Although I ended up with a sensible title, I seriously thought about using “The Least Sexy, Least Glamorous Part of Baking” or “Why Didn’t Someone Tell Me About This Before Now, Says a Baker Whose Baked Goods Flop” or “Secrets Revealed – Why Your Shortcakes May Be So Short.” This topic may not hold your attention like Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black, but if you want your cookies, cakes, scones, and muffins to rise, then read on.
Two years ago I learned that you can’t always judge the freshness of an ingredient such as baking powder or baking soda by its “best by” date. That lesson was courtesy of chocolate shortcakes that didn’t rise. Even though the baking powder I was using was still supposedly within its “fresh period” (it had not yet expired according to the date on the can), when tested it didn’t have any oomph.
So I wrote a post about how to tell if baking powder is fresh, using David Lebovitz’s test – adding boiling water to baking powder. if it is still good, it will bubble vigorously. If the water doesn’t bubble, the baking powder is no longer “working” and won’t help your baked goods to rise.
I haven’t thought much about that lesson until recently when Dorie Greenspan, a phenomenal baker and cookbook author gave me and other foodbloggers tips on baking strawberry shortcake. One of her first tips was to make sure that your baking soda and powder are fresh.
I had never tested baking soda and had only one test experience with baking powder, so I decided to see what research would yield. It turns out that, just like there are many ways to boil an egg, there are many ways to test baking soda and baking powder for freshness.
Here’s what I found:
How to Test Baking Powder and Baking Soda to Determine if They are Fresh (and will Make Your Baked Goods Rise)
- You need hot water. But it doesn’t have to be boiling as David Lebovitz recommends. The proportions for baking powder to water were all over the map. The Kitchn recommended ½ cup very hot water to ¼ teaspoon of baking powder, Joy of Baking used ½ cup hot water to 1 teaspoon of baking powder, David Lebovitz recommends ¼ cup of boiling water to ½ teaspoon of baking powder, and the Los Angeles Times used only a few tablespoons of hot water added to 1 teaspoon of baking powder. Baking Bites used the same proportions as the LA Times, but said the water could be warm rather than hot.
- Whichever method and proportions you choose, once you add the hot (or boiling) water, the bubbles should get big and vigorous if your baking powder is fresh. The photo below was especially impressive – sometimes the bubbles weren’t quite that big or active.
- Testing baking soda requires an acidic substance – either vinegar or lemon work.
- The proportions suggested were again, quite varied. The Kitchn suggested using ½ cup very hot water and ¼ teaspoon of vinegar added to ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. I tried this method several times and couldn’t get it to work even though my baking soda bubbled up fine using other methods. (It’s the first time that something I found on The Kitchn hasn’t worked for me. Oh well.) Joy of Baking used ¼ teaspoon of baking soda with 2 teaspoons of vinegar. The LA Times and Baking Bites both recommended a few tablespoons of vinegar added to about 1 teaspoon of baking soda and the chemistry page of About.com suggested dribbling a bit of vinegar or lemon juice onto ¼ teaspoon of baking soda.
- The bubbles in activated baking soda are smaller and less vigorous than the baking powder ones.
Have you checked your baking powder and baking soda for freshness lately?