Man's Conquest of Substances:
If some cooking soda is put into lemon juice or vinegar, or any acid, bubbles of gas immediately form and escape from the liquid. After the effervescence has ceased, a taste of the liquid will show you that the lemon juice has lost its acid nature, and has acquired in exchange a salty taste. Baking soda, when treated with an acid, is transformed into carbon dioxide and a salt. The various baking powders on the market to-day consist of baking soda and some acid substance, which acts upon the soda, forces it to give up its gas, and at the same time unites with the residue to form a harmless salt.
Cream of tartar contains sufficient acid to act on baking soda, and is a convenient and safe ingredient for baking powder. When soda and cream of tartar are mixed dry, they do not react on each other, neither do they combine rapidly in cold moist dough, but as soon as the heat of the oven penetrates the doughy mass, the cream of tartar combines with the soda and sets free the gas needed to raise the dough. The gas expands with the heat of the oven, raising the dough still more. Meanwhile, the dough itself is influenced by the heat and is stiffened to such an extent that it retains its inflated shape and spongy nature.
Many housewives look askance at ready-made baking powders and prefer to bake with soda and sour milk, soda and buttermilk, or soda and cream of tartar. Sour milk and buttermilk are quite as good as cream of tartar, because the lactic acid which they contain combines with the soda and liberates carbon dioxide, and forms a harmless residue in the dough.
The desire of manufacturers to produce cheap baking powders led to the use of cheap acids and alkalies, regardless of the character of the resulting salt. Alum and soda were popular for some time; but careful examination proved that the particular salt produced by this combination was not readily absorbed by the stomach, and that its retention there was injurious to health. For this reason, many states have prohibited the use of alum in baking powders.
It is not only important to choose the ingredients carefully; it is also necessary to calculate the respective quantities of each, otherwise there will be an excess of acid or alkali for the stomach to take care of. A standard powder contains twice as much cream of tartar as of bicarbonate of soda, and the thrifty housewife who wishes to economize, can make for herself, at small cost, as good a baking powder as any on the market, by mixing tartar and soda in the above proportions and adding a little corn starch to keep the mixture dry.
The self-raising flour, so widely advertised by grocers, is flour in which these ingredients or their equivalent have been mixed by the manufacturer.