It was just another day and just another batch of cookies, when I was perusing the cabinets for the baking soda. There was the cocoa, the honey, the salt, everything but the necessary baking soda. Right in front of me was the baking powder and I thought to myself, “this could work, right?”. I have to say for as many batches of cookies that I have made in my lifetime, I felt rather dumb for not knowing the difference between baking powder and baking soda. So what do I do when I don’t know the answer? Write an article about it!
Now in my own defense, from a visual standpoint, there really isn’t a difference between the two other than the containers in which they reside. Their function is also relatively the same; both are used as leavening agents in a variety of baked goods. Leavening is the action of fermentation in the dough, which leads it to rise.
So where is the difference?
Well, first there is the pH. Baking soda has a high pH, being made from sodium bicarbonate. Because of the high pH, an acidic cohort must also be present in the recipe in order to produce the desired CO2 gas. Acidic ingredients include buttermilk, sour cream, citrus, vinegar, and cream of tartar.
Now the question is, how does baking powder do it? Well, baking powder contains both the sodium bicarbonate as well as its acidic counterpart in the form of monocalcium phosphate and sodium aluminum sulfate. Why two? If you notice on the baking powder container, it will read “double acting”. The acids react at different points in the baking process; the MCP in the batter and the SAS in the baking process.
The difference is not only in the CO2 production, but also in the browning process that occurs in baking. The high pH in baking soda will emphasize the process if not neutralized by an acid. The browned, baked, goodness of our beloved chocolate chip cookies would not be nearly what it is with baking soda with the use of baking powder instead!
Look and see the difference for yourself with the Nestle Toll House official recipe:
In a large bowl, mix together:
2 ¼ cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
With your mixer, beat together:
1 cup butter
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
and 2 eggs, beating well after each egg.
Slowly add in your flour mixture + 2 cups of chocolate chips.
Bake at 375 for 6-9 min.