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"Can you make muffins without baking soda?"

Dear Anne and Sue,

Can I leave out baking soda in a muffin recipe? My daughter is in Austria and cannot find soda over there.

- Wayne Roeder


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Dear Wayne,

Baking soda, a commonly used leaven and key ingredient in baking powder, helps batters and doughs rise, so their texture is light when baked. We're surprised to hear that it is not easy to find in Austria.

It could be that the old leaven "hartshorn" (ammonium bicarbonate) is still around. It was the precursor to baking soda, though slightly more alkaline. It's generally used in cookie recipes where the residual smell of ammonia can readily escape, rather than in muffins where its ammonia smell is likely to linger in the larger amount of batter.

If baking soda is the only leaven called for in the muffin recipe, you'll need to find a substitute. Since we suspect baking powder is readily available, we suggest using 1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking powder for each 1/4 teaspoon (1 ml) of baking soda suggested. This is generally sufficient to leaven 1 cup (250 ml) of flour.

The flavor of the muffin may be slightly different with this change, because baking soda is usually paired with an acidic ingredient. The two react when exposed to moisture, creating carbon dioxide (the leavening gas) and a neutral salt. Leaving the acidic ingredient in (often a liquid such as buttermilk, orange juice, yogurt, etc.) and removing the baking soda means the muffin will be slightly more acidic. But that may be perfectly acceptable.

If the muffin recipe calls for baking soda along with baking powder, leave out the baking soda and check to see if the amount of the baking powder called for is sufficient to leaven the dry ingredients according to the above proportions (often recipes call for more baking powder than is really needed). If not, add sufficient baking powder so there is 1 teaspoon (5 ml) to raise each 1 cup (250 ml) of dry ingredients (such as flour, wheat germ, oatmeal, bran) in the recipe.

We hope you'll have the joy of visiting your daughter in Austria. Then you could tuck a box of baking soda in your luggage. If you are both curious cooks, it might be fun to compare the results of baking soda vs. hartshorn if it's available. Perhaps you could let us know the results and we could post them on the Discussion Forum for others who might have the same problem as your daughter.

Anne & Sue



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