Yesterday, I posted the recipe for my favorite cake of all time. Of course it is a chocolate cake. Duh. You would think that as often as I have made this cake that I might be immune to these kinds of mistakes, but - alas - I was in a hurry... or I was preoccupied... or... well, something. Please tell me I have an excuse.
As you can clearly see on the right in the above picture, the cake came out very, very wrong. At first, I wasn't sure what had happened. Was my cocoa bad? Did I make some hideous batch of coffee? Did I forget an ingredient? I wasn't sure; I just knew that I could not serve this horrible disaster of a cake.
So, I set out to make it again. Would you believe that I got all the way through mixing the dry ingredients wrong a second time before I realized my error? This is what happens when you screw up the leavening in this cake. The recipe calls for one teaspoon of baking powder and two teaspoons of baking soda. I simply measured out two teaspoons of baking powder and called it good. You gotta love it when you misread a recipe the same way twice. Sheesh.
Now, you may be thinking: baking powder, baking soda... what's the difference? Well, there is actually a big difference. Baking powder is a balance of an acidic salt and a base. When you add moisture, it starts the two components to chemically reacting, producing carbon dioxide bubbles. Heat can also accentuate these reactions, but moisture really is the key. Baking soda on the other hand, is sodium bicarbonate, a basic substance that needs an acid in order to react. Usually, you see baking soda in recipes with buttermilk or sour cream, honey or molasses. In this cake, cocoa powder is the acidic component.
What I find especially interesting about this whole thing is that, obviously, the reaction in this cake does more than simply create lift. Look at the difference in the color! I'm going to tell you, there were some major flavor issues too. So, the next time you see a recipe that calls for a powdered leavening agent, read carefully! It may be the difference between perfection and the garbage.