Most baking powder on the market today is double-acting; this means that its reaction occurs in two stages, using two different acids. One acid reacts very quickly and, when combined with a liquid, it helps to aerate the batter. The second acid is slower-acting, and begins to release carbon dioxide only when heated. This is the advantage for several reasons. It gives the baker more flexibility when it comes to items such as baking powder biscuits which can be made ahead, then refrigerated before being baked and the biscuits will still have some chemical “kick” left by the time they hit the oven.
Since double-acting baking powder includes a perfectly balanced amount of acid and soda, you don’t need to worry about an aftertaste (as long as the baking powder is evenly distributed).
When a recipe calls for baking soda, you can choose to use baking powder instead. However, since the baking powder possesses an inherent acid/base balance, any acidic ingredient in the dough won’t be neutralized and will therefore have a more prominent flavor. If you like the slightly acidic flavor of buttermilk and your recipe calls for baking soda. If you want to neutralize it, try using baking powder instead, which will allow the flavor of the buttermilk to be more assertive.
In general terms, up to 1 teaspoon of baking powder or 1/4 teaspoon baking soda is sufficient to 1 cup of flour in any given recipe. If you want to use baking powder as a substitute for baking soda, you’ll need about four times the amount of baking powder as baking soda called for in the recipe:
1/2 teaspoon baking soda = 2 teaspoons baking powder.
Substituting baking soda for baking powder is a bit trickier. You can make the substitution successfully only if there’s enough acid present to react with it; don’t substitute baking soda for baking powder in a recipe without some clearly acidic ingredients.
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