Christmas music is playing in my home as I write this entry today. To be honest it's been playing for the last week or so (sorry to all the pre-mature Christmas music haters..lol), but I just need some holiday cheer a little early this year. When I listen to the old Christmas music from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Burl Ives...I just can't help but feel a little nostalgic. The holidays as a kid were always so much fun. The food, the family gatherings, Santa riding down my street on the fire truck, the smell of baked goods coming from my mom's humble little kitchen... they were simpler times. Times I like to wrap myself in when life gets a little too much. I know we probably have all been feeling that way at times this past year. But it is time for some holiday joy and cheer, and I am so excited to make this Christmas the best it can be for my family.
I know baking is one of THE things to do for the holidays. Whether you are baking cakes, pies or making massive batches of cookies, baking with the kids is so much fun. I have never been a baker but since I have kids, I have been thrown into the baking realm where I have to carefully measure things (which is SO not my comfort zone..lol). Since I am always full of curiosity when it comes to the kitchen, I started recently baking more and challenging myself. I always found the ratios of baking soda and baking powder in recipes befuddling. Why in some recipes do you use both, and others just one of them? I found myself testing things out and fiddling with baking soda and baking powder components in the recipes. I thought that I would shed a little light on what each of these baking necessities do to your recipes and what the difference between each of them are. This way when you head into the kitchen for your holiday baking adventures you'll be a pro!
So what is the difference between Baking Soda and Baking Powder? While both of these components are leavening agents, they are pretty different. Baking Soda needs an acid and a liquid to activate, which is why a lot of times you see baking soda being combined with things like buttermilk or lemon juice. Once activated, baking soda is what makes your baked goods light and fluffy.
Conversely, baking powder is a complete leaving agent, which basically means that it contains both the base (baking soda) and an acid needed to produce the rising in your baked goods. Most Baking Powders sold are double acting, which means that the first leaving occurs when it gets wet (like when you add your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients) the second leavening happens when it is heated. For many baking recipes an extended reaction is more favorable so that all the rising doesn't happen all at once. Most Baking Powders contain baking soda, cream of tartar and sometimes cornstarch.
The reason to use both in a recipe is almost always because the recipe needs more leavening. There is typically not enough of a reaction from the acid to the Baking Soda in ration to the amount of flour used in a particular batter. So Baking Powder is used as an extra leavener.
If you are not a true baker like me all of the above probably started to sound like ..."wah wah wah ...wah wah". So here is a good rule of thumb...
1/4 tsp of baking soda per 1 cup of flour
1 tsp of baking powder per 1 cup of flour
Also, don't forget that they expire! While baking soda has an indefinite shelf life, if its been hangin out in your pantry for years, you might want to just ,head to the store and grab a new box. Baking powder should really be replaced every few months to have the freshest leavening agent in your pantry. I would say every 4-6 months.
So if you are getting ready to bake up some Christmas cookies over the next few weekend here are some of my favorites! The traditional Peanut Butter Blossoms are always a hit and so fun for the smaller kids in your house. They get to press the kisses into the soft warm peanut butter cookie.
If you are a fan of soft cookies and bright flavors, then Lemon Ricotta Cookies are for you! These are like little lemony pillows of heaven. The recipe is super simple and very easy for everyone to have a "job" to do, including glazing and sprinkling.
Now if you are up for a little challenge and are a fan of chocolate that these Espresso Crinkle Cookies are a MUST try! I made these a couple of years ago and they are just delicious. The espresso powder brings out the chocolate flavor even more. Espresso and chocolate make a great combo. A big batch of these can also be a wonderful hostess gifts placed in a cellophane bag with holiday ribbon.
Whatever you decide to bake this year, I hope your kitchen is full of laughter, love and joy and many memories being made.