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Baking powder (Recipe: blue corn muffins)

From the archives, a favorite post, updated with a new recipe, photos and links.

Blue corn muffins

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 sodathing. 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.

Baking powder

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-freebaking 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.


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.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

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

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I always get the soda and powder confused, too. My mnemonic is to start with "Arm and Hammer Baking...." and then I can visualize the container and remember which is which.

FYI, baking *soda* needs acid in addition to the wet to activate.

I am not much of a baker either - I am going home tonight and test my baking powder (is it even still in there? hmmm better get the flashlight out!)

they should make "single size" options of these items for the rare baker.

Well, now I'm dead set on finding some blue corn meal this weekend! I wouldn't mind one of those blue enamel serving dishes either!

Love that Kenyon's corn meal! These look great - just the thing to pair with some good cheese and ripe tomato slices for a grab-and-go lunch (or breakfast, for that matter).

I guess I'm the lucky one here. I can buy blue corn products any number of stores.

You don't need to understand it: it's Magic!

Blue cornmeal is so delicious! And I'm no scientist either. Which can lead to some interesting moments in the kitchen.

Mmmm, now I want to make cornbread. AND visit that mill - we are in Providence this weekend visiting our kids! (One lives here, one goes to school here, one just finished a 3-week pre-college course here.)

By the way, I am living proof that you don't have to be a scientist to be a baker. You don't even have to know why or how the recipes work - you just have to follow the directions - very precisely :-)

Julia, there is absolutely nothing about baking that's instinctive for me. Mnemonics help!

Carol, great idea about smaller packaging. I'm usually not a fan of more packaging, except in cases where it helps avoid food waste. And this is one of those cases, I think.

TW, we have a great *antiques* (read, junk) store in our village that carries all kinds of enamelware pieces, as well as lots of other old kitchen stuff, for very low prices. Whenever I feel the urge to spend $5 (and not more!), I take a trip up to the village to this one shop, and I can always find some little thing. I've had the blue enamelware for ages, but it's hard to find food that looks good in blue.

Jennifer, I feel really lucky to have Kenyon's here in RI. A few times each summer they have an open house; you can watch them do the grinding, and sample jonnycakes and other goodies.

Janet, we're so glad your part of the world shares blue corn with our part of the world.

Jenna, thanks for letting me off the hook!

Karina, I've had those baking powder/baking soda moments, too. And I think that 11th-grade chemistry class pretty much proved that I'm no scientist!

Judy, whenever I do bake, I'm too ignorant to do anything except follow the recipe. It's the only time my measuring spoons get a workout.

These look like they make a perfect side dish! Great recipe!

I bake so infrequently, I am always throwing out old cans of this!

Love this post! Being a baker, I always say one must be anal to bake because the recipe must be followed to get good results. If the kitchen were the setting for the Odd Couple Felix would be the baker, Oscar the cook.

Don't know what I'll do with this. I go through them quite fast specially during wedding season!

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