Baking powder (Recipe: blue corn muffins)
From the archives, a favorite post, updated with a new recipe, photos and links.
If baking powder were an opera, the libretto might read:
Act I: Poor little BP lives a quiet life on a cool, dark shelf. Enter The Baker, who introduces BP to Wet. Bubbles appear.
Act II: The Baker, sensing something dramatic might be happening, then introduces BP and Wet to Heat, and kaboom! Bubbles appear again. The Baker encourages BP, Wet and Heat to travel together to Muffin Land, and they have adventures along the way.
Act III: Out of the oven the Baker pulls beautiful muffins, all puffed up and proud, thanks to BP's double-bubble action.
And they all live happily ever after.
Actually, except for The Baker, they all get eaten in the end...which, of course, is a happy ending for us.
I'm no scientist, which is perhaps why I'm not a good baker, and I'm always a bit confused about the baking powder/baking soda thing. Baking powder is a chemical -- more precisely, a mix of chemicals, usually cream of tartar and either sodium aluminum sulfate or anhydrous monocalcium phosphate -- that produces a controlled reaction when combined with liquids and heat. Nearly all baking powder sold today is "double acting," which means that it contains two acids that react at two different times; the quick-acting acid dissolves first, when mixed with liquid, and the slower-acting acid reacts when activated by heat. These reactions release carbon dioxide gas, which causes the batter that's carrying the baking powder to rise.
Rumford (which used to be made right here in Rhode Island) is the best-known aluminum-free brand of baking powder; check your market for others. There are also sodium-free baking powders; if you use them, be sure to double the amount called for in your recipe, as these products are less powerful.
As a rule, baking powder will last 4-6 months if stored in a cool, dry place. To test the viability of your baking powder, drop a generous pinch in some hot water. If it fizzes, it's still good; if it sinks in a blob to the bottom of the bowl, throw it away.
Baking powder often provides the leavening for chocolate biscotti and chickpea chocolate and cashew cookies, but you'll also find it, alone or in combination with baking soda, in triple seed cake, lemon yogurt cake, blueberry muffins, and low-fat fudgy brownies.
Blue corn muffins
Adapted from the back of the package of blue corn meal I purchased at Rhode Island's oldest continuously operating grist mill, Kenyon's in Usquepaugh. The blue corn isn't local, but the mill still grinds grains the old-fashioned way, between giant stone wheels. Use this recipe to make cornbread, too; add some chopped jalapeño or canned green chile for a bit of a kick. Makes 12-15 muffins.
1-1/4 cups whole milk
1 large egg
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup blue corn meal
1/4 cup honey
1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 425°F.
In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients (baking powder, salt, corn meal, and flour). Add the liquids (milk, egg, honey and oil), and stir to combine. Do not overmix.
Pour into a greased muffin pan, or use paper liners. To fill the muffin pan easily, use an ice cream scoop. Bake for 18-20 minutes.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Baked polenta with braised wild mushrooms
Bolo de fubá (cheese-y cornmeal cakes)
Polenta, squash and cheese loaf
Carrot cake cupcakes with lemon frosting
Honey and lemon green tea cupcakes