Leigh Tate
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    Anne, I think once you start to understand the basics of this, you'll find that you rarely use cream of tartar. For example, you'll get the same results with

    1 part baking soda to 2 parts vinegar

    Any kind of vinegar will do. Or you can substitute lemon juice. Most of us keep both on hand. Cream of tartar, not so much.

    I typically use 1 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of flour (more if the item contains nuts, dried fruit, or chocolate chips), and twice the vinegar.

    One thing I've found is that, even though I have a chart of baking soda / kitchen acids proportions in the book, baking this way is actually quite flexible. So, for example, since I have a lot of whey from making goat cheese, I simply substitute whey for all of the liquid in a recipe, and use 1 tsp of baking soda for each cup of flour. I get beautiful cakes, pancakes, and biscuits by doing this.
     
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    According to my Google search, vinegar is 2 to 3  on the acidity scale. I am wondering how pine needle tea might work for leavening. The needles themselves are reputed to be around 3.8.
     
    Leigh Tate
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    Joylynn Hardesty wrote:According to my Google search, vinegar is 2 to 3  on the acidity scale. I am wondering how pine needle tea might work for leavening. The needles themselves are reputed to be around 3.8.


    Joylynn, you know what? I would absolutely experiment. It would be fun, and who knows? You might make a great discovery!
     
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    Whey is an interesting choice wow

     
    Leigh Tate
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    Paul Canosa wrote:Whey is an interesting choice wow


    Well, you use what you've got, right?
     
    pollinator
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    So this thread has piqued my interest as I mistakenly assumed the book would simply have sourdough or similar leavening agents instead of baking powder.   I guess its true that you're never too old to learn something new.
     
    pollinator
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    Just a quick question about "baking soda." Where I live, nothing by this name is available. But we do have bicarbonate of soda. I have been assuming this is the same thing, but is this correct?

    Edit: Never mind, I forgot to do an internet search before asking, so I've now answered my own question: Yes, they are the same thing!
     
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    Leigh Tate wrote:Since we've been discussing How To Bake Without Baking Powder this week, I thought it might be fun to start a thread where we can share recipes and experiments.



    Ok, so baking soda is a leavener, but too much doesn't taste good. Adding apple cider vinegar or any other acidic ingredient (lemon juice, lime juice, etc.) plus a natural sweetener (molasses, sorghum, honey, sugar) will help baked goods rise.

    Even yeast needs a sweetener to feed it.

    I don't know what the mechanism is for it, but if you bake with duck eggs things rise super high. When I put duck eggs in my bread machine bread recipe I had to cut the flour back TWICE because it was hitting the top window!
     
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    Gail Gardner wrote:Ok, so baking soda is a leavener, but too much doesn't taste good. Adding apple cider vinegar or any other acidic ingredient (lemon juice, lime juice, etc.) plus a natural sweetener (molasses, sorghum, honey, sugar) will help baked goods rise.  


    You're getting it! The baking soda and acidic ingredient create the leavening power (by reacting chemically to create carbon dioxide bubbles). But you don't necessarily need sweetener for that. My biscuits and cornbread use this principle, but contain no sweetener. Yeast feeds off the sweetener, which is why we add it.

    I don't know what the mechanism is for it, but if you bake with duck eggs things rise super high. When I put duck eggs in my bread machine bread recipe I had to cut the flour back TWICE because it was hitting the top window!



    Gail, I agree about duck eggs! I researched them for the book, but all I could find on it at the time was this:

    If you can get them, use duck eggs. In comparison to chicken eggs, duck eggs are larger and have a higher percentage of yolk. They contain more fat and protein, which means richer, fluffier, moister baked goods which rise better than those baked with chicken eggs. According to ChefJamie Oliver, the denser albumen in duck eggs gives gluten-free baked goods better structure.

    Duck eggs can be substituted one for one in recipes. Because they have a lower water content than chicken eggs, no other adjustment is necessary.

     
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    Michelle Heath wrote:So this thread has piqued my interest as I mistakenly assumed the book would simply have sourdough or similar leavening agents instead of baking powder. I guess its true that you're never too old to learn something new.


    Michelle, it's an amazingly interesting subject, and I tried to include as many substitutes as possible. I have used sourdough starter with baking soda for quick breads and so that aspect is included in the book. But in general, I would consider sourdough a substitute for yeast. That being said, exploring substitutes for yeast would be another fascinating study!

    Dave, good for you for doing your own research! But I'm glad you both asked and answered the question, because others may be wondering the same thing.
     
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    I need to do some experiments now. Tartar is the crystaline substance that collects on the inside of wine bottles. I have also found it in grape juice, and it apparently precipitates out when the juice gets very cold or freezes.

    I have a bottle of it that I've saved from opened bottles of grape juice, now I need to find out if it works!
     
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    Just made carrot cake using bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice as leavening, and it's great! Thanks Leigh, I don't know if I would have had the confidence to experiment without your advice here.
     
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    Lauren Ritz wrote:I need to do some experiments now. Tartar is the crystaline substance that collects on the inside of wine bottles. I have also found it in grape juice, and it apparently precipitates out when the juice gets very cold or freezes.

    I have a bottle of it that I've saved from opened bottles of grape juice, now I need to find out if it works!


    Lauren, I would be really interested in how this works out. Please give us an update after you experiment!
     
    Lauren Ritz
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    Leigh Tate wrote:

    Lauren Ritz wrote:I need to do some experiments now. Tartar is the crystaline substance that collects on the inside of wine bottles. I have also found it in grape juice, and it apparently precipitates out when the juice gets very cold or freezes.

    I have a bottle of it that I've saved from opened bottles of grape juice, now I need to find out if it works!


    Lauren, I would be really interested in how this works out. Please give us an update after you experiment!

    Well, the tartar did foam up with the baking soda (in water). First step. So next is to try baking with it. The pictures are the top side and under side of one with a clear crystaline structure. These came out of concord grape juice and were rinsed, so likely LOTS of impurities.
    IMG_20220206_162421241.jpg
    [Thumbnail for IMG_20220206_162421241.jpg]
    IMG_20220206_162416301.jpg
    [Thumbnail for IMG_20220206_162416301.jpg]
     
    Lauren Ritz
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    Well, it definitely raised. I didn't grind it nearly fine enough and I'm picking grit out of my teeth. I used a teaspoon of the powder and half a teaspoon of baking soda. Can't taste the soda, so I did something right.
    IMG_20220206_170907892.jpg
    [Thumbnail for IMG_20220206_170907892.jpg]
     
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    Lauren, that pancake rose beautifully! So, basically what you need is a way to grind it to a fine powder. Other than that, excellent results!
     
    Lauren Ritz
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    Jenny Wright wrote:But who was the first person to decide to scrape off the crystallized residue in a wine barrel to use it for food. Or the ash water! Who first said, Hey save me some of the ashes from the fire so I can make a cake! Or to grind up an antler- that sounds like such a lot of work!

    My understanding (and it may be entirely incorrect) is that a lot of these things were used during famines to bulk up scarce food. It was probably such a situation when someone noticed that the bread rose better.
     
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    Lauren Ritz wrote:

    Jenny Wright wrote:But who was the first person to decide to scrape off the crystallized residue in a wine barrel to use it for food. Or the ash water! Who first said, Hey save me some of the ashes from the fire so I can make a cake! Or to grind up an antler- that sounds like such a lot of work!

    My understanding (and it may be entirely incorrect) is that a lot of these things were used during famines to bulk up scarce food. It was probably such a situation when someone noticed that the bread rose better.

    Oh that makes a lot of sense. I can definitely see that happening.
     
    Lauren Ritz
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    Leigh Tate wrote:Lauren, that pancake rose beautifully! So, basically what you need is a way to grind it to a fine powder. Other than that, excellent results!

    I got a mortar and pestle today, so that should work better than trying to use the back of a spoon. :)
     
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    It may be a differentiation in the Land Across the Pond, but my understanding is that baking powder and baking soda are of the same chemical composition.  Does anyone agree, disagree or able to illuminate?
     
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    Baking powder is baking soda with some buffering agents added. If using just baking soda you have to add something acid to make it activate,, either vinegar, acidified milk like buttermilk or clabbered milk.  During the War between the States, people could not always get baking soda so they often used the ash from burned corncobs.  
     
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    John Picton wrote:It may be a differentiation in the Land Across the Pond, but my understanding is that baking powder and baking soda are of the same chemical composition.  Does anyone agree, disagree or able to illuminate?


    John, (in the US, at least) baking powder is baking soda + cream of tartar + cornstarch (or another buffer). Sometimes they use other chemicals, but the basic idea is that the leavening is all in one package. Sodium aluminum phosphate is one of the additives that many people want to avoid, which is why it's handy to either know how to make your own or know easy alternatives.

    The purpose of the buffer is to slow the chemical reaction between the acid (cream of tartar) and the alkali (baking soda). The combination of these two in a batter create carbon dioxide bubbles that make the batter rise. The disadvantage to baking powder, however, is that the chemical reaction is only slowed by the buffer, not stopped. So baking powder has a shelf life to be aware of. After that, it probably won't work as well.
     
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