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Scones (February 27, 2011)

Baking soda and baking powder have a lot in common. The two share the same first name, live on the same shelf and hold the same job: hoisting baked goods.

Hot, heavy and dangerous work. And indispensable to the cause of fluffy pancake or tender scone.

There are those in the pantry who look down on the powdery pair, who insist that height, loft and levity can be achieved only via whipped egg or warm yeast. Still, the home cook knows that the chemical leavener makes quick work of quick bread.

Assuming she chooses the right one.

The cook casts her mind back to chemistry, which, with its beaker and formula and apron, held a kitchenlike charm. She recalls that baking soda is nothing but sodium bicarbonate. Alone, it does nothing. Mixed with vinegar or another acidic ally, it bubbles. Which explains why the buttermilk biscuit or sour-cream coffeecake gets its lift from baking soda.

Baking powder also contains sodium bicarbonate, mixed with an acidic kick-start (or two). It can go it alone in cake batter or cookie dough, no need for sour yogurt or tart lemon. Its brawny "double action" means it's laced with two catalysts: one that starts cold, one that kicks in when hot. Battering batter with the old one-two.

The home cook keeps these talents in mind, never presuming that one can sub for the other. She knows that the muffin — like the rest of us — needs many a problem-solving tool. Including the modern approach: collaboration.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor.


Take a Stroll Scones

Prep: 15 minutes

Bake: 15 minutes

Makes: 8 scones

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour

3/4 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

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