Baking soda (Recipe: lemon thyme cornmeal cookies)
Things I can remember:
Phone numbers. PIN numbers. Latin verb conjugations. One phrase in Yiddish. The names of donors to a fundraising campaign I worked on fifteen years ago. My favorite jambalaya recipe. The words to old Beatles songs from the 1960s. Almost every line from every Doris Day-Rock Hudson film.
Things I can't remember at the moment:
The name of my first-grade teacher. How to use a slide rule. Kim's cell phone number (thank heavens for address books). Directions to Mary's new house (thank heavens for Mapquest). The current location of my favorite grey linen summer dress.
One thing I can't remember, ever, is the difference between baking powder and baking soda.
Which one is acid, and which is alkali? Which should I use for New York style crumb cakes, English muffins, chocolate banana cake, giant ginger cookies, and doughnut muffins?
When baking soda (pure bicarbonate of soda -- an alkali) is combined with an acid ingredient such as buttermilk, honey, yogurt or molasses, the chemical reaction produces carbon dioxide gas bubbles, which create air pockets in the dough or batter, causing it to rise. All of those air pockets make for a lighter and more tender final product.
Because it reacts instantly when moistened, baking soda always should be mixed with dry ingredients before adding any liquid, and the resulting batter or dough should go into the oven or pan or griddle right away.
If you're planning to use baking soda for baking, you want to keep it from absorbing odors in your refrigerator. After opening the box, decant into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, and store in your pantry or fridge. How can you tell if the baking soda still viable? Fill a small cup half full with vinegar and drop a teaspoon of baking soda in it. If it fizzes, it's good to go.
Baking soda isn't just for baking, however. Add a pinch to tomato sauce to balance the acidity. Add another pinch to the water when you soak dried beans; the beans will cook faster, and you'll toot a bit less when you eat them. And though I've never tried this, I've read that you can tenderize meat by rubbing baking soda directly on the meat, and then rinsing it off before cooking.
One more thing you can do with baking soda: use it to make your own baking powder.
How confusing is that?
Lemon thyme cornmeal cookies
I don't have a sweet tooth (except for chocolate, for which exemptions are always granted), so cookies that are more on the tart side really appeal to me. And what's better than a recipe that uses herbs from my garden? Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies, this recipe makes 24-30 cookies.
1-3/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup dried currants
1/4 tsp lemon zest
1 heaping Tbsp finely chopped lemon thyme
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time. Reduce speed to low; mix in the flour mixture until just combined. Stir in currants, lemon zest and lemon thyme.
Drop rounded tablespoons onto baking sheets lined with Silpats (silicon mats) or parchment paper, spacing the dough at least 2 inches apart. Bake until pale golden, 10-12 minutes. Let cool on the sheets for 2-3 minutes, then transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool. Store in airtight containers at room temperature for up to 3 days.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Irish soda bread
Ice cream chocolate chip cookies
Southern buttermilk biscuits
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Great explanation, Lydia. It's so clear, I might even remember it
Don't feel too lonely; the list of things I can't remember is much longer than the list of things I can remember! It happens, even though people are sure it won't happen to then.
I love lemon, thyme, and cornmeal - will have to try these lovely cookies asap! And thanks for the explanation, too.
Ooh, I like the bit about adding a pinch to tomato sauce to balance the acidity! Great post as always :)
I can't believe the coincidence! I was at the supermarket yesterday, looking at the exact same box of baking soda, and wondering what's the difference between this and baking powder. I thought I will buy it after doing some research, and your post today totally answered my questions :D
My problem is that when a recipe calls for baking soda or powder, do I grab the red can or the yellow box? I always have to start with "Arm and Hammer Baking ...." before I can remember it's soda in the yellow box.
One other trick with Baking Soda -- it's great for removing beet stains from your hands!
Nice tip for tomato sauce!
Very interesting and helpful, this post! Thanks!
Plus baking soda can be used to clean and deodorize and it's far more environmentally friendly than standard household cleaning chemicals. It's all around useful stuff.
The cookies sound intriguing, and I'll bet they're pretty and summery looking too.
Another great and fun post, Lydia!
Yay for baking soda! These lemony cookies sound so old fashioned and delicious.
As far as I'm concerned you are up there with Wikipedia, Google, Mapquest, and IMDb. Having said that, do you think you could use regular thyme or would that be too weird?
Funny I just had an issue with baking soda because I substituted mascarpone for sour cream. Not enough acid to use up the baking soda hence a dense cake. It is important to know the difference expecially when you bake with chocolate...you need to know whether to use dutch process or natural. You do not use baking soda with dutch process chocolate because the acid has beens stripped from it and you will end up with a metallic tasting chocolate cake.
Laurie, no matter how many times I read and write about it, I still can't remember which is which. I guess this is why I'm not a baker!
Lori, welcome to my world... or what I can remember of it!
Nupur, Ann: it's a great little trick to know.
Noobcook, if Arm & Hammer ever changes the color of the box, none of us will ever find it. Glad my post came at just the right time for you!
Julia, I did not know that about beet stains -- great tip!!!
Paz, Rebecca: thank you.
Julie, the cookies are beautiful with little leaves of thyme running through them. And I think baking soda is one of those miracle products, good for cooking, baking, cleaning.
Karina, they are old-fashioned, but always a hit.
Callipygia, you are so sweet -- I'm flattered! And yes, of course, you could use regular thyme, but do try to use the fresh leaf instead of dried thyme. If you want to add a tiny bit more lemon zest to bump up the lemon flavor, that would be great.
Veron, thanks for the reminder about Dutch chocolate. You know that I'm not a baker, so every time I do bake I have to look up which leavening agent to use with the chocolate I have.
Perfect, I've got a huge pot of lemon thyme growing on the back deck! I use it in savoury dishes all the time (thyme? ho ho) but never thought to use it in sweets, too. Thanks!
thanks for the great link on making baking powder.
My mother could never remember this either. One day during 'bring your daughter to work day' she decided to call the 800# of Arm & Hammer and get the skinny. She had the whole gaggle of women in the breakroom debating the difference. I left that day thinking that's what grownups did for work!
Oh my, this looks good! Reminds me of the best scones I've ever had: lemon currant vanilla scones from a local bakery. Get thee to the kitchen, self!
Thank you for this post, Lydia! I might just print it out so I can remember it, too. The recipe sounds delicious - I love the idea of the thyme and lemon together in a not-too-sweet cookie.
OMG, these look delicious. But where do I get lemon thyme? With a cup of blueberry tea? YUM!!!
Great idea about decanting the newly opened box of baking soda into a glass jar. I love pickling jars (I love the symmetry of lots of them lined up on a shelf) and buy them by the case to store dried beans, hummingbird nectar, chocolate chips, coconut, cornmeal etc. Why didn't I ever think of using one for baking soda? DUH!!!
Where do I find lemon thyme? I gotta make these. :)
Now I REALLY want that cookie cookbook. Hmm, my birthday is coming up...One of the best cookies I ever had was cornmeal and I loved the texture. These sound lovely-they must get quite crisp.
Melissa, so I'm not the only one who's in love with my lemon thyme plant! I love brushing past it in the garden, just to get that aroma on my hands.
Bee, I really never make it from scratch, but it's good to know how to do it.
EB, that does sound like a nice way to spend your time at work, though I haven't had too many jobs that were that much fun.
Victoria, there's something about summer and the taste of lemon in baked goods that just seems to go together. The lemon thyme really bumps up the lemony flavor.
Lynda, my earlier post on baking soda gives a good way to remember which is which -- and yet, I still forget!
Sue, I do the same -- buy boxes of canning jars just to use for storage in my kitchen. I usually replace the metal tops with plastic screw tops (Ball sells them), and that way I can write on the lid what's in the jar, or the date I filled it.
Aimee, I have to say that this is the best cookie cookbook I own, in part because it has beautiful color photos of each cookie, so I know what I'm aiming for when I use the recipes.
thanks for the enlightenment! the baking soda vs baking powder vs dry active yeast vs yeast always confused me...:)
I love the texture of cornmeal in cookies, so good...and with thyme is a nice touch.
I can just imagine how good these would taste!
Mochachocolata-rita, me too -- and even though I've written about it a few times, I still get confused!
Peabody, I love the crunch.
Kelly-Jane, do try them. Even if you don't have lemon thyme, use regular thyme and a bit more lemon zest.
I found a source for lemon thyme and made these last weekend. They are delicious.
Any suggestions for other herbs that would work in this recipe?
Sue, thanks so much for the update! I think rosemary would work, but I'd cut the amount to much less, maybe 1/2 teaspoon, because rosemary is such a strong herb and it could overwhelm the lemon. Of course regular English thyme would work, or maybe dill....
Thanks for the suggestions for other herbs for this cookie. I am going to give them a go. The dill esp. sounds wonderful.
I am also going to try the cookie without any herbs, but with chopped, toasted pecans and chopped dried cranberries.
BTW, I did not have time to bake the whole batch last weekend and froze some of the dough. It is delicious frozen, off the end of a spoon! :)
a question for anyone - Do you have to strip the leaves from the thyme stems or just cut up and toss in the whole stalk?
Madeleine, yes, you need to strip the leaves off the thyme stems. Do that by grasping the stem at the top (not the root) end, with one hand, and with the other run your fingers down the stalk toward the root end. The leaves will come right off.