Baking Soda in Italy
I was visiting an American friend in Rome a while back who had gone years without eating pancakes, so, on a whim, decided to surprise her with breakfast one morning.
I expected some of the ingredients would be difficult to track down, such as maple syrup, but I was surprised that baking soda was so hard to find. After looking in several different types of stores, I did eventually get some sodium bicarb, but it wasn't sold with baking ingredients -- I think it was with the cleaning products. Baking powder was more readily available, so I assumed that acids are less commonly used in Italian leavening (and, of course, that most Italian baking is not of the quick bread or batter-based variety). Anyone know any other reason?
What acidic ingredient were you using?
While it is possible to make pancakes (and related items) with just buttermilk (or other acid) and baking soda, often recipes also use baking powder. It's not uncommon to see a recipe that calls for 1-2tsp of baking powder, and 1/2t of baking soda. Most of the lift comes from the baking powder, not the acid and soda combination, especially if the bp is double acting.
I had the same experience TerriL when I was living in Egypt. I never found it -- even in stores with more foreign ingredients -- and I wound up bringing a box of Arm & Hammer from home. I was told to check for it in a pharmacy, but in the very Egyptian, non Ex-Pat area I was living in, no one knew what I was talking about.
Yeast breads have been around a lot longer. Even if homes did not have ovens, the village did.
In the American colonies, corn grew much better than wheat, and yeast was harder to work with the hot and humid south. And the settlement pattern was more dispersed, isolated homesteads instead of villages surrounded by fields. Until industrial baking soda and powder were invented in the mid 1800s, common American breads were dense corn hoe cakes, spoon breads with eggs, beaten biscuits, and a limited amount of sour dough. And 'baking' was done in a dutch oven with coals above and below.
There are some European cornbreads (esp. Portugal), but most use yeast and a good amount of wheat. The one exception that I'm aware of is a Greek cornbread flavored with olive oil and orange. Some sources trace that to war time food shortages, when home grown corn was used as best they could.
Baking soda is bicarbonato and easy to find, but, as you say, not with the baking ingredients. I would love to know where and under what name you found baking powder, which we all usually buy in the US. Lievito per dolci is the same thing, but I have never been sure whether it is used in the same amounts. I'm not much of a baker. There are various powdered yeasts -- for pizza, for sweets -- sold in envelopes and cake yeast sold in the refrigerated part near the butter.