Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Baking Powder

Without doubt, baking powder is the most satisfactory of the chemical leavening agents. It comes in three varieties, but they are all similar in composition, for each contains an alkali in the form of soda and an acid of some kind, as well as a filler of starch, which serves to prevent the acid and the alkali from acting upon each other. When moisture is added to baking powder, chemical action sets in, but it is not very rapid, as is apparent when a cake or a muffin mixture is allowed to stand before baking. The bubbles of gas that form in such a mixture can easily be observed if the mixture is stirred after it has stood for a short time. When both moisture and heat are applied to baking powder, however, the chemical action that takes place is more rapid, and this accounts for its usefulness in baking hot breads and cake.

The price of the different kinds of baking powder is generally an indication of the ingredients that they contain. Higher priced powders usually contain cream of tartar for the acid, the high price of this substance accounting for the price of the powder. Powders of medium price generally contain acid phosphate of lime, and as this substance is cheaper than cream of tartar, a baking-powder mixture containing it may well be sold for less. The cheapest grade of powders, have for their acid a salt of aluminum called alum. Still other powders contain a mixture of phosphate and alum.

As baking powders vary in price, so do they vary in their keeping qualities, their effectiveness, and their tendency toward being injurious. Most phosphate and alum powders do not keep so well as the cream-of-tartar powders, and the longer they are kept, the less effective do they become. The powders that contain phosphate yield more gas for each teaspoonful used than do the other varieties. Much controversy has taken place with regard to the different kinds of baking powder and their effects on the digestive tract, but authorities have not yet agreed on this matter. However, if foods made with the aid of baking powders are not used excessively, no concern need be felt as to their injurious effect. The housewife in her choice of baking powder should be guided by the price she can afford to pay and the results she is able to get after she has become well informed as to the effect of the different varieties. She may easily become familiar with the composition of baking powder, for a statement of what substances each kind contains is generally found on the label of every variety. This information is invaluable to the housewife, as it will assist her considerably in making a selection.

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