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Can I Use Baking Soda Instead Of Baking Powder For Cake?

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We absolutely love baking cakes! If there is an occasion, we will bring cake.

But one of the most frustrating things we always run into is having either no baking powder or simply having some that is past its due date.

So, can you substitute baking powder with baking soda in cakes? It is a more difficult substitution to do, but it is possible to use baking soda instead of baking powder for cake. To substitute baking powder with baking soda, make a 2 to 1 mixture of cream of tartar and baking soda. This mixture will be used instead of the baking powder.

To substitute baking soda with baking powder, use about 3 times the amount of baking soda called for. No other ingredients are required for this substitution.

In today’s article, we are going back to the chemistry classroom and will be discussing the chemical composition of baking soda and baking powder, how they react, and exactly how to create perfect substitutes for each.

Something To Consider

Before we dive deep into this extremely commonly asked question, we first have to cover a few things.

First of all, which we will discuss in much more detail later, baking soda and baking powder are not the same things!

They aren’t even chemically close to being the same! This is why you cannot substitute them equally.

They function in different ways and have different reactions to food which will ultimately affect the outcome of the product both in flavor and texture.

Which brings us to our next point; what type of cake do you want and what type of texture do you need to achieve?

This is arguably the most important question to ask yourself when you are looking at substituting anything! 

Cakes are always leavened and there are tons of ways to do this.

Unfortunately, or rather, fortunately, these different ways create different effects. This is why there are so many different types of cake!

So, by using different leaveners, such as baking powder and baking soda, you will inevitably have different cakes. This however doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible. 

What we will be discussing today is the exact functions of these leaveners and how they work.

This way you will better understand how exactly to substitute them and what effect they will have on your cake.

Baking Soda

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda, is an alkaline powder. It is white in color and has a crystal-like texture to it.

Being an alkaline it has a pH value above 7. Baking soda specifically has a pH of 8.3.

For baking soda to activate and for it to create that leavening effect, it has to be combined with an acidic ingredient and a liquid

When these components combine, they create a chemical reaction that produces carbon dioxide, which is what allows the cake to rise and become fluffy in texture.

Baking soda is almost always combined in cakes with either lemon juice or buttermilk.

These are the most popular ingredients as they generally have other beneficial functions in baking.

Baking Powder

Baking powder on the other hand is an already complete leavening agent. By this, we mean that you do not have to mix it with other ingredients for it to be activated.

Baking powder already contains sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) as well as an acid that will create the leavening effect.

This acid is usually cream of tartar or citric acid (both a type of acidic powder often used in food). It is also white in color but has a much fluffier, smooth, and power-like consistency.

You will also often find corn starch in baking powder. It helps essentially act as a buffer and prevents any reaction when the baking powder is stored.

To activate baking powder all you have to do is combine the powder (which again, already contains the alkaline and acid components) with a liquid.

The liquid is what helps the two combine and create the carbon dioxide and ultimately, the leavening reaction.

There are two types of baking powders available on the market; single-acting and double-acting.

Recipes usually refer to double-acting baking powder, as single-acting versions are most commonly used by food manufacturers.

Double-acting baking powder has two reactions. The first is when the powder is combined with a liquid at room temperature and the second reaction happens once that mixture is exposed to heat.

To put this in even simpler terms, the first reaction happens when you combine all of the ingredients together, and the second reaction happens when you bake the cake or pan-fry the pancakes, for example.

The double-acting reaction is more favorable because it means that the leavening effect takes place over a longer period of time, ultimately creating a much fluffier product.

Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder

So, we already know that both these are leavening agents but that they have different properties.

The first major difference is their appearance. Baking soda has a more crystal-like texture whereas baking powder has a more powder-like texture.

Both these ingredients have a very white color due to the processing they underwent.

Baking soda is an alkaline and needs to be combined with an acidic ingredient and a liquid to create that chemical reaction in a cake.

Baking powder on the other hand already consists of the alkaline base as well as the acid and only has to be combined with a liquid to create a reaction that will cause a leavening effect.

So, considering they both have the same effect on cakes, the bigger question should rather be when is baking soda used and when baking powder is used?

Baking soda is usually used in recipes that already contain an acidic ingredient.

This could be anything from citrus juice (like lemon juice or lime juice, even orange juice), buttermilk, cream of tartar, or citric acid.

Baking powder is typically used in recipes that do not contain any acids because it already contains that element in its structure.

All cakes have some form of liquid, so the acid part is what determines where it gets used more. This is a very useful fact to know because this will also help you recognize if a recipe is wrong.

If there isn’t an acid and the recipe calls for baking soda, you know it won’t rise.

Now, what about recipes that call for both baking soda and baking powder?!

This usually happens when you have a recipe that has too much acid and needs to be balanced by an alkaline to create the perfect amount of reaction (leavening).

In the end, it is all a balancing game!

If your recipe has baking powder (which contains an acid) and lemon juice (which is a natural acid) it won’t create a big enough reaction with the alkaline in the baking powder.

Your cake will come out flat. So by adding more baking soda (an alkaline) you balance out the reaction.

How To Substitute These Ingredients With Each Other

As you may have realized by now, baking is more of a science than cooking.

Different ingredients have different chemical compositions and need different things to create chemical reactions!

The bottom line, it isn’t as straightforward as substituting the one for the other.

Unless you have scientific equipment that can help you measure the correct pH and conversions, the outcome of the cake will not be exactly the same.

However, it doesn’t mean it is impossible to make it work in a pinch.

Substituting Baking Soda With Baking Powder

Baking soda is much stronger compared to baking powder.

If you want to substitute the baking soda with baking powder, you would need almost three times as much baking powder.

This means, as an example, for every one teaspoon of baking soda you need to substitute, you need three teaspoons of baking powder.

This will create roughly the same reaction when it comes to leavening cakes. It has a one to three (1:3) substitution ratio.

You do not need any additional ingredients for this substitution to work.

Substituting Baking Powder With Baking Soda

For this substitution, you definitely need some additional ingredients to help create a proper reaction. 

Remember, baking powder already contains an acid that will help create the reaction; baking soda doesn’t have that acid but definitely needs it.

The easiest acid to add into a recipe our opinion would be cream of tartar.

A great rule of thumb for this substitution is to add 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar and one teaspoon baking soda (2 parts cream of tartar and one part baking soda).

Then you can use this mixture and measure out the exact amount of “baking powder” the recipe calls for.

So if the recipe requires 1 tablespoon baking powder, use 1 tablespoon of this homemade mixture.

You can store any leftover powder in a zip-lock or re-sealable bag or container and keep it in a cool dark place.

Effects of Baking Soda And Baking Powder On Cake

Both baking soda and baking powder are leavening agents and will help give rise to a cake.

But you need the perfect amount of them to create the perfect rise (the more leavening agent does not mean more lift).

We now know that when these ingredients react with others, they produce carbon dioxide which is what creates gas and what allows the rest of the ingredients to rise and create a fluffy texture.

But, what happens when you don’t have the correct ratios? It is much easier to recognize the bad qualities in the cake than it is to necessarily recognize the good ones.

But, by being able to recognize them you can easily adjust the recipe next time to create a better product.

As a frame of reference, we usually work on about 1 teaspoon of baking powder per cup of cake flour.

We also use roughly ¼ teaspoon baking soda per cup of cake flour (with the acid of course).

These are only general rules of thumb but will give you an idea of whether you are using enough to create a significant life. 

What Went Wrong?

When you’ve tried your best to follow substitution rules to the letter, but something isn’t quite right, it can be very frustrating. Here are a few common mess-ups.

Is the taste off? If you are using too much baking soda in a recipe (even if it does help leaven the cake) and don’t counteract the alkaline with an acid, it can leave you with a very soapy or metallic taste – gross!

Another common misstep is that some cake batters cannot be left to stand, especially when using double-acting baking powder.

This is because the first leavening reaction takes place when the ingredients are mixed.

By leaving it to stand you essentially “deflate” all the airy pockets that were created during the first reaction and the second reaction won’t produce a nice fluffy cake.

Instead, you will be left with a flat and dense cake.

Finally, if your cake turned out flat and dense this can be the result of using too few leavening ingredients or having other ingredients in the batter that is too heavy.

For example, trying to make almond-flour cake will require a lot more leavening ingredients because almond flour is heavier compared to cake flour.

Baking Soda and Baking Powder Troubleshooting

Soapy taste, regardless of the riseToo much baking soda, not enough acid
Metallic taste, regardless of the riseToo much baking soda, not enough acid
Flat and dense (when using baking powder)Left the batter to stand Used too little baking powder Heavy ingredients in the recipe
Flat and dense (when using baking soda)Didn’t use enough acid to create a reaction Used too little baking powder Heavy ingredients in the recipe
Flat and dense (when using both baking soda and baking powder)There isn’t a good balance of acid to alkaline, so a poor carbon dioxide reaction takes place.

Related Questions

Let’s wrap up a few more loose ends so you can carry out your substitutions perfectly.

Can I use baking soda instead of baking powder for pancakes?

Pancakes usually use baking powder as their leavening agent because it doesn’t contain any acidic ingredients.

So, if you need to substitute baking powder with baking soda, it is actually simpler than you may think.

First, substitute the milk with buttermilk or sour milk. This will act as the acidic liquid base that you need for the alkaline baking soda to react with.

Then, you can use ¾ teaspoon baking soda for every tablespoon of baking powder the recipe called for – basically a third of the amount.

Do these substitutions affect the baking times of cakes?

We have never noticed that any of these substitutions have an effect on the baking times of cakes – or any other product for that matter.

Can these substitutions work on every type of cake?

In theory, yes, you can definitely use these substitutions for any type of cake. However, some cakes will require careful planning and the calculation of ratios.

As an example we have already mentioned, if you have a cake that already has acid in it and you need to use baking powder, you may want to reduce the amount of acid or powder.

Otherwise, there isn’t enough alkaline to create a reaction.

The bottom line is it is possible so long as you are careful to ensure you’re carrying out the substitution correctly.

Understand the reactions and ratios needed to get them, and most importantly, research exactly what you need to do.

Do these substitutions affect the texture and flavor of the cake?

As with the cooking times, we haven’t necessarily noticed a dramatic change in texture or flavor.

The only time it does have a noticeable effect is if you use the incorrect quantities or substitution ratios.

How do you test if your baking soda and baking powder are still good?

In order to make proper substitutions, you need to ensure your products are still good and actually still have the strength to create a good reaction.

To test baking powder, combine 3 tablespoons of warm water with ½ teaspoon baking powder. It should have a moderate fizz.

If there is no reaction your baking powder won’t work.

To test baking soda, combine 3 tablespoons of white distilled vinegar with ½ teaspoon baking soda.

If the mixture rapidly bubbles, your baking soda is still fresh.

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