Beginner’s guide to baking: Baking powder vs. baking soda

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Ever wondered what all those different kinds of sugar are all about? Or why the temperature of butter really matters? Then you’ll love this new series covering off all the basics of baking – from why ingredients are important right through to how to set up your kitchen. Have a burning question? Then pop it in the comments below and I’ll try and cover it off in an upcoming post.

First off we’re taking a look at those two little white powders that seem to do the same thing, but you always seem to need the one you don’t have – baking powder and baking soda! While they’re both leaveners (which means they make things rise), they’re actually pretty different. So…

What is baking soda and when do I use it?
Time for my sixth form chemistry to shine! Remember the whole base vs. acid thing from high school? Well that’s pretty much what this comes back to. Baking soda is a base, which means that when you mix it with an acid it’ll react to create something – in baking, that means carbon dioxide which puffs up your baking.

Basically, when you see baking soda in a recipe there will also be some kind of acid in there – maybe lemon juice, buttermilk, yoghurt or brown sugar. You need to have this acid there for the baking soda to react with, otherwise your baking won’t rise and will have a strange metallic taste to it.
The trick is making sure you use just the right amount of baking soda in your baking – that means measuring carefully! Baking soda is pretty strong (about three times more powerful than baking powder) and you need to hit the sweet spot between having enough to react with the amount of acid in your recipe – that way, no metallic after taste.

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How about baking powder?
So baking powder is actually a mixture of a couple of things – baking soda, cream of tartar and often a little cornflour. The clever thing is that cream of tartar is actually an acid (just a dry one!), so the baking soda already has the right amount of acid to react with in every teaspoon.

Because of this, you’ll notice that baking powder is usually used when there isn’t another acid in a recipe. But, because life’s not always simple, there are always exceptions to this rule.

Sometimes you have a recipe that uses an acid that you don’t want to use up through a reaction with baking soda – for example, you might want a tang of lemon or yoghurt in your cake. In that case, you’d use baking powder instead of baking soda so the acid can live on the baking, bringing in all that lovely tangy flavour.  

Why do some recipes need both?
These recipes usually have some acid in them, but not enough for a reaction with baking soda to create the lift that’s needed. If that’s the case, baking powder is used as well to give the recipe that little boost it needs. You need to strike the perfect balance.

If I’m playing around with my own recipe, how much do I need to use?
As you can probably tell, it really does vary. But as a general rule, use around ¼ tsp of baking soda OR 1 tsp of baking powder for every cup of flour in a recipe.

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Pretty interesting, right? Whether you’re just getting into baking or are already a keen cook, knowing why things work the way they do is such a helpful skill to have – I know I love it!

If knowing the ins and outs of baking soda and powder was super interesting to you, then you might be a Curious Novice – you’re keen to improve your skills, enjoy a good recipe book, love giving things a go yourself and are curious about why things work the way they do.

Sound like you? Maybe not? Fisher & Paykel have created eight different cooking styles to help Kiwis get the most out of their time in the kitchen – if you know why you cook the way you do, you’re more likely to get the best results.

Either way, pop over to the Fisher & Paykel website and do their ‘What’s Your Cooking Style’ quiz – you might be surprised!  

Now that you’re a baking soda and powder pro, check out my recipe for blueberry and lemon scones below and see if you can work out why baking powder is used over baking soda. Good luck!

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Blueberry and lemon scones
Makes six. Recipe adapted from Radio New Zealand.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 4 Tbsp caster sugar
  • 80g butter, cold
  • 1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • ¼ cup natural, unsweetened yoghurt
  • ¾ cup milk

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line a baking tray with baking paper and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and caster sugar.
  3. Grate butter and add to dry ingredients, tossing to mix. Add blueberries and lemon zest and mix until combined.
  4. Combine yoghurt and milk in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Pour onto other ingredients and mix with a butter knife until just combined.
  5. Scoop batter onto a floured bench and shape into a rectangle around 3cm (two fingers) thick. Brush with a little milk and sprinkle with caster sugar. Cut into six squares.
  6. Transfer to a baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Cool slightly before serving.

This post was made possible thanks to Fisher & Paykel. All words and images are, and always will be, my own.



Cheese-lovers savoury loaf

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The older I get, the more I love cheese. In salads, muffins and pizzas; in sauces, with pasta or simply sliced with crackers – cheese is one of the most versatile ingredients you can have stashed in your fridge. It’s the perfect excuse to always have a variety of cheeses on hand, right?

But with just two of us in our house, there’s no point in buying the big packets of cheese you see in the supermarket – we simply won’t get through it fast enough. And with different recipes calling for different cheeses, how do you commit to just one type for the coming month?

Well, now you don’t have to choose. Dairyworks’ awesome range of cheeses are all about convenience – that means they come in smaller sizes (think 250g blocks), are cleverly packaged and are all totally resealable. So now it’s easy to have everything from Tasty to Mozzarella, Parmesan to Gouda in your fridge all at once – without the waste!

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Tomato, capsicum and spinach scrolls

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While sweet treats are undeniably delicious, sometimes what you really need is something savoury – delicious scrolls, tarts and scones packed with flavour to help fill the lunchtime gap. The trick is finding the perfect recipe!

I don’t do a huge amount of savoury baking, but have a couple of recipes I come back to time and time again – like these delicious cheese and caramelised onion pinwheel scones and this easy recipe for tomato, capsicum and spinach scrolls.

There are lots of reasons to love these scrolls, not least of which is the flavour – they’re absolutely packed with it! The dough is generously coated in thick, rich sauce before being covered with a scattering of fresh spinach, a crumbling of feta and a sprinkling of grated cheese. Sounds good, huh?

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Cheese & Caramelised Onions Pinwheel Scones

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Where would we be without cheese? Savoury baking would definitely not be anywhere near as delicious, that’s for sure. All my favourite savoury treats seem to be packed with that cheesy goodness, adding delicious creamy flavour to everything from scrolls and scones to tarts and pies.

But in a world filled with delicious savoury options, I’ve found my new favourite savoury baked treat – cheese and caramelised onion pinwheel scones.

Imagine a soft scone dough loaded with flavoursome cheese and just a hint of cayenne pepper (trust me, it’s magic!), filled with a combination of freshly prepared caramelised red onions and grated cheese, rolled and cut, then finished with a final sprinkling of (you guessed it) cheese.

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Tomato, Basil & Feta Scrolls

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Our vertical garden has been up and running for a couple of weeks now, and we’re feeling pretty chuffed with how it’s going – the herbs are running wild, the dahlias are covered in buds about to burst open, and all but one of the veggies we planted are thriving.

But while I frequently run my hands through the basil (I can’t get enough of the smell!) we were yet to actually make anything with it. After noticing just how large it had grown while watering the garden this morning I decided enough was enough, and I plucked a handful to use in some savoury baking this afternoon.

While I don’t share a lot of savoury baking on this little blog I absolutely love it, so it didn’t take long to work out what I wanted to bake using the freshly plucked basil… savoury scrolls! Mum used to make basil and tomato pesto scrolls for my lunch when I was younger and I absolutely adored them – so I decided to come up with something similar.

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Raspberry & White Chocolate Scones

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One of my favourite things about this time of year is that berries begin making their way into our shopping basket again. The shelves of the supermarket are filled with strawberries, blueberries and (my personal favourite) raspberries, and roadside stalls begin popping up all over the place so you’re never far away from a snack of summer berries – yum!

What’s especially great about berries is they’re delicious in baking (no surprises there, right?) – whether you buy them fresh or frozen, there’s no end of delicious ways you can incorporate them into your baking.

While I have a good number of dessert recipes that are packed with berries, I realised I didn’t have many berry-centric recipes for morning or afternoon tea – so I decided to fix that and come up with something. The result? Quick, easy and delicious sweet scones – yip, sweet scones!

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Soft salted pretzels

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Before we even left on our American adventure we had a sizeable list of foods we had to try. Armed with tips from friends, blogs and iconic films we had a pretty good idea of what we absolutely must try at least once during our month in the USA. The list included turkey legs at the theme parks, cheese steaks in Philadelphia and New York City hot dogs.

One thing you might notice about this list? Everything’s packed with meat – not the most ideal eating for a vegetarian such as myself! I left these food experiences to Kevin (who as always happily obliged) while I worked my way through a smaller, sweeter list of American treats.

One of the very first things I ticked off the list were giant New York City pretzels. On the afternoon of our first day in the city we headed into Central Park, spotted a street vendor and bought a couple of warm, salted pretzels to munch on as we ambled around the park. I fell in love with them. Their doughyness, saltiness and warmth totally appealed and I ended up eating one at least once a day.

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