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Feb 8, 2011 10:19 PM

Baking Soda v.s. Baking Powder in Trying to Lighten These Cookies?

I have been on a mission to develop a preferred recipe for a Greek cookie called Melomakarona.It's basically an olive oil pie dough with o.j., leavener, sugar, spices, and walnuts,formed into flattened oval cookies, baked and soaked in syrup. It typically contains OJ and brandy in the dough.
I recently made a good batch,but would like them to be less dense/softer.

Some melomakarona recipes call for bak. powder; some call for bak. soda; some use a mix. And some call for part semolina.
What rules/chemistry are there to help guide me? I..e.
**I don't know how to choose between more bak soda or more bak powd, or more of both.
** And I don't know what effect some semolina would have on the cookie.
Can any of you smart CH bakers advise me on this?
Thanks so much for your help; this is certainly not an easy question!

BTW, I did read this leavening info but I am frankly still perplexed:

This is the recipe I made, w/ some adjustments(I added the ground nuts to the dough instead of just on top of the baked cookie
)For the dough:
1 cup olive oil
1 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar
Zest of one orange
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup brandy
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt
7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2cup walnuts, ground coarsely
Below are links to a few sample recipes, showing those leavening differences. bak powd and bak soda no baking soda no bak powder

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  1. I have a family recipe that was passed on to me by a friend and is very similar to the one posted on this thread:
    Mine includes 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda is optional.

    Edit: Just realized the link I posted is the same as your first one.

    I also have 2 or 3 more recipes from a cookbook that's been handed down. Please look at the ratio of flour to oil. I'm not sure why the one in the Santorini site is showing the same ratio as yours which is about 7 to 1 flour to oil; this should be a very heavy, oily cookie. My recipe is about 3 to 1, many others about the same.

    Epicurious also features one recipe from Vespa's kitchen which requires very little oil in the dough, BUT the cookie is then fried before it goes into the syrup; so it is first baked, fried, then soaked.

    This cookie varies by region, but the ratio of dough to oil in your recipe raised a big red flag for me. I'm sorry can't help with the baking soda/powder question, I know very little about that myself. I can see why you don't have a "soft" cookie, but traditionally it would be a much richer and oily cookie with the proper ratio.

    2 Replies
    1. re: lilgi

      lil, did you see that the recipe i used has 7.5 c. flour and TWO c. oil? that's a ratio like yours, yes?

      1. re: opinionatedchef

        My ratio to be exact is 1 1/2 oil to 3 to 4 cups flour and it's important to stop between 3 and 4 cups as soon as the right texture is achieved. Dough should be soft, but at the point where you're able to form a cookie.

        *Meant to add that my recipe also calls for 1/2 cup semolina, which adds to the dry ingredients, but still not as much as in your recipe, and the flour gets added afterwards, adjusting between the 3 and 4 cups for the right texture.

    2. It could also be that the flour was overworked - when you're baking bread it's good to "stretch" the gluten but for most pastries the less you mix, the softer and lighter the result. When I was at Le Cordon Bleu, we were encouraged to stop mixing just before everything was combined... while you are forming the cookies the rest of the mixing will be done for you :)

      Baking soda only works if there is an acidic ingredient in your recipe (I'm guessing this is the OJ) whereas baking powder has the acidic ingredient pre-added (usually cream of tartar). Maybe the OJ wasn't acidic enough? Probably safer to go with baking powder and add a smidgen more baking soda... You'll need 3tsp baking powder for your recipe though as baking powder is made up of only 1/3 baking soda and 2/3 cream of tartar.

      Hope this helps. Good luck!

      1 Reply
      1. re: foodie and the chef

        chef, i'm a little confused. my recipe already calls for bak powder-2 tsp. and bak soda- 1 tsp.
        what is your advice to try in my second version? i'm wondering how someone figures the amount of bak soda for what amount of acid?

        and any thoughts about the effect of semolina in the dough?

      2. A common rule of thumb is that you can use 1 tsp of baking powder for each cup of flour. A ratio like this is typical of muffins, pancakes, and biscuits. The amount of baking soda should match the amount of acid, in this case the orange juice. There is little point in adding more baking soda without changing the acidic ingredient.

        Mixing the ground nuts into the dough will add to its density. I make a pumpkin bread in which I replace half the flour with mixed whole grain flours and ground almonds. But I am aiming for a moist and hearty bread, not a lighter cake like on. Chopped nuts, though, are common additions to sweet breads, along with raisins, giving textural contrast.

        7 Replies
        1. re: paulj

          thanks paul, but how do we find out how much acid matches how much bak soda? maybe 1 c. oj is enough acid for 1 T. bak soda......?

          1. re: opinionatedchef

            >thanks paul, but how do we find out how much acid matches how much bak soda?

            By studying recipes and experimenting. For the last few days, I've been testing a new cake made only with baking soda and buttermilk and lemon juice as the acids. I set the amount of baking soda first to react with the buttermilk and then added more to react with the lemon juice. Too much soda could turn a pastry tough in texture. Too little and it won't rise all the way.

            However, recipes don't always tell you how they paired the acid and base. In some, the author may have put in more acid than the soda will react with to give the baked item an acid bite. Other times, they weren't sure and just tossed in an estimated amount. Still other times, the acid content of an ingredient can vary. That is, one brand of buttermilk could be more acidic than another brand.

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              My impression from other recipes that use baking soda, usually with buttermilk, is that this recipe has more than enough baking soda for the amount of orange juice.

              Because baking powder already has the right ratio of powdered acid and baking soda, it is much easier to experiment with that.

              In this recipe the orange juice is the only liquid, other than oil, right? You can't increase that without altering the consistency of the dough ( I assume it is more of a dough than a batter.)

              1. re: opinionatedchef

                Adding more baking soda won't necessarily help even if there's enough acid. At a higher ratio to flour, it only adds to darken the cookie, not increase in rise. I think I'd go with more baking powder, less soda. Baking soda reacts immediately and if you let the dough rest and rise, you could lose the effect. While baking powder reacts immediately, it also reacts to heat and that'll help you with your rise. Also, if you want a lighter product, I'd consider using a little cake flour and/or substituting some of the AP flour with cornstarch. You might lose some of the chewy texture but you'll get a better rise and lighter cookie.

                1. re: chowser

                  ice,paul,chow, those are all v helpful bits. so i think i will follow your sugg of more bak. powder. and maybe the cake flr/cornstarch idea. So far, no one has responded about the effect of semolina so i may try some of that as well, in a small batch. i'll also look at greene on grains and flo braker and paula wolfert and see if they talk about semolina's effect. I've also written to KAF help line and it will be interesting to see what they say. Ultimately i will report back, w/ a finished recipe, though it may not hold much interest for people.Thanks much again for my continuing education!.

                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                    Semolina, when made from softer wheat is Cream of Wheat. But when made with durum wheat it is used for pasta. I've cooked it like cornmeal to make a polenta like porridge (Roman Gnocchi). What I've used is a bit gritty, more like cornmeal than flour; and it is used in bread making in the same way. I don't think it will lighten your cookies.

                    1. re: paulj

                      paul, I was reading Greene on Grains tonight and semolina flour is not semolina (grain of different size depending on the grind)>Durum Semolina, Granular semolina, and semolina flour all come from "the milled innards of hard durum wheat." pg.268. High in protein, he speaks of it as a miracle grain. he discusses its being used for cakes and pie crusts and has a short crust recipe calling for
                      1/2 c. @ cake flr and durum semolina or semolina flour, 4 T. butter and 1.5 T shortening+ water,S................
                      Will be neat to experiment w/ it.