Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Baking Powder Brouhaha

Last month, I contributed an article to the Joy of Kosher website about adjusting your baking for Israel.  I thought it would be a fun way to share some of what I learned in my six years since aliyah.  I addressed about 10 different ingredients, one of which was baking powder.  Here's what I had to say about it:

Baking powder – this is a tricky one. Avkat afiyah is sold in little envelopes, which is annoying, but the real problem is that it doesn’t work the same as American baking powder. There is a scientific explanation (double acting versus single), but bottom line, you have to use less or your cakes will collapse after baking. It is generally fine for cookies, though. If you don’t want to refigure all your recipes, make this one of the few things you import.

Did I know that this one paragraph was going to raise so many eyebrows - and tempers?  For every response I received that said "Now I know why my cakes were not turning out right until I started using American baking powder again,"  I got another one that said, "My recipes come out right every time, and you have no idea what you are talking about!"

So let's take a few calm steps back, and discuss this rationally.

1. Israeli baking powder is single acting.  That means that the release of carbon dioxide, which is what leavens the cake, occurs as soon as the wet ingredients meet the dry.  If you leave your batter on the counter for a little while, you may lose the leavening effect.

2.  Almost all American baking powder is double acting.  It contains an additional acid that does not release the CO2 until heat is applied - about 70% of the leavening power is on reserve until you actually bake the batter.

Conclusion A: there is NO QUESTION that the two kinds of baking powders, American and Israeli, are different, and thusly may produce different results.

3. There is a difference of opinion among various baking authorities about whether or not the two types of baking powder can be interchanged in even amounts.  Some say yes, some say use 1 1/2 times as much single acting in a recipe calling for double acting.

4. Some folks think double acting is healthier, because it contains phosphate of calcium.  On the other hand, most brands also contain aluminum, so hmmm....

5. To a man, everything I have read indicates that a batter mixed with single acting baking powder must IMMEDIATELY be put into the oven, or the leavening will flop.  For someone like me, who works with volume, that just does not work.

6. I think it's fair to say we all have different expectations of our baking.  In general, "Israeli" cakes have a different type of crumb than typical American recipes.  I also find, through informal surveying, that Israeli bakers tend to use more beaten egg whites for leavening than American cooks.  That could mitigate the leavening issue.  It may just be a matter of taste.

Conclusion B: If you are happy with your baking results, by all means, STICK WITH IT!!!  But if you have been using Israeli baking powder and you are unhappy with what has been coming out of your oven, be it tough, dense, or collapsed, try the American baking powder.  Our local purveyor of American products (also the local baking supply store) sells it, and I would bet that any Anglo-heavy area has a store that sells many of the things you miss from the alte heim.

Final disclaimer:  My initial discovery of the baking powder issue was when I made a chocolate torte that I had made before, but always with American baking powder.  When the stash from my lift ran out, I started using the Israeli kind.  The chocolate torte would bake up properly, rising, baking through, testing clean, but when I removed from the oven, it sank a few minutes later.  This happened to another friend as well.  I had also noticed that a classic yellow cake recipe I had been making for years no longer had the right consistency.  When I looked it up in Rose Levy Berenbaum's Cake Bible, the entry on over-leavening described my trouble nearly perfectly.  So my impression was that the Israeli baking powder was over-, not under-leavening, and one would need to use less.  Scientifically, that may not be right, but it helped me to pinpoint the failed variable.  So whether you need to use more or less or just buy the Duncan Hines mix (wash my mouth out with soap!), there is a difference.  Maybe let's just leave it at that.

Wishing happy and successful baking to you all, no matter where you may be!



Unknown said...

I'd like to try one of your recipes that flopped and see what happens :)

Dvora said...

Remind me after Sukkot, and I will get you at least one of them!

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