The science of baking soda

 Gingersnaps from Serious Eats

Baking soda is an ingredient that almost every cook, and certainly every baker, always has on hand. It's so ubiquitous that we generally don't give it a second thought. But as indexed blog Serious Eats points out, understanding the science behind baking soda can improve your baking game.

Most of us understand the basics behind soda's magic in baked goods: the alkaline soda reacts with the acids in the food, providing lift. But there's a lot more to it than that. The alkalinity of baking soda also "slows protein coagulation, which gives the dough more time to spread before the eggs set. This promotes a uniform thickness from edge to center, helping the cookies bake more evenly. What's more, alkalinity weakens gluten, keeping cookies tender, and even speeds the Maillard reaction so that deeper flavors and colors develop in a shorter amount of time."

The article explains these concepts with gingersnap cookies. Baking several batches with different amounts of soda illustrates the big differences you can get with relatively small changes in the amount of soda. While cautioning against "winging it" when it comes to changing soda in recipes, the article does give you some guidelines on how to use baking soda to change the outcome of your baked goods. "When you're stymied by cookies that brown or burn too quickly, try dialing down the baking soda by a quarter teaspoon. Conversely, if your cookies seem too thick and cakey or disappointingly pale, increase the baking soda by as little as an eighth of a teaspoon" to create a difference in the browning and spread.

Photo of The best gingersnaps from indexed blog Serious Eats

1 Comment

  • hillsboroks  on  12/5/2015 at 7:32 PM

    What a good thing to know! I never would have thought about tinkering with the baking soda or baking powder figuring that those kind of ingredients always had to be measured as the recipe called for unlike things such as flavoring spices or salt.

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