Baking powder is a fantastic tool for creating lift in your baked goods, but it’s also one of those ingredients that always seems to run out just before you need it – especially if you don’t make a lot of baked goods and go a long time between baking.
Fortunately, if you’re part way through making something and realize you are out of baking powder, all is not lost. There are plenty of good substitutes out there for the baking powder you need in your recipes.
What Is Baking Powder?
Baking powder is a combination of bicarbonate of soda, or baking soda, and acid, usually cream of tartar, with a little bit of cornstarch added to help stabilize the mixture and provide a more neutral taste. Corn starch also helps prevent clumping, which is why baking soda often clumps, but baking powder rarely does.
This mixture works because the acid in the cream of tartar causes a natural chemical reaction with the bicarbonate of soda, releasing carbon dioxide into your batter. When heated, the reaction both speeds up, and the released carbon dioxide expands, creating bubbles that give baked goods their desired texture or crumb.
One of the things that makes baking powder special is that it is a twice reactive leavening agent, so it reacts once when it’s mixed into your batters, and then again when it’s heated.
Unlike baking soda, which is sometimes used in cooking to tenderize meat or preserve flavor, baking powder is almost always used in baking, not cooking.
How Is Baking Powder Used In Baking?
Baking powder is almost always used to create lift in a baked good, helping them feel light and fluffy instead of fudgy and dense. It also helps to create space between the molecules of the mixture, which helps more moisture evaporate out during baking.
Baking soda can be used in a similar way, lots of recipes call for both ingredients. However, baking powder also has a more subtle flavor, which means it's preferred over baking soda for any dish where the taste of the soda could mess with the finished dish.
Both leaveners can be excluded to give you a thicker slightly wetter texture.
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The Best Baking Powder Substitutes:
A lot of the best baking powder substitutes rely on the same reaction between baking soda and an acid that happens in baking powder. Baking soda is often the most prominent flavor from these reactions, but the acid it reacts with can also contribute some flavor so it’s worth thinking about which reaction will work best in your baking.
Cream of Tartar and Baking Soda
The best substitute for baking powder is basically making your own baking powder by combining baking soda and cream of tartar. The flavor should be virtually the same with this reaction, and the small amount of cornstarch missing from the mix shouldn’t have a big impact on either the flavor or the reaction of the baking soda and cream of tartar.
Replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder with ¼ teaspoon baking soda and ½ teaspoon cream of tartar.
Lemon Juice and Baking Soda
Like cream of tartar, lemon juice is a good option for triggering the acid reaction with baking soda. It’s got a really strong flavor though, so both the baking soda and the lemon juice are likely to have an impact on the flavor.
Of course, for some recipes, like a lemon cake loaf, that might not be a bad thing. To replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder, use ¼ teaspoon of baking soda and ½ teaspoon of lemon juice.
Buttermilk and Baking Soda
Buttermilk and baking soda is another reaction that works the same way, and is a particularly good option for creamier dishes, and can be a good option for more mild flavored baked goods.
However, since this option uses more liquid, you might need to reduce the amount of liquids in the recipe.
You will add ½ cup of buttermilk and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda to replace 1/teaspoon of baking powder.
That’s a lot of added liquid, and tends to work best if the liquid in the recipe was already milk or buttermilk.
As an alternative, you can add a little lemon juice to your buttermilk to get the acid you need in a smaller volume. However, this option will add a more significant sour flavor to your buttermilk.
Club soda is another great option, and works because it already contains sodium bicarbonate, baking soda.
The sparkling texture of club soda makes it a natural leavener, and it works pretty well for recipes where you either don’t need much of a leavening effect, or where you can replace water or a similar liquid with the club soda.
For instance, this substitute works wonderfully for pancakes, but it isn’t going to give you a fluffy and delicious sponge cake.
Self-rising flour is a good option if you happen to have some on hand or can get your hands on it quickly. Different brands of self-rising flour use slightly different ratios of wheat all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt.
It’s a great self-contained way to make baked goods, and there are even some recipes out there for you to make it at home.
This option isn’t going to work for things like pastry or sponge, but it can work for most soda breads, quick breads, and even brownies, along with most similar things.
Yogurt and Baking Soda
Yogurt and baking soda might seem like an odd option, but this is a great way to balance two delicious textures in baking, richness and lightness.
The yogurt in your bake will add fat, protein, and can make your dish feel heavier and richer, without the light airiness that we typically associate with leavened foods.
But the baking soda uses the acid in the yogurt and helps to lift things back up, getting rid of the wet dense feeling.
However, like when you’re using buttermilk and baking soda, the yogurt should replace at least some of the moisture in your bake because you’re going to need a lot of it. 1 teaspoon of baking powder is replaced with ¼ teaspoon of baking soda and ½ cup of yogurt.
Avoid using flavored yogurt unless you specifically want that flavor in your dish. Also, remember that most flavored yogurt is also sweetened, and adjust sweetness accordingly.
Vinegar and Baking Soda
One of the simplest replacements for baking powder in recipes that can handle a slightly more sour taste is vinegar and baking soda. Vinegar is a great acid to use, and gives you a strong initial reaction with the baking soda, but it can counter a lot of the sweetness in your recipes. So, it’s a good idea to stick to more savory bakes or to add a little more sweetener to your bake when you’re using that option.
¼ teaspoon of baking soda and ½ vinegar will replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder.
Molasses and Baking Soda
Molasses is another option, especially if you want to add a more malted flavor to your bake. There are a lot of dishes that can benefit from a little added molasses flavor, and it just so happens that molasses is acidic enough to react to baking soda in your cooking.
However, you will want to reduce the amount of sugar in your bake and maybe a little of the liquid to account for the added sugars and liquid in molasses in your bake.
1 teaspoon of baking powder can be replaced with ¼ cup of molasses with ¼ of baking soda.
Sour Milk and Baking Soda
No, you don’t have to leave milk out to spoil to get this to work, though that is how people used to do it. Instead, you can add a little lemon juice or vinegar to your milk to give it the acid you need to get the necessary reaction from baking soda.
Of course, if you do have some spoiled pasteurized milk, you’re welcome to try it with that if you want to. We just don’t recommend it since it’s a little riskier, and you might notice more of the spoiled sour taste in your finished bake.
The trick to this is getting enough acid in with the baking soda, without adding too much moisture. So, you may want to replace some or all of the milk or water in your recipe with the sour milk so you aren’t adding too much extra moisture.
Whipped Egg Whites
Whipped egg whites are a classic way to replace a leavener in baking, and is the classic option for some sponge cakes and similar bakes. The trick is that you need to whip them into a stiff almost meringue texture, and then gently fold in your other ingredients without losing too much of the air that’s been beaten into the egg whites.
The result can be marvelously light and fully baked, but only if you don’t lose too much air in the process.
The number of eggs you need varies depending on what you’re making and how much air you want in the mix. Angel food cake, for instance, can call for as much as a dozen in a single cake.
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Why Yeast Isn’t A Good Substitute For Baking Powder
Yeast and baking powder both serve the same purpose in baking, which is to leaven the batter or dough and add air into the mixture to create a lighter structure while baking.
The problem is that yeast and baking powder don’t work in the same way.
Yeast is a fermentation process. The content of your dough or batter is actually changed by the yeast through the fermentation or proving process. The yeast eats sugars and changes other compounds in your dough and batter, which changes both the taste and the texture.
Baking powder, a synthetic leavener, doesn’t actually change the other components in your dough or batter, which means that it leaves the flavors much more intact.
So, while you can generally get the right texture by adding yeast, you might not get the right flavor. The exceptions are cakes and rolls, where you can occasionally get the right texture and flavor with yeast and a few slight adjustments.
As a rule, though, other leaveners are going to work better as a baking powder replacement than your favorite yeast. Unless you’re willing to risk your bake turning out wrong, we’d recommend sticking to one of the replacements above.