Updated February 2012.
Lately I've been watching the very cool trivia show Cash Cab, on the Discovery Channel.
Ben Bailey, cabbie extraordinaire, cruises around Manhattan, picking up people in his taxi, and driving flawlessly while simultaneously looking into the television camera. He asks his passengers a series of questions, and for each correct answer they win cash, until they either arrive at their destination, or miss three answers and get put out on the street.
Most of the questions have to do with pop culture, history, politics, famous people, books. Easy-peasy, I think, as I answer along from the comfort of my couch.
So, for all the money, here's the next question: Is baking soda alkali or acid?
The clock is ticking, and I'm about to get my third-strike-you're-out. I know that whichever it is, baking powder is the opposite, but I never can remember which is which.
For those who share this mental block, here's my little mnemonic device: in alphabetical order, acid comes before alkali, and powder comes before soda. Baking powder = acid, baking soda = alkali.
According to the indispensable Food Lover's Companion, when baking soda (a.k.a. bicarbonate of soda), an alkali, is combined with an acid ingredient such as buttermilk, honey, yogurt or molasses, it produces carbon dioxide gas bubbles, which causes a dough or batter to rise.
Baking soda neutralizes the acidity, and also makes baked goods more tender. Because it reacts instantly when moistened, baking soda always should be mixed with dry ingredients before adding any liquid, and the resulting batter should go into the oven right away. For example, Irish soda bread, made with baking soda rather than yeast, comes together quickly, rises in the oven quickly -- and gets stale quickly. Such is the mixed blessing of using baking soda as a leavening agent.
Food historians believe the use of baking soda dates back to ancient civilization, but modern baking soda dates to the mid-19th Century, well before the days of game shows in taxi cabs.
Gloria Belknap, a French-trained chef who ran a wonderful bed and breakfast in Boston's South End, taught me this recipe years ago. Substitute any dried fruit, apples and cinnamon, oranges, lemon zest or nuts; it's the formula that counts. Makes 10 large fluffy scones.
1 cup raisins, soaked in hot water to cover for 5 minutes, drained
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cut into chunks
1/2 banana, cut into chunks
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup lowfat plain yogurt or milk
1/4 tsp red wine vinegar
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a food processor, blender or large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and sugar; add the butter and pulse the processor on and off a few times until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. In a separate bowl blend the egg yolk, yogurt or milk, and wine vinegar, and add to the processor along with the banana and raisins. Mix until all ingredients are just incorporated; do not overmix.
Pat the mixture into a rectange 1/2-inch thick, and with a sharp knife, cut into 10 squares. Place on an ungreased baking sheet, and bake at 400F for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Serve with butter and jam; or cool the scones to room temperature, wrap and freeze.
Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Buttermilk cranberry scones, from Pinch My Salt
Banana, espresso and chocolate chip scones, from Food Blogga
Oat and maple syrup scones, from Smitten Kitchen
White chocolate and sour cherry scones, from David Lebovitz
Meyer lemon cranberry scones, from White on Rice Couple
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