Duck-and-Cover Pantry II: Making Baking Powder

Home baking is an essential industry. That’s true whether we’re facing a pandemic or not. So what business do any of us have sitting on our hands? However and whenever we can, we should be getting to work. 

Over the weekend I encouraged everyone — especially those who found themselves fresh out of leavening — to get a bread starter going. Mine’s in the process of waking up, having been in a state of suspended animation for over a month. It should be ready for business tomorrow. But that’s me. Others out there are having to grow starters from scratch which will take about a week assuming all goes well. Meantime, there’s always the option of chemical leavening: baking soda and baking powder.

Last time I check my local supermarket, the baking powder was all gone, but there was plenty of baking soda left, since most people regard soda as more a refrigerator deodorizer than a baking ingredient. The good news there is that as long as you can score some soda you can do just about anything that calls for either baking soda or baking powder.

How so? Because baking soda is the leavening agent in baking powder. It’s just diluted, packaged with a couple of safe-to-eat acids and a little cornstarch to help ensure that the leavening reaction doesn’t happen without permission. That means that if you can score a little edible kitchen acid (don’t get excited, 60’s holdovers) you can approximate the effect of baking powder for most any application. 

Tartaric acid (cream of tartar) is the item you need. Nobody hoards this stuff, which is why my local Kroger still has about a dozen little jars of it in the spice section. Creating your own baking powder is as easy as mixing two parts cream of tartar with one part baking soda. Say, two half teaspoons cream of tartar and one half teaspoon baking soda as an example. The result will be 1 1/2 teaspoons of a baking powder equivalent. It’s definitely good enough for things like biscuits, marginally good for finer applications like cake layers, because, in the end, soda does perform a little differently. But home-made baking powder will definitely take you places.

Just don’t get carried away and try to mix up a jar of the stuff to store. Sure, a large reaction won’t happen until the mixture gets wet, but depending on how humid the air is in your kitchen, you could easily get an invisible slow-motion reaction that will take much of the pop out of your powder before you get a chance to use it.

Bake on!

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