What about baking soda?

Reader Liam writes to ask whether a baking soda-leavened batter needs to be rushed into the oven as soon as it’s mixed, since that’s what he’s always heard. Another fabulous question. The answer is a rather unsatisfying “it depends”, Liam. A lot of bakers consider baking soda to be something of a chemical one-trick pony. You add it to a wet batter and it reacts, end of story. But that’s not the whole of it. True, if you combine baking soda with plenty of acid à la a baking soda volcano you are going to get a big chemical reaction that will be over almost immediately. However reacting baking soda with acid isn’t the only way to get it to leaven. You can also degrade it by applying heat. Those are two different processes and both of them yield CO2 (among other things). A lot of recipes both react and degrade soda. They call for a little acid in the formula to get a few “seed” bubbles going, but leave the rest unreacted until the batter starts to warm up, at which point the soda degrades and gives off the rest of the gas. Wet soda starts degrading at about 175 degrees Fahrenheit, which is rather convenient for the baker, no?

So to answer the question, in general yes, you should get something you’ve made with soda into the oven fairly promptly, especially if your batter is very liquid, since CO2 bubbles will escape from it quickly. However a very thick batter or a dough (like a soda bread dough) doesn’t need the same speed since any seed bubbles will probably stay put for a while, and anyway there’s probably more CO2 to come!

11 thoughts on “What about baking soda?”

  1. Well, that explains my mother’s fruit bread recipe! It calls for all the ingredients to be mixed and dumped into the pan and then has it sit for half an hour before baking. Thanks.

    1. Yep! It’s probably a firm enough batter that you don’t lose many of those initial bubbles. Never thought of a fruit bread. Thanks, Sally!

      – Joe

  2. Hi Joe,
    Interesting that you should talk about baking soda today. Last night I was making Danish meatballs, Frikadeller, from an old Danish cookbook I had. The recipe included meat, onions, eggs, salt/pepper, milk, flour and baking soda OR soda water. Now in the past I had never questioned the use of baking soda/soda water in this recipe. Now that I have been reading your blog for a while, I find myself asking Why? What does that accomplish? How does that work? (By the way… thanks for that! 😀 )

    So then… why the baking soda in a meatball recipe? or How does soda water replace baking soda?


    1. Hi Eva!

      You see soda in a lot of Asian meat dumpling recipes. The soda acts as a tenderizer.

      Glad to hear I’ve helped make a curious cook out of you! Cheers,

      – Joe

      1. Thanks Joe! I never would have guessed that the soda acts as a tenderizer. They do have a lovely soft texture on the inside so that makes sense.
        Thanks Again! 😀

  3. Hello Joe,

    Please I will like to know if its advisable to use the followings in cake baking especially baking from scratch

    1. Glycerin – I understand Glycerin is a Humectant, and it helps keep moisture in baked cake. By what ration can it be added to cake – yellow, white and chocolate

    2. Meringue Powder – What role and by what amount can this product be used to make cake more fluffier when added to yellow, white and chocolate cakes.

    I’m trying to develop my cake recipes for bakery production and I was hoping this two products will help me achieve good result.

    Thanks for the prompt reply.

    Wale Taiwo

  4. Hi Joe! Popping in after a long time… lots of interesting tips to catch up on! I just thought I’d share my experience with my go-to chocolate cupcake recipe, which uses baking soda only… I find that I can prepare several batches at once and bake them one after the other with no rising problems at all…. I’ve even let a batch sit on the counter for more than two hours prior to baking! Even though my recipe is fairly liquid I found that they rise to a more pleasing shape if I let them sit for a while (at least 15 minutes) instead of shoving them in the oven right away.

    Was a bit confused why, but now I know! Thanks for explaining.

    Love from Fleur

    1. Hey Fleur!

      Great to hear from you again. I’ve been wondering if you’ve been out there, just being quiet. But welcome back indeed. There’s always more nonsense from me to contend with. By all means settle in…and of course ask men anything you like!


      – Joe

  5. Hi Joe! What about refrigeration/freezing?
    I’ve started to adapt a lot of my doughnut dough recipes to include a tsp of baking soda/dozen donuts (as well as a tsp of bp), am I degrading the dough by refrigerating before I fry?


    1. Hey Carol!

      If they’ll hold at room temperature they’ll hold in the fridge or freezer. My guess is they’ll do just fine, but I don’t know the formulation. There’s only one way to know for sure: try it and see!

      – Joe

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