There are two main types of baking powder - double-acting and regular (also known as single-acting).
What is the difference between double-acting and regular baking powder and when should you use each?
What Is Baking Powder?
Baking powder is a complete leavening agent that is used in batters and doughs. It is a mixture of a carbonate (usually baking soda), a dry acid, and a filler like cornstarch. The acid and base react when they come in contact with liquid, producing carbon dioxide bubbles that cause the batter to rise.
Baking powder makes baked goods rise in two stages:
- First, when the powder is mixed with liquid ingredients, an initial reaction occurs producing some bubbles.
- Second, a larger rise happens when the batter is exposed to heat in the oven. More bubbles are produced, causing the batter to rise fully.
So baking powder causes batters to rise through both a chemical leavening reaction and the expansion of air bubbles during heating. This gives baked goods lift, fluffiness and a light texture.
Regular or Single Acting Baking Powder
|Feature||Single Acting||Double Acting|
|Number of reactions||1||2|
|When reaction occurs||Immediately upon mixing with liquid||1. Initially when mixed with liquid 2. Second reaction when heated|
|Needs to be baked right away||Yes||No|
|Can batter be stored before baking||No||Yes, for hours or days|
|More forgiving if oven temperature is off||No||Yes|
|Best uses||Pancakes, quick breads, donuts||Cookies, cakes, muffins, breads|
Regular baking powder, also known as single-acting baking powder, contains one acid that reacts with the baking soda when a liquid is added. This causes an immediate chemical reaction that releases carbon dioxide bubbles.
With a single-acting powder, most of the rising occurs right after mixing. Only a small amount happens when heated in the oven. This means that regular baking powder reacts just once or is "single-acting".
Since single-acting powder reacts quickly with liquid, batters made with it need to be baked immediately before the bubbles are lost. There is no delayed rise like with double-acting powder.
Uses for Regular Baking Powder
Regular or single-acting baking powder is best suited for recipes that require a quick bake time. The carbon dioxide is released immediately upon mixing so the batter needs to go right into the hot oven.
Here are the types of baked goods that work well with regular baking powder:
- Pancakes - Pancake batter needs a quick rise so the cakes can be cooked on the griddle right after mixing. The fast reaction of regular baking powder gives pancakes a nice light and fluffy texture.
- Quick breads - Breads like banana bread that don't require kneading or rising need an immediate lift once mixed. Regular baking powder provides that quick lift.
- Waffles and crepes - Waffle and crepe batters need to be cooked shortly after mixing before bubbles are lost. Regular baking powder is preferred.
- Fried doughs - Donuts, churros, and other fried doughs work well with single-acting powder. The batter rises immediately and then sets as soon as it hits the hot oil, preventing cracks.
- Commercial baking - Professional bakers often use single-acting powder for cakes and muffins so they can be baked right after mixing. This prevents bubbles from being lost.
So in summary, regular baking powder is best for recipes requiring a fast baking time. It provides an immediate rise as soon as liquid is added.
How to Substitute Regular for Double-Acting Powder
Most baking powder sold today is double-acting. But you can still use it when a recipe calls for regular or single-acting powder.
|Recipe calls for single acting, only have double acting||Use same measured amount of double acting|
|Recipe calls for double acting, only have single acting||Use same measured amount of single acting, bake immediately|
|Make single acting substitute||For 1 tsp single acting, use 1/4 tsp baking soda + 3/4 tsp cream of tartar|
Here are two options:
- Use the same measured amount of double-acting powder as the recipe calls for of regular powder. The double-acting powder will react fast enough to sufficiently leaven these quick breads and pancakes.
- Alternatively, use a 3:1 ratio of cream of tartar to baking soda. For 1 tsp regular baking powder, use 1/4 tsp baking soda + 3/4 tsp cream of tartar. This makes a single-acting substitute.
While double-acting powder doesn't react quite as fast as single-acting, it still releases enough bubbles quickly to effectively leaven most baked goods. So in most cases, substitution works well.
However, for commercial purposes like frying donuts or for very delicate recipes like angel food cake, the single-acting powder is still preferable.
Double Acting Baking Powder
The most common type of baking powder sold today is double-acting baking powder. It has two key advantages over regular baking powder:
- It releases bubbles in two stages rather than just one.
- It can be stored for later baking instead of needing to be used right away.
Double-acting powder contains two acids - one that reacts upon mixing and one that requires heat to react. The two acids cause it to react in two distinct phases:
First reaction - When liquid is added to the powder, the first acid reacts causing an initial rise with some bubble formation.
Second reaction - Then when heat is applied, the second acid reacts creating more bubbles and the main rise.
This dual reaction is what makes double-acting powder "double-acting". It produces gas for leavening in two stages.
Acids Used in Double-Acting Powder
The most common acid combo used in double-acting baking powder is:
- Monocalcium phosphate - Reacts immediately when liquid is added
- Sodium aluminum sulfate - Reacts slowly and fully only when heated
The monocalcium phosphate causes the initial rise while the sodium aluminum sulfate is activated later in the oven to complete the rising process.
Other acid combinations may also be used including sodium acid pyrophosphate or sodium aluminum phosphate. But the two acid system provides a delayed second reaction when heated.
Benefits of Using Double Acting Powder
There are two major benefits to using double acting instead of regular baking powder:
1. Extended storage time
Since double acting powder doesn't react completely right away when liquid is added, batters or doughs made with it can be stored for hours or even days before baking.
The initial bubbles created provide some rise, but the bulk of the rise occurs later during baking. This makes double acting powder more flexible for use in recipes that require resting or chilling.
2. More forgiveness
With double acting powder, you don't have to rush to get batters in the oven immediately after mixing. The dough or batter can sit for a bit without losing potency.
And if you forget to preheat the oven, double acting powder still gives you adequate rise. The second heat-activated reaction will still occur at lower oven temperatures.
So double acting baking powder offers more flexibility and room for error than regular baking powder. This makes it preferred for home bakers.
Uses for Double Acting Baking Powder
Since it can be stored before baking, double acting baking powder works well in:
- Cookie dough - Cookie dough often needs to be chilled before baking. The delayed second reaction of double acting powder allows this.
- Quick bread doughs - Doughs that use yeast alternatives like baking powder can be stored for up to 24 hours before baking with double acting powder.
- Muffins and cakes - Batters for muffins, cakes, and cupcakes can rest at room temp for up to 2 hours before baking with double acting powder.
- Bread doughs - Non-yeast bread doughs like soda bread can be stored overnight in the fridge with double acting powder.
So double acting baking powder allows flexibility in baking schedules. This makes it ideal for home bakers who can't always bake goods immediately after mixing.
How to Substitute Double for Regular Powder
Since most baking powder sold today is double acting, you'll likely need to substitute it for regular baking powder at some point. Here are two options:
- Use the same measured amount of double acting powder in place of regular. Make sure to bake goods immediately after mixing.
- For a single acting substitute, use 1/4 tsp baking soda + 3/4 tsp cream of tartar for every 1 tsp regular baking powder called for.
While double acting powder doesn't react quite as quickly as single acting, it still releases enough bubbles immediately for most baking needs. Adjusting the oven temperature can help too - bake batters made with double acting powder at a slightly higher temperature if needed.
Storing Baking Powder
To maximize shelf life, both regular and double acting baking powder should be stored:
- In an airtight container in a cool, dry place
- Away from moisture and humidity
- At room temperature
Under proper storage conditions, baking powder lasts 6-12 months past its printed expiration date before losing effectiveness. Always check old powder for freshness before use.
Signs Baking Powder Is Bad
Here are signs your baking powder needs to be replaced:
- No rise - The Batter doesn't rise at all or rises then falls dramatically
- Lack of air bubbles - Very few bubbles are visible when the powder is mixed with water
- Bitter taste - Batter or finished baked good has a bitter, chemical-like taste
- Hardened powder - Powder is all clumped together in hard lumps
Old baking powder won't cause food poisoning, but it won't produce an adequate rise in recipes. Follow expiration dates and store properly.
How to Test Baking Powder for Freshness
To test baking powder freshness:
- Mix 1 tsp powder into 1/3 cup hot water
- It should fizz and bubble vigorously
- Allow to sit 1 min - the mixture should stay foamy
- If it doesn't bubble much or the foam disappears, replace baking powder
This quick test indicates if your baking powder is still active enough to leaven properly.
What is the difference between double acting and regular baking powder?
- Double acting baking powder reacts in two stages - once when liquid is added and again when heat is applied. Regular or single acting baking powder reacts just once immediately when liquid is added.
Why choose double acting over regular baking powder?
- Double acting powder can be stored before baking. It also offers more forgiveness if the batter sits before baking or the oven temperature is off. This makes it better suited for home baking.
When should you use regular or single acting powder?
- For recipes requiring immediate baking like pancakes or quick breads. Also for fried doughs like donuts, an instant rise prevents cracking. Professional bakeries may use it too.
Can you substitute double acting for regular baking powder?
- Yes, use the same measured amount of double-acting powder. Or make a substitute with 1/4 tsp baking soda + 3/4 tsp cream of tartar per 1 tsp regular powder called for.
How can you tell if baking powder is still good?
- Check for lack of rise, few bubbles when mixed with water, bitter taste, and clumping. Also, test by mixing with hot water - it should bubble and stay foamy.
While double acting baking powder is more common today, both regular and double acting types have their uses. Regular or single acting powder is preferable when a quick rise is needed for fast baked goods like pancakes. It reacts immediately when liquid is added.
Double acting baking powder has the advantage of extended storage time. The dual acid reaction allows batters to rest before baking. This makes it perfect for home bakers. It can also be substituted for regular powder by using equal amounts and baking goods right away.
Understanding the difference between these two leavening agents allows you to choose the best one for your baking needs and adapt recipes as needed. With the right type of baking powder, you can create light and fluffy baked goods that rise to perfection.