It is no secret I love to bake! I adore the feeling of seeing someone truly enjoy something I made for them. To me it is a way to show love for someone, almost like taking care of them. I created my blog for many reasons, one of them being to share recipes I created, or ones I love from others, to pass that same opportunity on to you. I want you to feel amazing pulling a beautiful birthday cake from the oven, then watching that special someone enjoy every bite. You will feel the love and so will they :). I also want to help bakers understand the how’s any why’s of baking, to help ensure that cake really does come out beautiful :). Anyone can read a recipe, but understanding what you are doing helps greatly because the more you know, the better you can be!
It can be incredibly rewarding when you nail a recipe, but also frustrating when you pull paper thin chocolate chip cookies from the oven . If you are like me you have stood in your kitchen many times saying “what went wrong?!…or “it worked last time…what did I do different?” After multiple mistakes resulting in paper thin cookies, dry/tough muffins, cracked macarons, burnt toffee, etc., I decided to take matters into my own hands. I stated to research the science of baking to understand why you add certain ingredients and not others, when to add them, proper techniques, and so on. I will say life definitely became a little easier soon after getting a grasp on this :). I absolutely still make mistakes, but they have at least greatly decreased!
Initially, I viewed recipes based on each individual ingredient, rather than as a whole formula or ratio. Once you switch you mind to view recipes in ratio form, you suddenly have an open road map for baking creativity. For example, cookie dough is thought to be composed of a 1:2:3 ratio. 1 part sugar, 2 parts flour and 3 parts fat. This will give you a shortbread type cookie. You can add nuts, zest, chocolate, honey, melted chocolate etc. to make your dough more exciting. Adding eggs, baking powder and/or baking soda will give the dough a soft and airy crumb, along with providing rise. Changing your ratio to 1:1:1 or 1:2:1 (sugar, flour, fat) will give you a bakery style cookie, such as chocolate chip. The ratio with more fat will spread more than the one with less. I will list all the formulas I use at the bottom of the page for your reference, in case you want to get creative in the kitchen :)! Trust me, it is much less intimidating if you have something to build off of.
The ratios are your foundation, but there are other variables to understand as well to ensure your recipes are a success! One significant factor is your leavening agent, baking power and baking soda. These both consist of a base, sodium bicarbonate, but are actually very different. Lets start with baking soda.
The science behind baking soda is actually very simple and as follows, acid+base=bubbles (CO2). Baking soda is your base and your acid comes from your ingredients. Common acidic baking ingredients include buttermilk, yogurt, vinegar, lemon juice, molasses, cocoa (not dutch process), applesauce, coffee, citrus, cream of tartar and brown sugar. Baking soda will help your baked goods rise as well assist in the browning process, giving that desirable golden hue to cookies, etc. Baking soda is very powerful, approximately 3-4x more so than baking powder, therefore you do not need a lot. A common formula is 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to 1 cup of flour. If there is not enough acid in your recipe for the baking soda to react with, some will remain left over and create a soapy taste. Probably not what you were going for :). When you add baking soda to the correct amount of acid, the baking soda will actually help neutralize the acidic or sour taste. There are though, instances you may want a little tang to actually come through, such as in buttermilk biscuits, and would use less baking soda. Another good formula to follow is 1/2 tsp baking soda for 1 cup yogurt, buttermilk, brown sugar, natural cocoa (not dutch), applesauce, coffee or molasses. Some sources will tell you 1/2 tsp baking soda for 1/2 cup natural cocoa, This also applies to 1 teaspoon lemon juice, cream of tartar or vinegar.
Another important piece of information to know about baking soda is, when will the rise happen? This is important because it impacts how quickly you need to get the recipe in the oven. Once baking soda makes contact with the acid in your recipe the rise will happen. This means recipes with only baking soda should go into the oven rather quickly after mixing, to ensure you get the rise you are looking for. If the batter or dough sits too long you may loose your rise. Now lets move onto baking powder.
Baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate just as baking soda does, but also cream of tartar and sometimes corn starch. There are two available versions, single and double acting. I tend to use double acting, which completes it’s first rise when it makes contact with liquid. Unlike baking soda, baking powder’s liquid does not have to be an acid because there is already an acid incorporated in it :). The second rise will happen once the dough or batter enters the oven and heated. This allows for your recipe to sit out for a bit if needed before going into the oven. You can think of baking soda as the sprinter, and baking powder as the marathon runner. Baking powder will give you a long term rise until the end of the baking process, whereas baking soda poofs initially but may not carry through until the end. Due to this you see baking powder used more in recipes for bread, cakes, quick bread and biscuits. Baking soda tends to be more popular in cookies. This is only a general comment, as you will see baking powder in cookies and baking soda in cakes, and muffins that have a great rise with only baking soda…because it can never be simple right :). You will see recipes where you use both baking powder and baking soda as well. This can happen depending on the amount of acid in a recipe, what kind of rise you want, and if you want any tang to come through in the recipe. Overall when you see both, baking powder is doing most of the leavening.
Can you replace baking powder with baking soda?
I do not know about you, but I have sworn I had an ingredient in my pantry…actually been so confident that I’d bypass it in the aisle at the store, then come home to find I did not have it. This brings me to the question, can you replace baking powder and baking soda and vice versa in case you are out? The answer is sort of :). If replacing baking soda for baking powder you will need to increase the acid in the recipe via the formulas below. If you do not increase acid, you may be left with a soapy after taste. This can be tricky because the taste of your final product may change, but some acids will be more forgiving in your end product taste than others when increased. Again, feel free to refer to my list above or below. Replacing baking powder for baking soda is a little easier because you do not have to alter the ingredients. You will need 2-3 times more baking powder than baking soda to get the rise you are looking for. I stick closer to 2 to 2.5 x more because too much baking powder can leave a bitter aftertaste.
Cocoa Powder (natural versus dutch)
When I first began baking I did not know there was a difference between natural cocoa powder and dutch cocoa powder. One horrible bundt cake a few years back made me do my research.
Most grocery stores carry natural cocoa powder, but dutch processed cocoa can be harder to find. Most specialty shops such as William Sonoma, Sur la Table, etc. will carry it. Acid is the main difference between the two cocoas…dutch is stripped of its acid and natural cocoa is not. Dutch processed cocoa has a darker color because of this, and natural cocoa is a lighter brown color.
When baking with dutch cocoa it is important to remember it is stripped of its acid, therefore it should be paired with baking powder because it does not need an acid to react with. Baking soda needs to be paired with an acid, therefore natural cocoa is used with baking soda because it has not had its acid stripped. Natural cocoa with baking powder could cause extra acid in your recipe, and baking soda does not pair well with dutch cocoa because there is no acid in dutch cocoa for the baking soda to react/pair with. Make sense?? If not that is ok because it is confusing!
- Dutch cocoa = baking powder
- Natural cocoa= baking soda
So what do you do when a recipe just calls for cocoa powder? The best advice is to look at the baking soda and/or baking powder in the recipe. Which is the dominant leavening agent?
Few extra tips
Measuring and combining ingredients
A few other important factors in baking are how you measure your ingredients and how you combine them. When you measure flour be sure to fluff the flour in the container with a fork or spoon first. The flour becomes packed rather tight from sitting in the container, and can cause you to add quite a bit more flour than desired. After fluffing flour, scoop the flour into the measuring cup with a spoon, versus scooping the measuring cup into the flour itself. This will help prevent packing the flour. Overfill the measuring cup and scrape excess flour off cup with a knife. A food scale is another great option for accurate measuring if weight is provided in the recipe.
When combining your ingredients ensure all liquid ingredients are at room temperature, unless directed otherwise. This helps all ingredients combine into a smooth batter, versus one full of clump and lumps. Once your liquid is combined, mix all dry ingredients together in a separate bowl. When adding dry and wet ingredients pour dry ingredients into bowl of wet ingredients, not the other way around. Adding wet to dry will likely cause you to over mix and create a tough batter. Every once in a while this does not hold true, such as in my vanilla bean cupcakes…but like I said it can never be simpler right?!
When combing as mentioned above, be sure not to over mix. This is especially true in batters containing less than 50% fat by weight. Fat inhibits gluten development, therefore higher fat recipes have less chance of becoming tough from mixing. Gluten-free recipes also have a low risk for over mixing considering they do not contain gluten.
Cookies baked at a low temperature (such as 350 degrees) for a longer period of time tend to be thinner and crisp. Cookies baked at a higher temperature (375-400 degrees) tend to be thick and soft.
Ratios and Replacements
Flours and leaveners
1 teaspoon baking powder : 1 cup flour (110g)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda: 1 cup flour (110g)
1/4 tsp baking soda : 1 cup acid or 1 tsp acid
Replace 1/3 of flour in recipe with pulverized nuts (similar to almond meal)
Replacing brown sugar for white sugar will increase chewy texture to cookies. They will also firm up faster, therefore remove most cookies with at least 50% brown sugar or more when edges are set, but look slightly underdone in middle. This will help prevent hard cookies, as they firm up quite a bit when cooling on tray.
More white sugar than brown sugar will make for a crisper cookie
May substitute part, up to half, of sugar in recipes for molasses, honey or maple syrup
Can replace up to 1/4 of liquid, likely milk, for fruit juice
Just FYI 1 egg is approximately 2 ounces
May replace egg for flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flax + 3 tablespoons water – sit 5 min to gel)
Eggs bond starch and protein in flour to help your recipe hold together. The protein also helps achieve a chewy cookie
May replace up to half the amount of fat in recipe at 1:1 ratio with yogurt, applesauce, mashed banana, pumpkin, or pureed avocado
Salt, like eggs and brown sugar, can increase chewy texture in cookies. Kosher salt and table salt cannot be used interchangeably. Kosher salt takes up 2 times more space than table salt, therefore if your recipe calls for 1 tsp of salt, which means table salt if not specified otherwise, you should use 2 tsp kosher salt. If recipe calls for 2 tsp of kosher salt only use 1 tsp of salt.
Quick bread/muffin- 2 part flour: 2 part liquid: 1 part egg: 1 part fat
Banana bread from basic quick bread recipe- reduce liquid in recipe by 2 oz and add 1 cup mashed banana
Shortbread Cookie- 1 part sugar, 2 part flour, 3 part fat
Drop Cookie- 1 part flour, 1 part sugar, 1/2 part fat, 1 egg (this is for 1 part equaling 8 oz)
Pancake batter- 4 ounces milk: 4 ounces flour: 1 egg: 1 ounce melted liquid fat: 1 teaspoon baking powder. Can replace 1/2 the amount of milk with yogurt or buttermilk
Corn muffins- replace 3/4 flour with cornmeal
Crepe- 1 cup liquid: 1 egg: 1/2 cup flour
Ganache- 1 part chocolate: 1 part cream
Carmel sauce- 1 part cream: 1 part sugar…then finish with a little butter 🙂
Toffee- 1 part butter: 1 part sugar
Ruhlman, M. (2011). Ratio the simple codes behind the craft of everyday cooking. Toronto: CNIB.
Joachim, D., & Schloss, A. (2015). The Science of Baking Cookies. Fine Cooking, (26).