Baked goods generally rely on a chemical leavener, baking soda, baking powder, or yeast for lift.
Without some sort of leavener, most baked goods would be very dense and very flat.
When shopping, make sure to check the expiration dates and be conscientious about how to store them in the kitchen.
Baking soda, also known as bicarbonate of soda, is an ALKALI used as a leavener in baked goods.
When combined with an acid ingredient such as buttermilk, yogurt, or molasses, baking soda produces carbon dioxide gas bubbles, thereby, causing a dough or batter to rise.
It also neutralizes acidity and produces tender baked goods.
Because it reacts immediately when moistened, it should always be mixed with the other dry ingredients before adding any liquid.
The resulting batter should be placed in the oven immediately.
At one time, baking soda was used in the cooking water of green vegetables to preserve their color. That practice was discontinued, however, when it was discovered that baking soda destroys vitamin C content in vegetables.
Baking powder is used to make light, fluffy texture in cakes and baked goods.
Before baking powder was invented, whipped egg whites or yeast were used, some recipes rely on these today.
Baking powder is a leavener containing a combination of baking soda, an acid (such as cream of tartar), and something to absorb moisture (such as cornstarch).
When mixed with liquid, baking powder releases carbon dioxide gas bubbles that cause a bread or cake to rise.
There are three basic kinds of baking powder. The most common is “double-acting,”(which is most supermarket brands) which releases some gas when it becomes wet and the rest when exposed to oven heat.
“Single -acting tartrate” and “phosphate baking powders (hard to find in most American supermarkets) release their gases as soon as they are moistened.
This type of powder does not provide sufficient leavening for dough with little liquid, such as muffins or scones.
Because baking powder contains baking soda, when liquid is added, they react, producing a carbon dioxide gas.
If you use baking soda on its own, your need to add an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice or buttermilk.
Cake yeast, fresh yeast, or compressed yeast is stocked in the refrigerator section of the supermarket.
This type of yeast, sold as little cubes, is reliably active, but very perishable.
It is mostly used by commercial bakers, not by us – home cooks.
Active Dry Yeast
Sold in packets or jars, active dry yeast is called for in most bread recipes.
When using active dry yeast, the granules must first be proofed, or dissolved in liquid, with some sugar to speed up the process.
This is because, when the yeast was packaged, it was given a heat treatment that killed the outermost cells.
Proofing sloughs off the dead cells and renders the yeast active.
And you must proof the yeast too. Dissolve it in a portion of the water called for in the recipe, heated to a perfect 105ºF.
Instant (Rapid-Rise) Yeast
Much like active dry yeast, HOWEVER, it has undergone a gentler drying process that has not destroyed the outer cells.
Instant yeast does NOT require proofing and can be added directly to the dry ingredients when making bread.
It is called INSTANT yeast.
When baking basic bread, such as baguettes, that contain just flour, salt, water, and yeast, the instant yeast yields a cleaner, purer flavor than active dry yeast because it does not contain any dead yeast cells.
However, in bread that contains butter, sugar, and other flavorings, there should be no concern for flavor changes.
Storing yeast and leaveners
Keep baking powder and baking soda in the pantry, away from any direct sunlight.
Expert testers say baking powder’s potency significantly deteriorates after just 6-months.
Yeast can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to slow deterioration.
And because yeast is a living organism, adhere to expiration dates.
My Baking Tool Recommendations:
I recently prepared this delectable cake for some dinner guests. It was a hit.
Make sure you pay close attention to the baking powder and baking soda quantities.
Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Rum Frosting
For the cake
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1 can of pumpkin puree - 15-ounce
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
For the frosting
- 3/4 cups butter - softened
- 3 cups confectioner's sugar
- 2 Tbsp. spiced rum
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
To make the cake
- Preheat oven to 350ºF
- Grease a 10x15 or 9x13 baking dish
- In a large bowl combine the eggs, sugar, pumpkin, and oil. Mix until smooth.
- In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. Using a large whisk, mix these ingredients thoroughly until all large lumps disappear.
- Add flour mixture to the liquid ingredients. Stir until thoroughly combined and all the white color from the flour is gone.
- Spread evenly in the prepared baking dish.
- Cook for approximately 30-35 minutes. Test cake doneness with a toothpick entered into the center of the cake. When removed, if the toothpick is clean, the cake is done.
- Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting
- In a stand mixture, or use a hand-held mixture, beat the butter for about 30 seconds.
- Add half the confectioner's sugar, half the rum, and the vanilla extract to the butter. Beat with the mixture until combined.
- Add the remainder of sugar and rum. Beat the frosting until smooth.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat the frosting 20 more seconds.
- Spread evenly over the cooled pumpkin cake. For best results, store the cake in the refrigerator for 2 hours, up to overnight before serving.
- Remove from the refrigerator about one hour before serving.
- Cake will keep for 4-5 days, in the refrigerator, stored in an airtight container.