Sunday, February 1, 2009

Better baking through chemistry

For the last few years I've been making a honey-raisin-spice quick bread for Imbolc. It was always tasty, but I had the hardest time getting the center to finish cooking before the edges got burned. I commented on the recipe, reminding myself to try adding more leavening next time.

After reading a section in Bakewise about chemical leaveners, I re-read the spice bread recipe. In Bakewise, Shirley says you need about 1 tsp baking powder or 1/4 tsp baking soda per cup of flour. (I'm sure this is only a general rule because I'm not done reading the book, especially the section on acids, which affects when bubbles are formed from the baking soda.)

The spice bread recipe called for 1 1/4 cup flour, 2 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp baking soda. If Shirley's formula is right, then it should only need 1 tsp powder or 1/4 tsp soda. That's half of what the recipe calls for. Now, you may be thinking, like I was, that more leavening equals more bubbles and a bigger cake. However, Shirley points out that too much leavening can also result in flat or sunken cakes: the bubbles are formed and get so big that they escape the cake, leaving none left to lighten it.

That was apparently the problem for me. Today, I used 1 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp baking soda and ended up with flat, but not sunken, cakes.

With that combination of leavening, I only had to bake the cakes for the recommended time (43 minutes), so they didn't end up burned on the edges. I was very excited that my first application of baking math had fixed a recipe that I thought was terminally broken! So, without further explanation, here is the fixed recipe.

Returning Sun Spice Bread


  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 Tbsp poppyseeds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
  • 3/4 cup raisins, plain or golden
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 large egg, beaten


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Mix the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices together. Stir the spice mixture into the flour in a large bowl and mix well.
  3. Stir in the poppyseeds and raisins.
  4. In a separate bowl, melt the butter. Stir in the brown sugar, honey, corn syrup, and milk. Stir in the egg.
  5. Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture. Stir to combine.
  6. Pour the batter into 4, well-greased, mini-loaf pans.
  7. Bake for 40-50 minutes.

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