Picture this; it’s been a gruling work week, you’re stressed, tired, and what you need more than anything else is a plate of warm, homecooked comfort food. But maybe you’ve been on a bit of a health kick lately. Perhaps you’re looking to eliminate gluten from your diet, or maybe your diet never included it anyway due to medical requirements from something like celiac disease. Either way, you deserve a relaxing baking session and a special little something to get you through the weekend after all of your hard work, and baking powder is there to help you with that.
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What is Baking Powder and is it Gluten-Free?
Baking powder (often confused with baking soda) is a dry chemical leavening agent that’s used to help baked goods rise. Without the use of leaveners, baked goods would come out hard, flat, and more than likely pretty unappetizing. Baking powder releases carbon dioxide into your batter and dough, creating tiny bubbles in the mixture that helps it rise as it is baked. These bubbles give muffins, bread, cakes, and other types of baked goods their light and fluffy texture that we all know and love.
Baking powder is typically a combination of an acid (like cream of tartar), baking soda, and a starch to absorb moisture. These days, the starch found in baking powder is usually either potato starch or regular cornstarch, both of which are gluten-free. This, in turn, makes most baking powder gluten-free. However, this hasn’t always been the case, and there are several things that health-conscious home bakers need to watch out for when buying their baking powder.
Gluten in Baking Powder: The Norms and Exceptions
While many baking powder brands are gluten-free in this day and age, you should always be sure to check the list of ingredients provided by the manufacturer. This is especially the case if you live somewhere outside of the United States, such as in the United Kingdom. They may have some common baking powder brands that still utilize wheat starch in place of potato and cornstarch. Since wheat starch is not gluten-free, gluten-conscious bakers need to be sure that they are working with an appropriate baking powder brand. While the use of wheat starch in baking powder is much less common nowadays, it’s still something for bakers to keep an eye out for, particularly if they are actively trying to make gluten-free baked goods.
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Baking Powder in Gluten-Free Recipes
Gluten-free recipes often need a little extra help when it comes to leavening. They need this extra assistance because ingredients that act as gluten replacements don’t tend to be as elastic as regular gluten leavening agents. Baking powder comes in two distinct varieties (single-acting and double-acting) to help with different types of baked goods, and it’s important for bakers to fully understand the differences between the two:
Single-acting baking powder will chemically react right away when mixed with wet ingredients that contain an acid. This type of batter needs to be put into the oven immediately to bake and shouldn’t be left out unattended for any lengthy period.
Double-acting baking powder will start to chemically react when it is mixed with your recipe’s wet ingredients. The product will contain what is known as a “high heat” acid, which is activated by heat while your goods are baking. This means that it undergoes a second chemical reaction as it bakes, resulting in an overall lighter texture.
However, there is one crucial element that bakers should keep in mind when working with gluten-free double-acting baking powder. Double-acting baking powders often contain elements of sodium aluminum sulfates (SAS), which can result in a slightly metallic taste to your completed baked goods. The taste can become especially noticeable when using extra baking powder, which is often required when baking gluten-free goodies. If you want to avoid the presence of this taste, keep an eye out for specific baking powder brands that are marked as “aluminum-free.”
How to Make Your Own Gluten-Free Baking Powder
If you cannot locate gluten-free baking powder in your local grocery store or online, or if you’re worried about the possibility of cross-contamination issues, you can make your own baking powder very easily. You will need only three ingredients; 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar. Together, these ingredients should produce 1 tablespoon of baking powder that you can be sure is 100% gluten-free.
Recipes will typically call for about 1 teaspoon of baking powder for every cup of flour used. So, feel free to expand on the recipe to make as much baking powder as you need. Since the cornstarch helps to keep the mixture stable, all you need to do is keep the baking powder in an airtight glass or Tupperware container in your cupboard or pantry (or basically any cool, dry place) for your future baking needs. Just be sure to also note the date you made your baking powder and check that it hasn’t expired before baking again if you go an extended time without using it. Just add approximately 1 teaspoon of your homemade baking powder to about ⅓ cups of hot water. If the water doesn’t bubble and fizz, you’ll know that the baking powder has gone off. At that point, you will need to throw it out and create a fresh batch.
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