The Ups and Downs of Baking Powder

This week Barb Holland asks me for tips on baking:

“Can one use double acting baking powder instead of regular baking powder, only using less”?

Baking powder is made of one part sodium bicarbonate (otherwise known as baking soda) and two parts of a baking acid (usually cream of tartar) as well as a bit of starch to keep it from caking. It is the reaction between the soda and the acid that creates the power of the leavener, like when you add vinegar to baking soda – the whole thing bubbles up. Likewise in baking, the soda needs to be activated.

Single-acting baking powders are activated by moisture, when you combine the wet and dry ingredients they start to activate immediately and so your product has to be baked right after mixing. Double-acting powders are activated by liquid and heat so it reacts twice, once when you add it to a liquid and again when it it hits the heat of the oven.

Almost all of the baking powders available for home use are double acting. In most modern recipes when baking powder is called for, it is the double acting variety that is required. It’s hard to identify when a recipe might have called for single acting baking powder because it would just be listed as baking powder. You may have an older recipe that calls for baking powder and it may be single acting that was intended, but it is fine to use the double acting instead in equal quantities, don’t change the amount.

Thanks for your question Barb.

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Posted in Foodie's Ask, The Foodie-file, Wed, 3/12/08

12 Responses

  • Bonnie Brooks says:

    I have a question regarding baking powder in recipes that can be doubled, such as my chocolate cake recipe. When doubling a recipe, do you double the baking powder and baking soda (if called for)? I always double everything, but not sure if this is the proper thing to do.
    I would really like an answer to this question.

    Thanks so much.


  • JulieO says:

    I am finding the discussion about baking powder very interesting. I was taught that “ordinary” baking powder was single action, and double action was something different and they were not to be interchanged. I have two types in my cupboard:
    - the commonly available Magic Baking powder which doesn’t state which it is
    - Blue Ribbon baking powder which clearly states that it’s double action.

    The ingredient lists on each are different, but I am not knowledgeable enough about chemical names to know if it makes a difference to the products. Can you confirm this, especially that Magic is double action?

    Also, I know I’m not unique in using a wide range of recipes, both new and old. It’s helpful to know that double action can be used regardless of what might have been originally called for. Is this something that works in all recipes?

    Thanks for any suggestions, and apologies if you got another version of this message, some cat walked over the keyboard.

    JulieO in Whitehorse, Yukon

  • my3pals says:

    I have another question about baking powder. I have an old recipe for scones that calls for double-acting baking powder – must I use it or may I used just regular baking powder but just double the amount? Some stores still have double-acting baking powder available for purchase.

  • christine picheca says:

    Bonnie, I used your question about doubling ingredients this week and answered it. Here is the link.

  • christine picheca says:

    “Magic” brand is also double acting baking powder. Single acting is available but for the most part it’s not really sold commercially for everyday use. If it says baking powder and nothing else, assume it’s double acting. Most modern recipes don’t even state double acting, they just presume that is what you are using.

    Yes go ahead and use double acting even if your recipe states single acting or is an older recipe and you suspect they mean single acting.

  • christine picheca says:


    Don’t double the baking powder in your scone recipe. If it just says “baking powder” the recipe probably intends double acting baking powder. Even if it doesn’t, it is fine to use double acting instead if single acting.

    The “double” doesn’t mean twice the amount – it refers to the manner in which the leavener is activated; in other words, it “acts” twice.

    Also if the baking powder you have doesn’t say double acting, it still most likely is, most companies don’t label double acting baking powder as double acting anymore.

  • I hope someone knows the answer to this! I have a recipe that calls for egg yoke (to use as a hold together the ingredient of Pistashio nuts) and I wish to substitute that with something else that does not require refrigeration.
    What can I substitute for the egg yolk? Thank you to everyone ahead of time!

  • christine picheca says:

    Teresa, it depends what the recipe is. Is the egg yolk cooked? What is the item you are making? Is it a cookie?

  • Sharon says:

    On the back of my Cream of Tarter box it says.
    Single Acting Baking Powder
    Often unavailable but still called for in old recipes. prepare your own as follows.
    2 tablespoons cream of tartar
    1 Tablespoon baking soda
    1 Tablespoon of Cornstarch
    Makes 1/4 cup. Store in air tight container.

    Double-action baking powder has one ingredient called sodium aluminum sulphate. Some bakers claim the double-action powder do not produce as tender and delicate a product and many people are sensitive to sulphates. Sometimes leave a metallic taste.