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Did Martha make a Mistake? Question on Leavening in Recipe
Posted: 28 August 2012 01:29 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Hi all,

I’ve been trying to educate myself about the general balance of a good recipe, and I’ve taken a lot of pointers from Rose’s Cake Bible.

One “truth” I came away with is that Baking Soda requires some degree of acidity in the mix for it to activate (and it helps to neutralize it).
Another is that Dutch Process Cocoa has more of a neutral pH, so baking powder would typically be used unless there are other acidic ingredients.
Regular non-alkalized cocoa does have an acidic pH, so you’ll use baking soda or some combination of the two leaveners.

I have this recipe from Martha Stewart’s Cookies book, p. 75

I just cannot figure out what ingredient here is driving the use of Baking Soda instead of Baking Powder.  Anyone know?

Thanks!

Grammy’s Chocolate Cookies

    2 cups all-purpose flour
  3/4 cup Dutch cocoa powder
  1 teaspoon baking soda
  1/2 teaspoon salt
  1 1/4 cups (2 sticks plus 4 tablespoons) unsalted, butter room temperature
  2 cups sugar, plus more for dipping
  2 large eggs
  2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

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Posted: 28 August 2012 04:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Hi, Cyndyth!

We have some real scientists here, so they will be able to tell you something more of value, but my guess is this:  The rules you’ve discovered apply more to cakes than cookies.  If this is true, I don’t know why.  But I’m guessing that the fact that the recipe is for cookies is driving the baking soda.

Welcome, BTW!!

—ak

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Posted: 28 August 2012 05:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Cyndyth - 28 August 2012 04:29 PM

I just cannot figure out what ingredient here is driving the use of Baking Soda instead of Baking Powder.

First, it *could* be a mistake, but baking soda does play other roles in baked goods:

1)  An alkaline dough sets more slowly than an acidic one, so the cookies will spread more, and
2) alkaline doughs brown more readily.

However, too much baking soda can make baked goods taste soapy.  I’d give the recipe a try and see what happens.  Perhaps a flat, fine-crumbed cookie is what she’s going for here.  But you might check around for an errata.

BTW, I also recall that baking soda alone will, under heat, release some quantity of carbon dioxide.

Edit:  Further research reveals

When used on its own, only half the available CO2 is released and, more seriously, the sodium carbonate produced is strongly alkaline and gives the baked product a bitter, “soapy” taste and a yellow colour. The digestion of such products also tends to be somewhere between embarassing and traumatic, since the Na2CO3 reacts with the HCl in the stomach to produce the other half of the available CO2. For the above reasons, it must be stressed that sodium bicarbonate is very rarely used on its own, but generally mixed with some acidic material such as cream of tartar, honey, cocoa or golden syrup (e.g. treacle and baking soda are used together in baking gingerbread men). To avoid an imbalance between the acidic and basic materials, i.e. an incorrect pH, baking powder is more commonly used.

Source:  http://nzic.org.nz/ChemProcesses/food/6D.pdf

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Posted: 28 August 2012 10:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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One additional thought: baking soda helps produce a darker, yet more mellow chocolate, even with Dutched cocoa.  Case in point is Rose’s Deep Choc Passion cake, which has baking soda but no acidic ingredient other than dutched cocoa.  I do wonder about the pH of dutched cocoa, i.e., if the dutching process takes it all the way to neutral, or if it still retains some acidity.

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Posted: 28 August 2012 11:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Julie - 29 August 2012 01:54 AM

no acidic ingredient

Bleached cake flour is acidic.

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Posted: 29 August 2012 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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True, though the version of this that I make the most often is the ice cream cake, which is made with 100% AP, not cake flour.

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Posted: 29 August 2012 02:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Thank you all so much for the replies!  I find this all very intriguing.

I did look for a correction posting for the recipe, but was unable to locate any.

As CharlesT says, I’m sure simply trying the recipe will tell if things seem off or not. 

BTW ... Julie - according to some factoids I found on Dutch Process pH vs regular, non-alkalized cocoa, there shouldn’t be acidity remaining if the cocoa’s been treated:

For cooks it’s important to know that the alkalizing process, causes the pH of Dutched cocoa to rise from 5.5 (acidic) to 7 (neutral) or 8 (slightly alkaline). Thus, the change in acidity may result in differences in leavening reactions in some recipes for baking when using Dutch processed cocoa.

source: http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/icooks/9-2-02.html


Thanks again!  grin

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Posted: 29 August 2012 03:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Cyndyth - 29 August 2012 05:03 PM

there shouldn?t be acidity remaining if the cocoa?s been treated:

I agree with Julie’s sentiment:  there is often a difference between definitions and reality.  I wouldn’t fully believe the “neutral” or “alkaline” until I measured it. I threw away a bunch of nice, stainless steel measuring spoons that did not contain their stated volumes. I’ve been researching pH meters, but haven’t found one that can measure thick, opaque substances like cake batter.

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Posted: 29 August 2012 03:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I agree with Julie?s sentiment:  there is often a difference between definitions and reality.

True that.  I’ll keep it in mind.  grin

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Posted: 29 August 2012 04:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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It would be an interesting experiment to swap out of the baking soda with baking powder and see what happens.  Normally, baking soda is 4 times more powerful, but if it lacks an acid to react with, it might be only twice as powerful as baking powder, meaning you might need only two teaspoons of baking powder.

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Posted: 03 September 2012 01:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Does anybody know how to calculate acidity in a given amount of cocoa? I am trying to understand a recipe that calls for dutch + baking soda + vinegar [instead of buttermilk] and I’m completely flummoxed. It’s the ATK chocolate cupcakes recipe.

edit: Basically, what I’m trying to understand is how to make their old fashioned chocolate layer cake with natural cocoa, by looking at their chocolate cupcake recipe, but it was changed so much it’s hard for me to understand

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McBrownie.

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Posted: 03 September 2012 01:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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McBrownie - 03 September 2012 04:08 PM

I’m trying to understand is how to make their old fashioned chocolate layer cake with natural cocoa

If you increase the baking soda to neutralize the acidity of the natural cocoa, you’re likely to get an over leavened cake.  Often, you can reduce the baking powder to compensate, but this recipe doesn’t contain any baking powder. Using natural cocoa without any compensating baking soda will leave the cake more acidic, which might affect taste or texture.  Personally, I’d try it and see what happens.  You might not notice any difference.

An alternative is to use milk, rather than buttermilk.  In a later revision of this recipe, CI decided that buttermilk damages the chocolate flavor and replaced it with milk.

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Posted: 11 October 2012 01:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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This is very interesting. I’d like to understand the risks of substitutions in a cake recipe.

I inadvertently substituted baking POWDER for soda in a chocolate cake recipe that calls for non-dutched cocoa, all purpose flour (mine happens to be bleached) and sour cream.  I didn’t realize this until after the cakes were baked and wrapped for later assembly (the cake layers looked pretty normal at the time). However, in the process of transferring the cooled cakes to wrap, I detected the flavor of the crumb to be a little off and the layers seemed uncharacteristically heavy and/or dry.  When I later realized my mistake, I began to wonder if this was a fatal flaw. I decided not to risk it and made another batch. The new cakes already look more like I remember them (they appear a darker chocolate and more moist.)

My decision to re-bake came after reading that baking powder is essentially baking soda with a moisture-absorbing agent. This made me worry that my cake would certainly be dry. 

Can you help me understand this better?

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Posted: 11 October 2012 11:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Crown Hill bakery - 11 October 2012 04:56 AM

My decision to re-bake came after reading that baking powder is essentially baking soda with a moisture-absorbing agent. This made me worry that my cake would certainly be dry.


This isn’t the case at all.  While baking powder does contain a moisture absorbing agent, that isn’t the important difference.  Baking SODA is a base, an alkaline substance that is the opposite of an acid.  It normally needs an acid to chemically react with, such as vinegar, creme of tartar, buttermilk, sour cream, brown sugar, etc.

Baking POWDER is a mixture of baking SODA and an acid that will, when wet, react chemically together to generate carbon dioxide.  You use this when the recipe does not include an acid for the baking soda to react with.  The moisture absorbing component is merely to help keep the powder from getting damp.

It wouldn’t surprise me that your cake was dense when using baking POWDER, rather than the SODA called for; baking POWDER is only 1/4 as powerful as the equivalent baking SODA.  I wouldn’t expect it to affect dryness, however, other than the fact that your cake wouldn’t have browned as easily with the POWDER and you’d have had to leave it in the oven longer if you were gauging the doneness via the color.

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Posted: 02 October 2013 11:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I’ve never tried a Martha Stewart recipe.  The library has a long wait for her new Cakes book.

Has anyone ever tried any of her cake recipes? I’ve read her recipes but I am concerned about the taste.

I guess I am a cake snob now but it is hard to compare another author’s recipes to Rose.

Thanks!

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Posted: 02 October 2013 03:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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This is so interesting. I haven’t tried a MS recipe either. I ordered Heavenly Cakes and am trying to wait patiently for it. smile

I need to take a treat to my Grandma’s house on Friday, esp since she absolutely loved the cake I made recently. I should probably use the same recipe and try to figure out why it didn’t rise quite like it should. The soda was brand new-maybe I didn’t bake it long enough but it was not underdone. Maybe I didn’t measure the liquid exactly right. Or maybe I didn’t mix it long enough - I thought that while missing it but worried about mixing it longer and getting a tough cake.

I might try the chocolate cake recipe on the box just for grins.

Wait till I get Rose’s book and then I’ll really get serious!! smile

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