You’re ready to make a delicious batch of cookies, but you open the cabinet and can’t find the baking soda you need. You’re probably wondering: Can you finish baking? Is baking soda necessary to make cookies?
Baking soda helps cookies spread, making them soft and gooey rather than cakey and dry. When you mix baking soda with other acidic ingredients, like brown sugar, it causes a chemical reaction. The result is the texture you expect from freshly baked cookies.
In this article, I’ll tell you more about how baking soda affects cookies. I’ll explain what happens if you forget to add baking soda to cookies and the difference between baking soda and baking powder. I’ll also share how to text expired baking soda for effectiveness and what you can use as a substitute if needed.
How Does Baking Soda Affect Cookies?
Baking soda, also called sodium bicarbonate, is an alkaline chemical compound. When mixed with an acid, it releases carbon dioxide, causing dough to rise and expand. In cookie dough, the acid is often brown sugar, lemon juice, or cream of tartar. When making cookies with baking soda, be sure to include acid, or they will turn out with a bitter taste.
Baking soda acts as a leavening agent in cookies. When you cream the butter and sugar together, baking soda releases gas into the dough. This chemical reaction helps the cookies rise and soften, resulting in a fluffy cookie.
Baking soda both helps cookies rise and allows them to spread. Once that carbon dioxide is released, your cookie dough will expand. The oven does this too. Baking soda reacts with heat in a process called thermal decomposition. Thus, when you turn on the oven light, you can watch the cookies rise enough to maintain their shape and melt around the sides.
Are Cookies Better With Baking Soda or Baking Powder?
Cookies are better with baking soda if you prefer gooey, soft cookies; if you prefer fluffy, cake-like cookies, use baking powder. Baking powder speeds up the release of carbon dioxide, leading to a more dense result, like a donut or a cake.
What Happens if You Forget To Put Baking Soda in Cookies?
If you forget baking soda in your cookies, they will turn out flat and hard. Without baking soda or baking powder, the chemical reaction will not happen. That reaction is necessary to make the cookies rise. Without a leavening substitute, they won’t soften, either.
What Happens if You Add Too Much Baking Soda to Cookies?
If you add too much baking soda, your cookies will have the consistency of cake. Think about how many visible air bubbles are in cookies versus cake. Those air bubbles make the resulting baked good dense. Baking soda adds carbon dioxide, and too much of it will add too much air to the mixture.
Can You Use Expired Baking Soda?
You can use expired baking soda if it still creates a chemical reaction. However, it won’t be as effective when it expires. To check expired baking soda to see if it still reacts, mix some in a bowl of vinegar. It should immediately respond with a surge of bubbles, like a volcano in science class.
Generally, it’s best to use baking soda within its shelf life, which is around three years.
Baking Soda Substitutes
If you don’t have baking soda, that’s okay. You may find other ingredients in your kitchen to help you achieve a similar result.
Cookie recipes always call for baking soda. However, if you only have baking powder, it’ll work. Baking powder already has acid, so you will have to add more baking powder than you would baking soda.
Because of the different chemical compositions, your cookies will turn out more like cake with this method. It would be best not to add more salt to avoid too salty cookies.
Self-rising flour can also work as a substitute for baking soda. It contains a mix of baking powder, flour, and salt. This mixture allows your cookies to rise like they would with baking soda.
When making your cookie recipe, simply use self-rising flour instead of all-purpose or whatever flour is normally used in the recipe.
If you don’t already have self-rising flour in your kitchen, I love the King Arthur Flour Self Rising Flour (available on Amazon.com). It works for a myriad of baking recipes, not just cookies!
You likely already have eggs in your fridge if you’re making cookies. In which case, you can separate the egg whites and whip them to replace baking soda. Whipping the egg whites introduces air, which helps your cookies rise.
Make sure to fold in your egg whites instead of stirring to maintain that air. If you don’t, your cookie dough will flatten.
Plus, because egg whites contain liquid, you must reduce the amount of milk (or whatever the fluid is in your recipe) to keep your dough the right consistency.
You may not have guessed it, but club soda is also a subtable substitute for baking soda. Club soda contains sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and can create a similar texture to what you’re trying to accomplish. The bubbles allow the dough to rise slightly, so your cookies don’t turn out flat.
Same as when using egg whites, you should leave out some of the milk in your recipe. This way, your dough won’t turn out too thin.
My favorite brand of club soda for baking is Bay Area Marketplace Canada Dry Club Soda, which you can find on Amazon.com. I use whatever I have leftover for a yummy cocktail!
Though baking soda leads to soft, chewy cookies, if you use the right amount, don’t fret if you can’t find any in your pantry. Baking powder will work just as well if you prefer a cakey cookie texture. And if you are really in a pinch, self-rising flour, egg whites, or club soda will do fine.