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Purpose of hot water in a banana bread recipe

I recently made this recipe posted on chow.com: http://www.chow.com/recipes/30431-eas...

The result was very good, but I can't understand why the recipe calls for hot water. First, as I usually have problems with too much moisture in banana breads, I don't understand why this one calls for water? Second, why is it important the water be hot?

I should mention I searched and found the original recipe which calls for half all-purpose and half whole wheat flour, and that's what I used. Here are two links to the original recipe:

http://robinsporchswing.blogspot.com/...
http://www.dykast.us/2011/05/31/from-...

Also, I used just 2 bananas instead of 3. Additionally, I added 1/2 cup very coarsely chopped walnuts and 6 oz chopped 56% bittersweet chocolate.

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  1. Hot water loosens up the gluten strands in the flour so I would guess that using hot water would provide a lighter textured bread. But the "lighter textured bread" idea is a guess for which I have no scientific support at this moment.

    9 Replies
    1. re: todao

      1/3 c of water with 2 c of flour (and 1/2 c of egg) isn't going to do much except loosen the batter a bit. I don't the temperature of the water makes much difference.

      1. re: paulj

        So what's your theory on the reason the recipe calls for hot water?

        1. re: todao

          Here's another recipe I made earlier this year that called for hot water: http://www.urbanitebaltimore.com/balt...

          1. re: bmorecupcake

            One of the things I find curious is that none of these recipes defines "hot" water. The word "hot" deserves to be defined and the authors of these recipes are, IMO, irresponsible for such an oversight.
            I would judge warm to be about 90 - 95 degrees; hot to be between 100 - 110 degrees, and anything hotter to be very hot.
            But that's my own estimation and, in light of the fact that some of the recipes call for yeast leavening, I'd say 100 - 110 makes the grade.

            1. re: bmorecupcake

              Hot water is common in yeast recipes, as it helps activate the yeast. The exact temperature of the water matters when the yeast is added directly to the water (plus a bit of sugar) to 'proof' it. It less critical when the water is added to a flour and yeast mixture. Modern 'instant' yeast doesn't seem to need the proofing.

              I've also seen hot water used with molasses and/or golden syrup in British ginger cake recipes. There it helps loosen the viscous liquid.

              Hot water may also be an advantage in a recipe that calls for melted butter.

              But in OP's recipe the water is being added by the tablespoon (1/6 c) separately from the dry and wet ingredients. In that small quantity it's going to cool down just handling and measuring. I doubt if if you could even detect a change in the final batter temperature.

              1. re: paulj

                Could you please elaborate on the melted butter angle?

                1. re: bmorecupcake

                  If melted butter is added to cold liquids it will start to solidify.

                  1. re: paulj

                    baked goods do best when all ingredients start at room temp.

                    i have encountered other recipes like this that call for hot water. i have left it out and the breads turned out great.

            2. re: todao

              Maybe the author's great-great-grandmother did it that way! It was more convenient to dip water from the pot of melt water on the back of the stove than to draw freezing cold water from well. :) If an author does not explain an unusual step, it can be anyone's guess as to why they specify it.

              The Sunset cookbook dates back to at least 1966

        2. Is it to give the baking soda a jump start?

          I've checked other banana bread recipes and usually the baking soda is added directly to the hot water, to activate it and to make sure the bread, with its heavy batter, has good oven rise.

          33 Replies
          1. re: maria lorraine

            I think you get the prize on this one. Also explains why the "mix only until combined" instruction is included. That makes very good sense; you get my vote.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              This is what I originally thought, but after reading quite a bit I came to the conclusion that while double acting baking powder is activated by moisture and heat, baking soda is activated by just by "acidic moisture" without any need for heat. In this recipe, the overripe bananas provide both acid and moisture. I could be wrong. I consider myself a beginner-intermediate at best.

              Maybe the bananas and melted butter don't provide enough moisture and therefore the water is needed, but that still wouldn't explain the need for *hot* water. Maybe it is really just because of tradition. I tried the recipe just to try something different and didn't expect to like the result as much as I did. I prefer to understand recipes, but it's fun to have a few magic recipes I guess.

              1. re: bmorecupcake

                Read other banana bread recipes. They also instruct to add the baking soda directly to hot water -- usually in a separate step in the procedure with just those two ingredients. That's your big clue that the reason for the hot water is to begin baking soda's chemical reaction that creates leavening.

                Leavening occurs in two steps. First, the leavener creates gas. Then that gas ***expands*** when exposed to heat in the oven. It's the gas expansion that batter or dough to rise -- oven lift or spring.

                Both baking soda and baking powder require heat for the gas to expand. Additionally, baking soda requires an acid; baking powder requires only liquid. But both need heat to create leavening.

                This is from the King Arthur website:
                "Baking soda works by reacting with the naturally acidic ingredients in a dough or batter (e.g., buttermilk, sour cream, citrus juice or, less obvious, brown sugar, chocolate, or molasses). It releases most of its gas immediately when combined with an acid and moisture, and a bit more when heated.

                "Most baking powder on the market today is double-acting; this means that its reaction occurs in two stages, using two different acids. One acid reacts very quickly and, when combined with a liquid, helps to aerate the batter. The second acid is slower-acting, and begins to release carbon dioxide only when heated."

                http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe...

                Hope this helps.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  According to the KA quote, heat is not needed before baking. The heat they are talking about comes during baking, not hot water. Note the lack of (hot) water in the KA recipe I linked earlier.

                  Recipes that use hot water are few and far between. Old Joy has a cornmeal pancake recipe that softens the cornmeal with hot water (partially cooks it). There is also a hot water cornbread, and a Chinese hot water dough, neither of which is leavened. And cream puff dough dumps flour directly into boiling water. But it depends on eggs and steam for lift.

                  1. re: paulj

                    I'm sorry, paulj, perhaps we're not reading the same thing. Both baking soda and baking powder at the above KA link mention heat as part of the leavening process.

                    BTW, I've found quite a few banana bread recipes that combine baking soda and hot water as a step. Google search and snap there were many. As mentioned, when the baking soda and hot water are combined like that as a single step in instructions, we know the reason -- to get the leavening and gas release started. Normally, one might not "bloom" the baking soda this way, but with a heavy batter, it gets the leavening started.

                    And then -- common sense -- any gas expands when heated.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      http://cookieandkate.com/2011/honey-w...
                      mixes the dry and wet, then stirs in a baking soda solution.

                      I think it uses hot water because baking soda dissolves better in hot water. I just tested this, using half a cup of cool tap water and another half cup of hot tap water. Neither shows signs of 'activating' the baking soda (i.e. no bubbles), but the hot water did dissolve it a bit better.

                      But leaves the question, why add the baking soda solution right at the end, as opposed to the usual method of adding dry baking soda to the flour at the start?

                      1. re: paulj

                        <<why add the baking soda solution right at the end, as opposed to the usual method of adding dry baking soda to the flour at the start?>>

                        It's added closest to the time it goes into the oven to conserve what gas is released for the oven, where it can expand.

                        P.S.: For your experiment in cool water vs. hot water, you need to add an acid to the water.

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          Yes, adding acid to the water would produce bubbles. But that isn't what the recipe calls for. The acid, in the banana puree, is already in the batter. I was wondering why use hot water to make this baking soda solution.

                          Mixing hot water, baking soda, and acid, and then adding that to the batter would not help, because a lot the gas produced by this mixture will disappear into the air before it is incorporated into the batter. You want the CO2 to be produced in the batter, where it can do its job.

                          If you are worried about the baking soda and acid not providing a enough lift, the simplest thing is to include some baking powder. More and more I think recipes are using baking powder as the primary leavening agent, and using baking soda to adjust the pH of the batter. A more alkaline (less acid) batter browns better.

                          I wonder what ATK uses in its banana bread. I used to have their 11 yr collection check out of the library, They did something special with the bananas to get a more intense flavor - cooked or drained them. But I don't recall anything special regarding the use of baking soda and/or hot water. I vaguely recall a thread about their recipe.

                          found it
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8636...
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8636...
                          http://food4wibowo.blogspot.com/2011/...

                          1. re: paulj

                            You didn't understand my post.

                            What I was saying -- Your experiment to test hot water vs. cold water "activating" the baking soda wasn't valid without an acid. Baking soda needs an acid for the chemical reaction that releases gas (CO2). Since you didn't add an acid to the water, of course the baking soda didn't release gas. That's all.

                            <Mixing hot water, baking soda, and acid, and then adding that to the batter would not help, because a lot the gas produced by this mixture will disappear into the air before it is incorporated into the batter. >>

                            No, no, that's not what I mean. Adding the acid to water is only for the purposes of your experiment.

                            Adding the baking soda to the hot water -- as many banana bread recipes direct -- will dissolve the baking soda, but the baking soda won't release gas until it is combined with the acid in the batter. Gas is then created, and is dispersed in the batter. The heat of the hot water jump starts the release of gas -- that's its purpose. When the batter or dough goes into the oven, the gas expands. Moreover, the baking soda chemical reaction gains strength when further activated by the heat of the oven.

                            Here's an explanation:

                            "When carbon dioxide is released by either baking soda and/or baking powder, it first dissolves in the batter's liquid. When the liquid becomes saturated, the carbon dioxide begins to evolve into the air bubbles, causing them to expand. The bubbles continue to expand as long as the batter is not fully baked. When the batter sets into a firm structure during baking, the aeration is preserved which you see as the tiny air holes throughout the recipe."
                            http://baking911.com/learn/ingredient...

                            At least we have the answer to the OP's question -- the reason for the hot water.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              First, thank you for your very informative and insightful discussion. I read through all the links provided and learned much more than I ever expected. I never knew that chemical leaveners don't actually create air bubbles.

                              Maria lorraine, just to clarify, in the "hot water recipes" you've encountered before, the hot water serves to pre-dissolve the baking soda to:

                              1) Evenly distribute the baking soda in a batter with unsifted dry ingredients.
                              2) Speed the baking soda reaction; specifically, to start expanding air bubbles quicker.

                              However, in the original version of the recipe I introduced, it seems like the baking soda is sifted in with the dry ingredients. Also, the water is added into the batter separately and wouldn't dissolve the baking soda as well as if done separately.

                              I have read so many posts on this board about too much moisture in banana breads, but it seems this recipe needs some extra moisture and the water serves that purpose. Maybe it's to produce steam during baking. Or maybe the extra liquid aids to bring the acid in contact with the baking soda, which would be similar to dissolving in water in the first place I guess.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                The same 911 article, under the question - why hot water in chocolate cake recipes?
                                "Then, there are recipes where the leavener is added to the hot water at the end of the recipe, ie: add the baking soda to the hot water, and add to the rest of the batter. That is done just for color. Baking soda is added not only to a recipe for leavening, but will also enhance color. When added to water, it expenses the leavener, but changes the pH of the recipe, enhancing/darkening the color of the cocoa powder in the recipe. If there is baking powder in the recipe, as well, that's what in fact, leavens the recipe, plus any left-over baking soda not expensed."

                                I assume 'expenses' here means what I observed when adding baking soda to very hot water - it foams, releasing co2. So what they end up adding is a sodium carbonate solution (or a mix of sodium bicarbonate and sodium carbonate), which from the Corriher quote is mildly alkaline. That would be consistent with goal of enhancing color. But what about the 'soapy taste'? Maybe the chocolate masks that.

                                Does banana bread need a similar 'color enhancement'? I'm more familiar with pumpkin bread which gets enough color from molasses and spices.

                                at the end it also says:
                                "Recipes that call for both are probably using the baking soda to offset extra acidity in the batter (from ingredients like buttermilk or molasses) and to weaken the proteins in the flour"

                                1. re: paulj

                                  Yes, I read this earlier, and then researched scientific documents on sodium bicarbonate in aqueous solutions. She is incorrect about the gas being entirely expensed.

                                  Bear in mind, she contradicts herself later on, saying leavening comes the baking powder "plus any left-over baking soda not expensed."

                                  First, the amount of CO2 released correlates to the temperature of the hot water. Sure, some gas is lost to the air. But that's just a small portion of the "gas potential." The gas potential is not at all expensed when you consider the water temperature range most likely used, or the amount of time before the solution is added to the batter. In addition, some gas remains dissolved in the hot water.

                                  So no, adding hot water isn't just for color. Numerous scientific documents contradict what's written on the baking911 website.

                                  P.S.: The soapy taste comes from baking soda that is not adequately neutralized. Soapy, means alkaline, like lye, or basic [what baking soda is]. Which means, there are two reasons for an adequate amount of acid in a recipe that uses baking soda. The first is react with the baking soda to form CO2. The second is for flavor -- to avoid a soapy taste.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    I wish you'd give some citations, so I could read more on this, and not just rely on your explanation. In particular I am interested in degree to which the thermal decomposition of baking soda contributes to the leavening of baking goods.

                                    I am still puzzled by your claim that mixing baking soda with a small amount of hot water enhances or speeds up its leavening action, especially if most of the CO2 is produced by the reaction of baking soda with the acid. The amount of hot water used is not enough to noticeably increase the temperature of the batter (1/3c in 2+c of batter).

                                    In the Wiki article on baking soda, the thermal decomposition formula is:

                                    2 NaHCO3 → Na2CO3 + H2O + CO2

                                    that is, 2 sodium bicarb molecules produce one carbon dioxide. This starts to occur at 70C.

                                    A typical acid reaction (with vinegar) is
                                    NaHCO3 + CH3COOH → CH3COONa + H2O + CO2(g)
                                    a higher yield of CO2 (1:1). This starts at room temperature.
                                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_b...

                                    Hot tap water is about 125F (maybe 140 if you set the hot water heater thermostat high). This is enough to dissolve baking soda faster, but not enough to start the decomposition. Do the recipes that call for 'hot water' or 'boiling hot water'?

                                    1. re: paulj

                                      <<I am still puzzled by your claim that mixing baking soda with a small amount of hot water enhances or speeds up its leavening action, especially if most of the CO2 is produced by the reaction of baking soda with the acid.>>

                                      As you know heat accelerates any chemical reaction. That's the reason.

                                    2. re: maria lorraine

                                      If 911 is wrong about the hot water solution being just for color, why isn't it more widely used? The OP is asking about a banana bread. 911 talks about it being used in chocolate cake. Why isn't used for other muffins and quick breads? Why not in pancakes? Or biscuits? Why not most cakes?

                                      I don't recall ever making a quick bread, pancake or biscuit recipe that calls a hot water baking soda solution. No cakes or cookies either, though I don't make a lot of those. While I haven't made a exhaustive search, I haven't seen it in my cook books like Joy of Cooking.

                                      1. re: paulj

                                        A baking soda-water solution is used widely in the manufacturing of baked goods and breads. It's also called for in some home recipes. Really produces good color and browning (and flavor) in rolls, pretzels, etc.

                                        Lots of recipes use hot water added to batters with baking soda, too. I've seen hundreds since this thread began.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          "Lots of recipes use hot water added to batters with baking soda, too. I've seen hundreds since this thread began."

                                          But, lots don't and are still successful which means it isn't a necessary component. I would say from my experience that far more don't than do.

                                          1. re: chowser

                                            Yes, sure, not necessary for success in all instances. But if the recipe calls for it, do it. The hot water -- as part of a baking soda solution or added to the batter -- serves several purposes, all chemistry related.

                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                              I make this recipe fairly frequently:

                                              http://allrecipes.com/recipe/best-cho...

                                              And this:

                                              http://www.hersheys.com/recipes/recip...

                                              I've used hot and room temperature liquids and haven't noticed a difference in the final results, other than it's easier to dissolve the soda w/ warmer water.

                                          2. re: maria lorraine

                                            I can understand the use of baking soda in the water bath used to boil pretzels.
                                            http://www.finecooking.com/item/13510...

                                            But it doesn't address the difference between mixing baking soda with the dry ingredients v. adding a baking soda solution at the end.

                                            1. re: paulj

                                              This has been covered thoroughly.

                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                So when should I add baking soda to the flour, and when should I dissolve it in a bit of hot water and stir that end at the end? Apart from 'just follow the recipe' are there some sort of general guide lines?

                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  With the "Just follow the recipe" because there is a reason for every step means we'd be still sifting flour and a myriad other steps that used to be necessary but aren't with modern equipment. I have a banana bread recipe that uses regular water. I replace it w/ apple cider, room temperature, for the added flavor but have never used hot liquids. It rises fine. I can't imagine if most recipes that are similar don't require it, that it is necessary.

                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                    <<With the "Just follow the recipe" because there is a reason for every step means we'd be still sifting flour and a myriad other steps that used to be necessary but aren't with modern equipment. I have a banana bread recipe that uses regular water. I replace it w/ apple cider, room temperature, for the added flavor but have never used hot liquids. It rises fine. I can't imagine if most recipes that are similar don't require it, that it is necessary.>>

                                                    I agree all recipes that involve leavenings and acids are not honed. Nor does every recipe writer know the reason he/she is adding a particular ingredient.

                                                    But with a honed recipe, change one ingredient and you have a whole new set of rules. Yes, it may be fine, but it will certainly be different and sometimes not optimal.

                                                    I can tell you have enough baking experience that you can wing it sometimes and things will turn out OK, but more is going on chemically than you may realize. Tiny differences in ingredients -- especially chemical leaveners and acids -- create big differences in end results, especially when heat is involved. Each tweak creates a different result.

                                                    When you used apple cider instead of water in your banana bread, you added an acid. You said it rose fine. I bet it did. If you were using baking soda, it rose higher than it would have with the water. If you'd added buttermilk or lemon juice or orange juice, the bread would have risen even higher.

                                                    Less acid, and you would have had a heavy loaf that didn't brown as nicely. But add hot water and you can use less acid.

                                                    Change the amount of wet or dry ingredients and the entire recipe shifts. Leave or reduce the salt in batters and some needed chemical reactions don't happen. In yeasted breads, you get a runaway fermentation that doesn't develop a depth of flavor because the dough rises too fast. Change the temperature of the bread's rise and you change the flavor, because lactobacilli create different flavors at different temperatures. Use honey instead of sugar in baked goods but keep everything else the same and you get a myriad of differences. Change the size of the pan or the height of the pain and the leaveners work differently. Baking is chemistry; ingredients aren't added for flavor alone. Change one tiny thing and you get a different result. It may be OK, but not what it could be or what the recipe writer intended.

                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                      As the apple cider goes, it doesn't make a difference in the rise but there is enough acid in the recipe to react with the small amount of baking soda so more wouldn't cause more of a reaction. I might get away w/ adding more baking soda and get a bigger rise but that might wreak havoc with the amount of flour so I'd have to look more closely at the recipe and the amount of leaveners. Oh, it was for pumpkin bread, not banana. I just had banana bread on my mind when I typed that. Apple cider in pumpkin bread is a great combination.

                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                        "Less acid, and you would have had a heavy loaf that didn't brown as nicely."
                                                        ________
                                                        Did you mistype or am I misreading you or do I just not understand baking as well as I thought? I thought increasing the acid generally slowed the browning in baked goods (which is not always a bad thing).

                                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                                          cowboyardee

                                                          "Less acid, and you would have had a heavy loaf that didn't brown as nicely."
                                                          ________

                                                          Did you mistype or am I misreading you or do I just not understand baking as well as I thought? I thought increasing the acid generally slowed the browning in baked goods (which is not always a bad thing).

                                                          ========

                                                          Yes, should have typed:
                                                          Too little acid and you would have had a heavy loaf and possibly one that over-browned.

                                                      2. re: chowser

                                                        Speaking of not adapting recipes properly when you change an ingredient...

                                                        Look at the photo of the Chow banana bread. It shows an uneven crumb with large holes that shouldn't be there -- look at those big ole gas bubbles that got started. There should be a fine pore in the crumb. The top is unevenly cracked -- shouldn't look like that.

                                                        The crumb problem might be inadequate mixing of the dry ingredients together or of the hot water into the batter. The crack problem could be too hot an oven. But...

                                                        But...things get very interesting when you compare the Chow recipe to the Sunset recipe on which it's based. The recipes are identical, except that the Sunset recipe uses heavier flours -- WW and bread flour -- and has nuts. It's a heavy batter with those flours, and the reason for the hot water in that recipe makes sense -- to help create enough gas to push up that heavy batter.

                                                        Yet, even though the Chow recipe uses a lighter flour and no nuts (making a lighter batter), the quantity of baking soda and hot water in the recipe remains the same as in the original recipe.

                                                        That means the Chow recipe may have -- wait for it -- too much leavening for those lighter flours. Too much gas was created by the baking soda and hot water and acids. Too much gas caused those big holes in the bread, and pushed up the bread so quickly in the oven that it cracked.

                                                        I doubt the Chow staffer adapting the recipe knew the reason for the hot water in the original recipe, even though Sunset Magazine did. I doubt s/he knew to reduce the amount of leavener when the type of flour changed and the nuts were left out. This is a great example of baking errors that occur when you change a couple of ingredients and don't also adjust the leaveners (and what activates them) in the recipe.

                                                        Here's the Sunset recipe on which the Chow recipe is based:

                                                        Whole Wheat Banana Bread

                                                        ½ cup butter/margarine/oil
                                                        1 cup sugar
                                                        2 eggs, slightly beaten
                                                        1 cup mashed bananas - about 3 medium
                                                        1 cup bread flour
                                                        ½ tsp salt
                                                        1 tsp baking soda
                                                        1 cup whole wheat flour

                                                        1/3 cup hot water

                                                        ½ cup chopped walnuts

                                                        Melt butter and blend in sugar
                                                        Mix in beaten eggs and mashed bananas, blending until smooth
                                                        Mix bread flour with salt and soda, add whole wheat and mix
                                                        Add half of dry ingredients to wet, mix, add hot water, mix, add the rest of the dry ingredients, and mix
                                                        Add nuts and mix
                                                        Pour into one greased 9 x 5-inch (i.e. large) bread pan
                                                        Bake in a preheated oven at 325 for about 70 minutes

                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                          The Sunset recipe in my book, asks for AP flour & WW flour, not bread flour & WW flour, so that would make quite a difference don't you think?

                                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                                            I'm not convinced that the change from part whole wheat to all AP matters much. If most of the leavening action consists of baking soda reacting with the acid in the bananas, then the amount of baking soda should depend on the bananas, not the flour. I'm still not convinced that CO2 production by simply heating baking soda is significant in baked goods (few cook books mention it, no one tries to use bs without an acid, and it occurs at too high a temperature).

                                                            My older Joy of Cooking attributes problems with muffins such as cracking, to too high oven heat. Shirley Corriher also talks about the role of oven temperature on the baking of muffins and quick breads.

                                                            Bubbles and tunnels are often attributed to too much gluten development, especially due to over mixing. Gluten development might also be more of a problem when using AP as opposed to WW.

                                                            Mixing methods also matter. A cake-method muffin supposedly has finer crumb than muffin-method. Books also claim that baking soda produces are more coarse and 'shaggy' crumb than baking powder.

                                                            But it is possible that this recipe, even in the original whole wheat version, has too much baking soda. Corriher advocates using 1 tsp of baking powder per cup of flour. 1/4t of baking soda has about the same leavening power as 1 t of baking powder. Also 1/2 t of baking soda neutralizes 1 c of buttermilk (a mild acid).

                                                            In this recipe there are 2 c of flour, and 1 c of banana, which I guess is even less acid than buttermilk. I think 1 tsp of baking powder, and 1/4 tsp of baking soda would be a better mix for this recipe.

                                                            There's another variable - pan size/shape. Apparently Rose Levy Beranbaum (Realbaking) adjusts the amount of baking powder in cakes based on the pan size. I don't know the details, but my guess is that thinner layers need less leavening. But that kind of tweaking is easier with baking powder than baking soda (don't have to worry about the acid balance).

                                                            Question - do whole grain quick breads routinely use more leaving than white ones? I haven't noticed such a pattern.

                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                              You've done some research here (good, do lots more), but you've applied some of your reading without consideration of other ingredients in the recipe. I'd like to suggest that you analyze a recipe as a whole.

                                                              <<If most of the leavening action consists of baking soda reacting with the acid in the bananas>>

                                                              You're omitting the importance of the hot water. I should think that would be obvious by now.

                                                              <<still not convinced that CO2 production by simply heating baking soda >>

                                                              It's a chemical reaction with the hot water. It is significant.

                                                              <<few cook books mention it>>

                                                              Don't think you've read enough cookbooks or recipes or baking articles if you think this.

                                                              <<No one tries to use bs without an acid>>

                                                              No one should. The hot water augments the leavening action of the acid.

                                                              <<My older Joy of Cooking attributes problems with muffins such as cracking, to too high oven heat. >>

                                                              Cracking is due to heat if
                                                              1) if the recipe was developed and tested properly [doubtful],
                                                              2) the amount of leaveners and activators are correct in the recipe [they're not],
                                                              3) the mixing was performed properly [we don't know if it was], and
                                                              4) if the pan size is correct [we think so].

                                                              <<Bubbles and tunnels are often attributed to too much gluten development, especially due to over mixing.>>

                                                              Not enough time for gluten. Too much fat and sugar for gluten to develop (both inhibit gluten).

                                                              <<But it is possible that this recipe, even in the original whole wheat version, has too much baking soda.>>

                                                              Finally getting somewhere. Either too much acid or too much activation. Good chance the original Sunset recipe was fairly well honed.

                                                              <<adjusts the amount of baking powder in cakes based on the pan size>>

                                                              Did you see this mentioned earlier?

                                                              <<do whole grain quick breads routinely use more leaving than white ones?>>

                                                              Yes. Routinely. Basic stuff.

                                                              <<I haven't noticed such a pattern.>>

                                                              The pattern will emerge when you check more recipes. Also research ~~ increase leaveners whole wheat flour ~~.

                                                            2. re: maria lorraine

                                                              I always thought the irregular-sized holes in quickbreads were purposely caused by mixing until just combined, and that this irregularity is often a desirable property in quickbreads. (As opposed to what was described below by paulj as a cake-method muffin, which would produce a finer crumb.)

                                    3. re: maria lorraine

                                      http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...
                                      Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread

                                      "Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, then cool to room temperature."

                                      I found that this mixture foamed a lot as the beer released CO2, and the molasses and baking soda reacted. The heat also looses the molasses - 1 cup is a lot of molasses. But this recipe depends on baking powder for leavening.

                                      But this Yorkshire parkin (oatmeal ginger cake)
                                      http://www.lylesgoldensyrup.com/kitch...
                                      mixes the baking soda with the flour, and warms the molasses with sugar and milk, just enough to dissolve and melt the fat.

                            2. http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe...

                              no extra water, hot or otherwise

                              1. I'm with paulj that there isn't a reason for hot water. You wouldn't want cold water but room temperature should work fine. I am chuckling at the use of whole wheat and ap "flower."

                                25 Replies
                                1. re: chowser

                                  So would you say the water is there to add moisture to the batter without adding any additional flavor/fat (as opposed to adding milk or extra butter)? Or, as discussed above, that although the water is added to aid the baking soda reaction, hot water won't provide much benefit over room temperature in this regard?

                                  1. re: bmorecupcake

                                    Or course, there's a reason for the hot water. I've done a huge amount of reading on this.

                                    Hundreds upon hundreds of modern-day recipes call for hot water to be added to baking soda. Most notably, in (what many folks consider to be, from my reading ) the best chocolate chip cookie recipes. Hot water is often called for in dessert "breads," like banana bread or cranberry bread. It's called for in making cakes.

                                    The reason for the hot water is not only to "bloom" the baking soda and begin the gas release in the batter, but also because baking soda bloomed this way promotes browning. A baking soda-hot water solution promotes attractive browning of breads, pretzels, cookies, etc This is a Maillard reaction that also gives baked foods more flavor. Pretzels get their distinctive color from a baking soda/hot water bath before baking.

                                    "The idea of the baking soda addition was not taken out of the blue but based on something I gleaned from the chemistry of the Maillard reaction. Popularly known as the “browning reaction,” the Maillard reaction is the chemical interplay between a reducing sugar (a sugar that under alkaline conditions, forms reactive ketones or aldehydes) and an amino acid (the basic building block of all proteins). As a chemist, I have always found the Maillard reaction to have a deceptive name, camouflaging the fact that a surprisingly large number of reactions occur when a reducing sugar and an amino acid are heated together. In addition to its complexity, I had noted the pH dependency of the Maillard reaction. By increasing the pH [what baking soda does) —making the food less acidic and more alkaline—the Maillard reaction can be sped up. And the addition of baking soda happens to be a convenient way of doing this. Over time, it became clear to me that the use of baking soda was only one of many ways cooks can and do influence the speed of the Maillard reaction in the kitchen."
                                    http://blog.khymos.org/2012/06/04/max...

                                    The water must be at least 158 degrees to begin baking soda's chemical reaction, so make sure your water is that hot when you add the baking soda to it.

                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      That Khymos article is a good one. A while back that article prompted me to check out 'The Kitchen as Laboratory' from the library.

                                      However I don't see anything in this article that supports the idea of adding baking soda to hot water, or adding plain hot water to the batter (as in the OP recipe). The article says:
                                      "When baking soda is used as a leavening agent in cookies, a side effect is more rapid browning and a more pronounced nutty flavor."
                                      Nothing about the baking soda being added via a hot water solution v. being mixed with the dry flour at the start.

                                      I have observed the effect of baking soda on browning. For a while I was making biscuits using baking powder, and buttermilk, but no extra baking soda. I reasoned this would let more of the buttermilk flavor come through, not having been balanced by the baking soda. With the baking powder, I did not need the soda for leavening. However my biscuits were not browning as much as I expected. Adding some baking soda did increase browning. However I haven't noticed much difference in flavor, so I don't think its use to be a big issue.

                                      Was the Khymos article the source for your '158 degrees' statement? Or is that some other source? The baked goods will get hotter than this during baking. Also which 'chemical reaction' do you have in mind, the CO2 production or the Maillard one? Baking soda and vinegar react instantly at room temperature.

                                      1. re: paulj

                                        The Khymos blog was just one of a hundred websites I read on the subject. Along with baking sciences publications, papers, textbooks, class materials and trade manufacturing articles.

                                      2. re: maria lorraine

                                        http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-im...
                                        " Baking soda starts to decompose at only 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius), and when it decomposes, it releases carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide, along with the insulation of the foam, works to smother the fire."

                                        Note that this is baking soda without acid, just baking soda by itself. But in baked goods, we expect baking soda to react with acids like vinegar, buttermilk, or powders like cream of tartar.

                                        To test this, I just brought some water to a boil and turned off the heat. When I added a spoon of baking soda, it instantly foamed - presumably due to this decomposition. But that CO2 disappeared right away. What was left in the pan would have been useless in a batter.

                                        1. re: paulj

                                          The howstuffworks blurb is only partially relevant.

                                          For baking soda dissolved in hot water and then added to the batter:
                                          Baking soda partially decomposes **in water** at room temperature, and increases its release of gas as the temperature of the water gets higher, up to the boiling point. At the water temperature we're talking about in home recipes -- anywhere from about 120 to 160F -- the baking soda does not release its full potential of carbon dioxide gas. Some gas is released into the air, yes. Other gas is dissolved into the hot water. More gas is released into the batter when the baking soda solution encounters the acid in the batter. Yet more gas is released when the batter enters the hot oven.

                                          For hot water added to the dry ingredients which contain baking soda:
                                          The gas is released only into the batter. That's relevant in the OPs three recipes.

                                          The other reasons for the hot water -- jump-starting the browning reaction.
                                          Baking soda is also added because of its contribution to texture.

                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                            CookWise, Shirley O Chorriher:
                                            "Baking soda alone breaks down when heated to form [CO2] and sodium carbonate, which has an unpleasant soapy taste and is moderately alkaline. However if baking soda is combined with an acid, CO2 comes off much faster and a small amount of a milder-tasting salt is left behind." p73

                                            In this section she goes on to discuss baking powder, combinations of bp and bs, and bp in yeast breads. Later in a section on cookies she mentions that small amounts of baking sode may be added to cookie batter to neutralize acidity and promote better browning.

                                            I don't, off hand, find any 'hot water' additions in her baking recipes. I wonder if her BakeWise book delves into this any deeper.

                                            1. re: paulj

                                              Love Shirley Corriher. She's explaining above the soapy taste that happens when baking soda doesn't have enough acid to neutralize it.

                                            2. re: maria lorraine

                                              Bakers don't always want fast release of CO2. The Kitchen as Laboratory book has a chapter on pizza crust, where the author explores adapted his mother's traditional long-proofed dough by including baking powder. He concludes that he really likes to use 'encapsulated leavening', and kind of time release baking soda.

                                              http://www.clabbergirl.com/commercial...

                                              1. re: paulj

                                                I for one am not saying bakers want a fast release of CO2 or any leavening gas.

                                              2. re: maria lorraine

                                                Wouldn't that same reaction happen in the oven, too, when the batter reaches the right temperature? The hot water is mixed into the batter in the OP recipe, which would bring down the temperature considerably, probably below the 120 mark (especially since it's alternated w/ flour mixture). If the batter ended up between 120 and 160, the water would be hot enough to cook the eggs.

                                                1. re: chowser

                                                  The hot water is hot enough to begin activation of the baking soda -- especially when it combines with the acid in the batter -- but not so hot as to set the egg proteins.

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    What do you mean by 'activation of baking soda'?

                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                      Activation of baking soda happens w/ the acid and liquid which is why most recipes don't use hot water and still work well. The effect of 1/3 c hot water into 6+ cups of heavy room temperature batter, which this recipe calls for, is minimal. We can do the math. Assume the hot water is 212 degrees (which is much higher than "hot" water which I'd think is about 120-150). Let's assume the batter is at room temperature, 70 degrees. And, to make it easier, since i have no idea what the conductivity of batter is, using water. Adding 1/3 cup of hot water to 6 cups of room temperature water would raise it to 76 degrees so adding 1/3 cup of boiling water to 6 cups of heavy batter would be far less, plus the hot water isn't as high as boiling water. So, the temperature of the batter in reality might go up one or two degrees at most. That is not going to do anything to the baking soda, not compared to what the acid liquid will do. And, you'd get the same effect from the heat of the oven. The question is, how is that slightly warmer batter doing more than the heat of the oven?

                                                      This has been an interesting discussion, btw, so I hope it doesn't sound like I'm trying to argue a point. I'm trying to get a deeper understanding of it. I boil my bagels in baking soda, notice the bubbling reaction, and it gives the bagels a deeper color. I do see that adding baking soda to hot water has a reaction, just questioning it in the OP use.

                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                        << I do see that adding baking soda to hot water has a reaction, just questioning it in the OP use.>>

                                                        That's the reason there. The baking soda and water create gas that's dispersed through the batter before the pan goes into the oven. The baking soda and acid reaction also creates gas before the pan goes into the oven. Those two chemical reactions continue as the batter heats up in the oven.

                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                          Experiment 1: 1/4c hot tap water in 1 cup measure. Add 1/4t baking soda. It dissolves, no bubbles. Add 1/4 c vinegar, foam to overflowing, but the bubbles quickly disappear. Add a bit more vinegar, no action.

                                                          Experiment 2: same as 1, but starting with cold tap water. The reaction when vinegar is added isn't as vigorous, but the bubbles still disappear in less than a minute. Again, no further reaction when more vinegar is added.

                                                          Experiment 3: boil 1/4c water, add 1/4 t baking soda. Get lots of bubbling, which quickly subsides. Pour this into 1/4c vinegar in the 1c measure. Much less bubbling than in experiment 1.

                                                          If a recipe calls for hot water, I would use hot tap water, unless it specifies boiling hot.

                                                          Interpretation - in experiment 1, dissolving the baking soda in hot water does not create gas. Adding vinegar does create gas, but all of that escapes. The reaction has to occur in a thick batter if there is any hope of trapping and using that gas.

                                                          In experiment 3, the baking soda partially decomposes in the boiling hot water, Most of the gas disappears, though some may dissolve in the water. Some baking soda (or is it sodium carbonate?) remains to react with vinegar, but not as much as in experiment 1.

                                                          Obviously a more refine setup would trap the gas, and measure its mass.

                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                            I'd be interested in the results for room temp water, baking soda, vinegar then heat. That would more closely imitate most recipes that call for liquid.

                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                              Later I tried that. 1/4c water, 1/4t baking soda, 1/4c vinegar. Mix (get bubbles), then heat to boiling. One trick with this was heating only 1/2c of liquid. There wasn't any vigorous bubbling. It did seem to come to boil faster, and produce larger bubbles. I can't rule out further CO2 generation, but I suspect it had more to do with the presence of salts (the result of the reaction) that altered surface tension of the water.

                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                You'd probably like the chemistry class handouts on these chemical reactions and observable differences. Googling will find them.

                                                                Check your proportions against the handouts so your results are meaningful. Don't think the baking soda:water ratio or the 1:1 water:vinegar ratio is correct.

                                                                Also online, charts on the exact amounts of CO2 produced for the chemical reactions we're discussing. I came across them when researching but didn't bookmark them. To use the charts, you will have to convert the quantities found in recipes to grams, and then grams to moles, but you'll have an answer that's accurate at room temperature.

                                            3. re: bmorecupcake

                                              I suspect the reasons for this hot water addition are lost in the mists of time. Suppose, for example, that years ago baking soda tended to be lumpy (due to hot humid conditions in warehouses, stores and homes). Instead of trying to incorporate it with the flour (my mom used to use a sifter a lot, I don't), they dissolved it in a bit of water and added that at the end. I just showed that baking soda dissolves easier in hot water. Latter the recipe users started adding the baking soda to the dry ingredients, but figured they still needed the hot water. Then all copies of the recipe since the 1966 publication just copied this step, without understanding why it was originally done. Now finally someone is asking 'why?'.

                                              I just made a multigrain pumpkin bread, working from memory and experience. Once I mixed everything I felt the batter was stiffer than normal, so I stirred in a splash of buttermilk (much as I would with pancake batter). Even though the ingredients were as 'heavy' as OP's recipe (dryish pumpkin, whole wheat and other grains), there was absolutely no need for hot water, especially not a minuscule 1/3 cup added in 2 steps.

                                              1. re: paulj

                                                <<Then all copies of the recipe since the 1966 publication just copied this step, without understanding why it was originally done. Now finally someone is asking 'why?'.>>

                                                But that's not what has happened.

                                                Hot water is not added to baking soda because that's the way it's always been done in recipes: There are very good -- well documented -- chemistry reasons for it! The science of leaveners has been well-explored.

                                                We're not talking about adding liquid to a batter merely to loosen it up. Even if the quantity is a mere 1/3 cup.

                                                A hot water and baking soda solution is not added for liquid alone -- there is a chemical reason the water needs to be hot. There are several reasons the baking soda is mixed with the hot water. There's a specific reason baking soda and not baking powder is used. There's a reason the solution is added at the end of mixing process just before the item goes into the oven.

                                                This has been all thoroughly tested, quantified and explained in publications on the science of baking -- do some reading if you still believe this is done just because it was done in the past that way. If anything, the practice has increased as the technique is often used in present-day manufacturing. Manufacturers aren't using a baking soda-hot water solution because grandma did.

                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                  The OP's recipe says:
                                                  "Sift all-purpose flower with salt and soda. Stir in whole-wheat flower. Add dry ingredients alternately with hot water."

                                                  This is not the hot water and soda solution that you are talking about.

                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    Doesn't matter. Hot water is still added to baking soda. All three recipes in the OP are just riffs on hundreds and hundreds of baked good recipes that combine the baking soda with hot water -- either directly, or by adding hot water to the batter. The reason to do so is the same.

                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                      Say the ingredients were warm to room temperature while being mixed. Does it make sense to say the hot water is also an easy way for a home cook to increase the temperature of the batter, no matter how marginally, so that the CO2 released from the baking soda can start to expand as soon as possible in the oven? I.e., as the structure of the bread sets, CO2 expansion provides less lift, so whatever little step you can take to help the CO2 expand earlier during baking is worth it.

                                                      1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                        <<Does it make sense to say the hot water is also an easy way for a home cook to increase the temperature of the batter, no matter how marginally, so that the CO2 released from the baking soda can start to expand as soon as possible in the oven? >>

                                                        This is entirely correct.

                                                        The bubbles formed during mixing combine with the gas released from the baking soda. The air bubbles or pockets expand in the oven (gas expands when heat is applied), and by the time the egg proteins have set, the structure has solidified with the air bubbles intact.

                                          2. I see Chow has this same Sunset recipe, but using white flour. They don't clarify the hot water issue.

                                            http://www.chow.com/recipes/30431-eas...

                                            http://www.hersheys.com/recipes/recip...
                                            is a Hersheys chocolate cake recipe that adds a cup of boiling water at the end. This is enough to dilute the batter, and probably warm it.

                                            http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/200...
                                            uses 1 1/2 c of hot water, adds the baking soda, and then combines it with the cocoa and sugar, and beats until cool.

                                            http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/200...
                                            adds the hot water to the cocoa, and later adds this to other wet ingredients before combining with the dry. I know from experience that cocoa does combine more readily with hot water than cold, so this approach makes more sense.

                                            On the other hand, the chocolate cake mix on my box of Trader Joes cocoa does not use any hot water. Nor does this wacky cake
                                            http://southernfood.about.com/od/choc...
                                            though to be honest, the amount cocoa in wacky cake is considerably less than in the others.

                                            I suspect that the use of hot water in chocolate cakes has more to do with the nature of the cocoa powder than the baking soda.

                                            18 Replies
                                            1. re: paulj

                                              Again, the hot water serves several purposes in the recipes above:

                                              First, it activates the baking soda and baking powder -- gets them both going so the oven spring is good.

                                              Second, it "blooms" the flavor of the chocolate -- releasing flavor particles as described here by Cooks Illustrated:

                                              "In other recipes using cocoa powder, we’ve intensified its flavor by “blooming” it in hot water first. Cocoa powder contains solid particles of fat and protein with tiny flavor molecules trapped inside. The hot water causes these flavor molecules to burst forth, amplifying flavor."
                                              http://www.cooksillustrated.com/recip...

                                              Third, cocoa mixes more easily into hot water than cold water, so the cocoa mixes into the batter more easily.

                                              Fourth, the hot water "dutches" the cocoa, deepening its flavor, when it is combined with the baking soda, and then added to the cocoa. If the hot water and baking soda are not combined first and then added to the cocoa before the rest of the batter, that is not the reason for the hot water.

                                              That's four reasons for the hot water.

                                              In the Hershey's recipe, the procedure is a clue that the hot water is used to activate the baking soda's and baking powder's leavening power and to also bloom the cocoa's flavor. Even though Hershey's is natural (un-dutched), that's not the reason for the hot water.

                                              In the first Bon Appetit recipe, the procedure tells us the hot water-baking soda solution dutches the cocoa, and also blooms the cocoa's flavor as Cooks Illustrated describes. The hot water also activates the baking soda. There is no other chemical leavener so we know the baking soda is not "spent" dutching the cocoa.

                                              In the second Bon Appetit recipe, the hot water blooms the cocoa's flavor, and primes both leaveners. The hot water also dissolves the large quantity of cocoa more easily than cold water. Notice the butter milk to activate the baking soda further.

                                              The wacky cake has lots of vinegar to activate the baking soda (and yet uses cocoa). It uses **cold** water.

                                              So here's a question that's tough to answer:
                                              We know the hot water activates the baking soda (and baking powder, too). We know the hot water and baking soda dutch the cocoa, deepening its flavor. We know that some baking soda still remains for leavening the cake even after the hot water step and the dutching step. Since three chemical reactions are going on, how do we calculate how much of the baking soda is spent in each step?

                                              Well, to figure that out the first step, you'd have to perform a very complicated chemical equation and math calculation that involves quantities (and type) of baking soda in a defined quantify of water. There are tables and formulas for this that calculate the amount of gas released and so forth. The second calculation with the dutching is trickier, and I don't know how to figure that out, though people who "dutch" cocoa would know precisely. With that info, we'd have the quantity of baking soda that remained for leavening.

                                              This is "inside baseball" stuff and not very interesting to most people, but it does get us back to the original question of the thread -- the hot water has not just one purpose but several purposes.

                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                I'm leaving out the whole cocoa discussion here because it's irrelevant to the OP question but for:

                                                "We know the hot water activates the baking soda (and baking powder, too). "

                                                What does hot water do that going into the oven doesn't do? If heat activiates the soda, then oven heat would do it just as well.

                                                1. re: chowser

                                                  First, there's a chemical reaction with the water. Gas is released into the batter.

                                                  Second, the heat of the water increases the intensity of the baking soda's second chemical reaction -- with the acid in the batter. Gas is again released into the batter.

                                                  As you know, gas expands when it is heated. By the time the bread or cake batter hits the oven, the batter already has great gas dispersion so it rises quickly. This is called "oven spring" -- a rapid rise before the coagulation of proteins.

                                                  This is what you want.

                                                  Without the hot water, there would be less gas and leavening. This affects texture.
                                                  If you're making a cake, it wouldn't be as light and airy.

                                                  Since the OP recipe is banana bread -- often a heavy batter -- it needs lots of gas to push it up and rise. Without the hot water that helps create that gas, the banana bread would probably be heavier in texture. That's the reason.

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    The hot water, only 1/3 cup, is added to the batter. It's not mixed with the baking soda. As I calculated above, it would raise the batter at most 1-2 degrees. How long would it take the batter to rise 1-2 degrees? The difference in time isn't substantial.

                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                      <<The hot water, only 1/3 cup, is added to the batter. It's not mixed with the baking soda. >>

                                                      Yes, as mentioned earlier, I know the hot water is not combined directly with the baking soda in the OP recipe. The hot water still has a chemical reaction with the baking soda in the batter and creates gas bubbles -- that's the reason for it.

                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                        <<As I calculated above, it would raise the batter at most 1-2 degrees. >>

                                                        I agree that the overall temp increase of the batter from the 1/3 cup of hot water is small. But as you know, any increase in heat logarithmically speeds up a chemical reaction. That tiny increase in heat still produces a small increase in the amount of gas produced by the baking soda-acid chemical reaction *before* the batter hits the oven. That's what I was saying. I agree it's probably not much.

                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                          <<The difference in time isn't substantial.>>

                                                          The difference in timing is critical to avoid baking errors.

                                                          Baking has some tricky timing -- it's all about having the bread or cake rise quickly, then having the gases mostly escape about the same time as the proteins coagulate. The timing is especially critical with heavy batters like banana bread, batters with "structure" that fight leavening.

                                                          It takes a much longer time for leavening to occur in the oven without the jump start we're talking about from the hot water. When no gases are in the batter when baking begins, the baker risks that the leaveners will not produce enough gas to lift the heavy batter before the proteins coagulate.

                                                          The other risk is doming: The gases don't have time to escape before the proteins coagulate so they form a domed top. A slightly rounded top is fine. An inadequate rise and too much doming are two signs of inadequate leavening. The hot water helps to avoid this.

                                                        2. re: maria lorraine

                                                          Isn't 'oven spring' used more for yeast breads than quick breads or cakes?

                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                            Harold McGee says "batters and doughs."

                                                    2. re: paulj

                                                      FWIW, I've made the Hershey recipe w/ room temp coffee (instead of water and adding instant espresso which I usually do w/ chocolate recipes), and room temp water and had the same results as using boiling water.

                                                      Compare that to the Hershey Black Magic Cake which uses either room temperature coffee or hot water and coffee (which also makes sense because you want to dissolve the coffee into the water).

                                                      http://www.hersheys.com/recipes/recip...

                                                      I'm wondering if the first recipe come from a version of the black magic cake, took out the instant coffee and never took out the "boiling" part of the water.

                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                        http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/m...
                                                        http://www.inra.fr/la_science_et_vous...

                                                        Reminds me of Hervé This and his "cooking precisions" - sayings, traditions and beliefs about cooking that might, or might, not be true.

                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                          That's interesting. I wish the article were longer but I guess that would be the entire field of MG. I think there are many myths we follow blindly (although I never heard the one about the menstruating chef and mayo). Had I known the connection to cooking, I would have gone further than organic chem and taken p chem in college.

                                                        2. re: chowser

                                                          The coffee in the Black Magic Cake is a good idea. I wonder if there is a slight difference in texture and final height that results from using cold vs. hot coffee (from the activation of the leavenings before going into the oven).

                                                          Comparing the two Hershey's chocolate cake recipes, they look pretty similar. There's a slight difference in the amounts of leavening and acids. And tiny differences do produce different results in baking. Because of that, same question: I wonder if there is a slight difference in texture and final height of the two cakes when the two recipes are both made with hot water. Dunno. I'd do a test and take a look, but then I'd have way too much chocolate cake around talking to me.

                                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                                            The two recipes are different and produce a different result, in texture and flavor. I've also used room temperature coffee in the regular Hershey cake recipe, instead of the water. The resulting texture doesn't change, or if it does, it's imperceptible, but the flavor is much richer, as would be expected.

                                                            I do believe that, with all these little differences in heat, that adding a different temperature liquid, or any product, will make a difference. I'm not convinced, in every case, that it makes a noticeable difference; to me, that makes all the difference in whether to do an added step or not. I also agree that following a recipe precisely is important, when it comes to baking and do it the first time. But, with experience, that's where the play and the fun for me comes out.

                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                              " I also agree that following a recipe precisely is important, when it comes to baking and do it the first time."

                                                              That assumes that the recipe has been well tested. How do I know that?

                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                Start with a reliable source, until you develop the instincts to do a "sniff test" and have a feel for it.

                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                  Yes, consider the source's professional baking experience.

                                                                  The best baking recipes are from baking experts. They've tested the recipe 50 times and have tweaked the chemistry that affects results.

                                                                  Cooking recipes don't need to be as precise.

                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                    Yes, either a professional or someone w/ a strong support from professionals. I don't love Martha Stewart but have to say her recipes have always been stellar. She might be obsessive compulsive but that leads to a great product, especially as baking goes.

                                                      2. On the issue of using room temperature or warmer ingredients to give the chemical leavening 'a jump start', I find it interesting that this recipe for biscuits calls for cold ingredients

                                                        http://www.publicradio.org/columns/sp...
                                                        Serious Biscuits from Tom Douglas
                                                        "When getting started on the recipe, dice the cold butter first and keep it chilled in the refrigerator while you assemble the rest of the ingredients. Also, be sure your buttermilk is very cold. "

                                                        It's the behavior of the fat, the butter, that is paramount. A variation on the cold diced butter is to grate frozen butter directly into the flour mix.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                          That recipe isn't germane to this conversation.

                                                          The cold helps with lamination. The buttermilk milk acid can be cold and still activate the baking soda. The recipe has baking powder for more leavening.

                                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                                            Yes, in something like biscuits, pastries, pates (sorry I can't be bothered to find the accents right now) etc. the cold butter won't absorb the flour as much and will leave the pockets of air for the flakiness.

                                                        2. www.middleschoolchemistry.com/pdf/cha...

                                                          I have a later edition of the Sunset bread book & the whole wheat banana bread recipe with water is the same as the 60s version. I've never tried the recipe but after reading this very interesting thread I'll be giving it a go just to satisfy my own curiosity!

                                                          I'm only guessing but from reading the link above, I think the hot water helps the soda perform better than cold water would.

                                                          The recipe in my book has the following notation;

                                                          (Whole wheat flour lends full bodied flavor to this moist banana bread, which has a light, cake like texture.

                                                          )

                                                          I can't really see how there could be a 'light cakelike texture' with the addition of whole wheat flour, so can only assume the hot water reacts differently to whole wheat flour & baking soda, than it does to AP flour & baking soda.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Joyfull

                                                            but Chow recipes has an adaptation of this recipe that uses AP - and retains that small hot water addition. I assume they tested it, as printed, though they might not have compared that to a version without the hot water addition.

                                                            Maybe next time I make my favorite whole wheat/multigrain pumpkin bread I'll try this hot water addition. But I have my doubts about it making a noticeable difference.

                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                              <<but Chow recipes has an adaptation of this recipe that uses AP - and retains that small hot water addition. I assume they tested it, as printed, though they might not have compared that to a version without the hot water addition. >>

                                                              Chow -- bless 'em -- tried but did not adapt the recipe correctly in regards to the leaveners and the ingredients that activate the leaveners. They just subbed in the AP flour and left everything else the same -- so the recipe is not honed for good results.

                                                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8750...

                                                          2. The King Arthur whole wheat banana bread recipe was mentioned earlier. I just noticed that it has a blog discussion
                                                            http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2...
                                                            The most sought-after bread recipe online is [fill in the blank].

                                                            It uses 3/4t baking soda mixed with the flour (all whole wheat). No added water (hot or other wise), and this curious note:
                                                            "Let the bread rest at room temperature for 10 minutes; this gives the baking soda a good chance to get going."

                                                            It's the first quick bread recipe that I've seen that mentions a temperature when done - 190F (for yeast bread I've seen 210).

                                                            The surface has some cracking, and the crumb is more uneven than a cake.

                                                            Another King Arthur banana bread
                                                            http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2...

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                              It's interesting that it says to let it rest because most say you need to bake immediately before the leaveners react completely.

                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                That's a great recipe with great technique. Love the photos and how clear the instructions are.
                                                                Perfect slightly arched top, the right size crumb, and the crack on top is just as it should be.

                                                                Speaking of how you know a good recipe -- sites like this. Professional baking sites.

                                                                Yes, internal temps are often used to accurately measure doneness. Alton Brown uses a Therma-Pen (my favorite, too) temperature probe every time he bakes a bread or quick bread.

                                                              2. http://www.lallemand.com/BakerYeastNA...
                                                                A Guide to Chemical Leaveners, from Lallemand, a maker of these and other baking ingredients.

                                                                1. For those of us who don't have pH testing equipment, here's a table of the pH of various foods

                                                                  http://www.eidusa.com/Theory_pH_FOOD.htm

                                                                  bananas are in the 4.50 - 5.20 range
                                                                  buttermilk 4.41 - 4.83