Saturday, May 8, 2010

8 May 1956 “ The Secrets of Baking Powder and Soda Revealed and Homemade Cake and Brownie Mixes.”

 woman in kitchen bw My increasing obsession with food and it’s origins keeps leading me down various paths of wanting to both find myself closer to food origins and to find ways to make it easier for any of you.
Case in point, there may be some ladies out there that don’t mind making a cake from a mix. It’s easy. You grab it at the store, add some water oil and eggs and bake. However, if you read the ingredients, you can see it is just the dry ingredients of a cake mix, but with lovely added preservatives. Also, more packaging to throw out!
Making a cake from scratch is not hard. Especially when you think of it as a cake mix: You put the dry ingredients together and then the wet and then you add the dry to the wet. When you make a box mix, you just dump it all in and it works. So, I figured, there has to be a way to just make some mix yourself and store it. Then you can also store it in darling containers in your pantry or cupboards. Another excuse to do more “nesting” is always good. I have actually saved a bunch of old coffee cans and then I either paint them or cover them with paper. I even make cute ‘vintage’ labels by using images of old wallpaper etc. But I digress, back to the cake mix.
womanwithtesttube So, in trying to come up with a good easy dry mix that one could store and use when they liked, I began to research more about baking soda and baking powder. Again, the more I look at something the more I want to keep unfolding the layers, like an onion or rose, petal by petal. Here are these two ingredients, Baking Powder and Baking Soda, that I use all the time. What is it? How does it work? I need to know in order to make the cake mix effective.
So, here is probably more info on both soda and powder than you ever wanted to know:
Baking powder consists of baking soda, one or more acid salts (cream of tartar and sodium aluminum sulfate) plus cornstarch to absorb any moisture so a reaction does not take place until a liquid is added to the batter. Most baking powder used today is double-acting which means it reacts to liquid and heat and happens in two stages. The first reaction takes place when you add the baking powder to the batter and it is moistened. One of the acid salts reacts with the baking soda and produces carbon dioxide gas. The second reaction takes place when the batter is placed in the oven. The gas cells expand causing the batter to rise. Because of the two stages, baking of the batter can be delayed for about 15-20 minutes without it losing its leavening power.
Too much baking powder can cause the batter to be bitter tasting. It can also cause the batter to rise rapidly and then collapse. (i.e. The air bubbles in the batter grow too large and break causing the batter to fall.) Cakes will have a coarse, fragile crumb with a fallen center. Too little baking powder results in a tough cake that has poor volume and a compact crumb.
Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda (alkali) is about four times as strong as baking powder.  It is used in recipes that contain an acidic ingredient (e.g. vinegar, citrus juice, sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, chocolate, cocoa (not Dutch-processed), honey, molasses (also brown sugar), fruits and maple syrup). Baking soda starts to react and release carbon dioxide gas as soon as it is added to the batter and moistened. Make sure to bake the batter immediately.
Baking soda has an indefinite shelf life if stored in a sealed container in a cool dry place. Too much baking soda will result in a soapy taste with a coarse, open crumb. Baking soda causes reddening of cocoa powder when baked, hence the name Devil's Food Cake.
  • The general rule of thumb for amount of baking powder in recipes: 1 to 2 teaspoons (5-10 grams) of baking powder leavens 1 cup (140 grams) of flour.  The amount will depend on the ingredients and how they are mixed.
  • Substitution for 1 teaspoon commercial baking powder: 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 grams) baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar plus 1/4 teaspoon of cornstarch or 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 grams) baking soda plus 1/2 cup (120 ml) of an acidic ingredient (buttermilk, sour milk or yogurt). Since homemade baking powder immediately releases its carbon dioxide gas when it is added and then moistened by the batter, it is important to bake the batter right away
  • To test baking powder's effectiveness: mix 1 teaspoon (5 grams)  baking powder with 1/2 cup (120 ml) hot water and the mixture should bubble immediately. Store in a cool dry place and it should be replaced every 6-12 months.
  • To test baking soda's effectiveness: mix 1/4 teaspoon baking soda with 2 teaspoons of vinegar and the mixture should bubble immediately.
So, here is a make ahead cake mix. You could mix it up during a few free moments and have it on hand. Then, even when you want to try some of the recipes they have out there for, say, Box cake mix cookies, you could make it with your homemade mix.

6 cups flour
4-1/2 cups sugar
3-3/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup powdered milk
1-1/2 cup cocoa
3 tsp salt
Use four cups mix for one cake. To this mix add ½ cup melted butter (or salad oil as most mixes have you use), 1 cup water, 2 beaten eggs, and 1 tsp vanilla.
I also like it like this without the powdered milk (not a huge fan) and then you add the fresh milk at the time. You can also do 1/2 milk 1/2 cream for a richer cake.
6 cups flour
4-1/2 cups sugar
3-3/4 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 cup cocoa
3 tsp salt
Use four cups mix for one cake. To this mix add ½ cup melted butter, 1 cup milk, 2 beaten eggs, and 1 tsp vanilla.
Here is an easy to make and store (good for 6 months) Brownie mix. Really just a slight variation of cake mix

  • 6 c. all purpose flour

  • 4 tsp. baking powder

  • 8 c. sugar

  • 8 oz. unsweetened cocoa powder

  • To make the brownies:
    1. 1/4 c. melted butter, 2 eggs, beaten well, 1 tsp. vanilla 1/2 . chopped nuts (optional)
    2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Beat ingredients until smooth. If you are using nuts, you can stir them in now.
    3. Pour your brownie batter into your greased pan and pop it in the oven for about 30-35 minutes.
    I was going to show some chicken pictures and also talk about meat in conjunction with my continuing study of modern man and his distance from food, but I will do that next. I think if I start posting smaller posts, I will get back to posting more often. So, next time: Chicks and the Chicken Industry and some more on gardening. I need to post and discuss my April Dress Challenge as well. So much to-doing.
    Happy Homemaking.


    1. Oh, I forgot to add that cream of tartar is made from post wine production. Lining the inside of wine caskets after fermentation is a white sediment (tartaric acid). This sediment is removed, purified and then ground to produce a fine white powder, ta-dah! Cream of tartar.
      Also, next post maybe I will provide some of my 'vintage inspired' labels if you want to download to use as jar labels yourself.

    2. Wow Donna, that is fascinating about cream of tartar--I really had no idea.

      I always make my cakes from scratch now, but a few years ago, before I was confident in my cooking and baking skills, I always turned to the box. It is easy, fast, convenient, and there is hardly any mess after.....but when you do take into consideration the preservatives alone, it really isn't worth it.

    3. Exactly, so making your own box mix to use later may be a good transitionary step for the homemakers to be, don't you think? Then it allows them the confidence to build on and to also see how something we get at the store is just core ingredients WITHOUT preservatives or a bunch of stupid packaging and ads!

    4. I completely agree. I may do this in the future though I am not much of a cake person myself (or even sweets for that matter). When I do make desserts I prefer to do pies and crumbles and things of that nature.

    5. Hello
      I made a cake recipe yesterday that you posted quite a while ago - I think it is called Miracle Cake and only uses 1 egg and 1/3 C shortening. We ate it with fresh strawberries and cream.
      Anyway, it a very nice and economical cake and one I will make again.
      Cake is hubby's favorite dessert.

      and commercial cake mixes - eww! way too artificial tasting for me.

    6. Thanks for posting these mixes, Donna! I've been looking for some to avoid all those chemicals. Where did you find them? I've been searching for a while.

    7. My 9,7,and 5 year old daughters are used to helping me and watching me make homemade cakes. With short notice, my husband was in charge of making a dessert for the family and picked up a boxed cake mix. I was gone while he made the cake and my daughters watched him. When I got home, they came running to me and worriedly confided that "Daddy made a cake and he didn't put any flour in it!"
      That is interesting about the cream of tartar. I didn't know it came from tartaric acid. If you don't let your homemade grape juice sit over night and strain it in the morning, you will have tartaric acid crystals in your juice or jelly.
      Amy F.

    8. Anon-I wonder if that means you could make your own cream of tartar? I have my new grapes in this year (well, the root stock is suppose to be at least 3 years old so I can get some fruit this year, we shall see. But, I plan on making wine, I wonder if I could get any cream of tartar from it. Of course, I had planned on bottling it and letting it age that way, but I never though of actually casking it for the aging process. I wonder how hard that would be and if I will get enough to even fill one cask?
      Sarah-the cake mix is sort of a mix of some in my old cookbooks (can't recall right now which ones) and some I have found online and trial and error. The Brownie mix I found on line and when I comparred the ingredients it seemed in-line with the others. Again, as you begin to realize how food is made up of these base ingredients you begin to see 'recipes' differently. As someone mentioned the 5 sauces. I recall, once I realized a white sauce, a cheese sauce, Hollandaise, and gravy were all basically the same but with just variations of ingredients or a few add ins (like lemon zest and egg yolk in Hollandaise) it sort of all clicked with me. Now, if I want a sauce for something, I simply start with a rue and build from there. I have been thinking of ways I could invent a homemade version of these sauces so for any new homemakers out there that want to learn to cook and don't want the preservatives, they could make them and have them on hand. So, flour and some seasonings in a container for a 'sauce base' maybe some powdered egg (I'd prefer fresh, but again making it an easy way for someone to wean themselves from packaged food by having them first make their own packaged food healthily and then wean themselves off not just making it from scratch)

    9. What a wonderful, informative post. Thank you so much. Especially for the information that you thought would be too much. I knew some but not all. I don't bake very much at all, but when I do, I am definitely a "scratch" baker.

    10. This was REALLY GREAT info for a full-time working homemaker! :) I will definately make some homemade cakemix and store for future use, such a great idea! Thank you SO much!

      And I cannot wait for chicken pics and hear about your new dress.

      Have a lovely Sunday, mine will end in a few hours. :)

    11. sanne-do they have mothers day in Denmark? Today is mother's day. We are celebrating with my MIL tomorrow, but today is a little sad for me, because my mother has Alzheimers, as I have mentioned before. But, curious if it is just an American made up holiday.

    12. As a former housewife of the 1950s, I remember how liberating it was for my girlfriends and I to be able to buy and make a cake from a mix rather than from scratch. I guess for people who grew up with box-mixes, homemade cooking is a newly discovered luxury. However, for those of us who grew-up making everything homemade for every meal for a large family, have instant "easy" options was such a life changing thing. It is easy for people from a modern day :go green" mentality to bash 1950s consumerism and products, but unless you really lived through it it is difficult to comprehend what time saving goods and products did for women.

    13. Oh, no I don't discount what time saving did do, but unfortunately we are beginning to learn that not all things that become easy don't come without a price tag. And, now you can see how easy it is to make your own mix, Some flour and dry ingredients would not take much time and then for the rest of the month you can still have the 'ease' of the 50s with the savings and nutrition of the day. I think our 'ease' of modern technology will be looked at the same way in another 50 years. YES it has made our life easier, but what WILL the cost be? Holding foreign nations in struggle to mine a product to make cell phones, the loss of community through the ease of just 'staying in'. Every thing has a reaction. I think if we can learn anything from the past, it is to look backward AND foreward and not just to the 'ease' of today. I think that is being truly modern in my book, but what do I know, I wear 50 year old clothes, cook from and use 50 year old appliances and don't watch modern tv or movies. But, I don't think I would ever 'blame' nor 'poo poo' the past. In fact, as many know, I am very enamoured of the 1950's generation and often look up to the 1950's housewife. She was really the new modern woman. I think many modern people discount her contribution to women's history and I think that a shame. So, I hope I have not made the impression that I think we modern 'green' people are so much better, but rather would like to give our modern homemaker the option for the cake mix, say, but with the power and knowledge to make it herself with her own ingredients so she knows what is in it.

    14. Also, our modern consumerism makes the 1950's consumer look Amish, we are probably the worse to date as far as consume consume!

    15. I stopped using cake mixes a long time ago. I found a recipe for the absolute best chocolate cake in the whole world and that was the end of cake mixes for me. I've finally perfected this same woman's yellow cake recipe. It took several tries and experimenting with the amount of baking powder, but I finally got it! Has a whole stick of butter in it, and milk. Yummy! I should try it with buttermilk sometime...

      However, I do still make brownies from a box. Haven't found a recipe that's as good as my favorite Betty Crocker box that has pieces of real Hershey's chocolate in it. I like my brownies really dense and fudgey and all the recipes I've seen are too much like cake.

      I'm going to have my mom's kitchen mostly to myself for a week and I think I'm going to make some snickerdoodles. I made them for the first time last fall and they were so much better than ones from the store!

    16. 50s gal,
      That would be interesting to try to make your own cream of tartar. I wonder what they do to it? Just grind it up? If your grape juice has to sit over night before the wine process begins you could strain it and take the tartaric acid out immediately. I think that the lighter colored grapes do not have as much tartaric acid in them as the deep purple concord grapes.
      Rachel-I have a yummy fudgey brownie recipe that we like very much. My then 6 year old made it and won 1st place at the fair with it. Let me know if you are interested and I will post it.
      Amy F.

    17. Amy F-I say, post away, if you dont' mind sharing it, we always love new recipes! I would also think a homemade fudgey brownie (which I make and think is 110 times better than a box) can also simply be added to, chunks of nicer quality chocolate, maybe good swiss chocolate like Lindt or something rather than the box mix using their chips which are probably loaded with corn syrup and bad oils.

    18. Just FYI for those seeking mix recipes, there are tons of sites that feature them, everything from making your own "Lipton Rice" mixes to instant oatmeal packets. One such site is:

      Last night I tried making my own instant oatmeal packets for the week and am pleased with the result after having eaten the first one this morning; definitely not as sweet as I'm used to with the Quaker packets, but I'll adapt. The Quaker ones are loaded with too much sugar so it just goes to show how our tastebuds have been brainwashed, when one tablespoon of brown sugar doesn't taste sweet *enough* in one serving of oatmeal!

    19. Below is my fudge brownie recipe. 50s gal, let me know how it compares to yours. I would be interested to know.

      1/2 cup butter
      2 oz. unsweetened chocolate(or 6 tlb. coco powder plus 2 tlb. butter)

      Melt the above together in a sauce pan and then stir in the below:

      1 cup sugar
      2 lightly beaten eggs
      1 tsp vanilla
      3/4 cup flour
      1/4 tsp. salt
      and whatever other lovelies you might want to add: choc. chips, nuts, peanut butter, a layer of mint patties?
      Pour in a greased 8x8 pan. Bake at 350 for 30 min.

      I can not exactly vouch for the baking time as I carefully watch my brownies towards the end of their baking and take them out of the oven just as the middle of the brownies is beginning to set up. If they bake too long they loose their fudgeyness(is that a word?) I then take my hot pan straight from the oven(obviously, this will not work for a glass pan) and place it in a larger pan of icewater(make sure not to get water on to the brownies!)This shocks the brownies and makes them fall...thus making them denser and chewier. I read somewhere once that you should place a pan of plain water a rack below your brownies as they cook.

      Let me know if anyone has any improvements on this method or recipe. The last time I had a box brownie mix, I couldn't believe how blah and unchocolatey it tasted to me.
      Amy F.

    20. Yes, we do have Mother's Day in Denmark - in fact I think it is worldwide. But we don't celebrate it here in our house, ahem, but we don't celebrate Father's Day either, since it is Father's Day each day, haha! :)

      I hope you have a lovely day with your MIL.

    21. I will give them a try, Amy! I have no problems breaking up chocolate to put into the batter. I'll probably stick with the Hershey's though. While I love "higher grade" chocolate for straight eating because it's so creamy and melts so smooth on the tongue, for baking I do prefer Hershey's. The hardness of the Hershey's holds up better in the oven because I don't like it totally melted into the batter.

    22. Thanks for doing the research on these, I love grabbing a mix for the convenience and now I can mix up my own when I have time without all the preservatives.


    23. Donna, for the brownies how much of the mix do you need for each batch? How many batches does the mix make? Thanks. :)

    24. This is great. I am a scratch cake baker, but don't do it often just because of the mess I make. With this I can make a mess once and have my cake and eat it too. Thanks.

    25. I do have to say that my own grandmothers enjoyed more freedom due to the cake mixes and things, time spent away from the kitchen enabled them to focus more on other things that needed to be done, even laundry was more tedious in the fifties, as some had ringerwashers and no dryers :)

      I grew up with only have cakes on b-days, as my mom's father had diabetes when she was young so her mother gave up on pies and cakes.

      I do however make peanut butter cookies with my boys, from the simple recipe on the back of Kraft peanut butter, it only includes p butter, eggs and sugar that's it and their yummy.

      Not entirely from scratch but not from a mix either.

      I know my dad's mom a farmer's wife who had to work in the fields and the barns, as well as keep house and cook dinner (lunch-meat and potatoes) as well as the traditional supper probably thank the Lord for such convenience foods, she was always moving from a young age and cooking up a storm.

      I can see both points of views, cooking from scratch is great (I'm not entirely to that level yet), but convenience foods in a jiffy is definitely a better option than take out as well :)

      Mom in Canada

    26. I was just reading a thread at the forums that is related too all of this. The poster, who owns a candy store, was talking to her Sysco rep trying to order basic baking ingredients (flour, sugar, etc) and the Sysco rep said he would have to special order them, as he hadn't had an order for individual basic ingredients in 6 years. The long and short of the post was, most bakeries and restaurants, even local ones, use pre-made mixes for everything now. The poster was shocked that even bakeries were doing this, and how sad it was that places where you think you're getting something made from scratch are deceiving the public. The discussion morphed into how in some grocery stores it's getting hard to find basic ingredients, and wondering if it's just going to get worse in the future and we'll be left with no choice but to purchase this kind of stuff. Scary thought!

      A side tangent of the discussion went into baking powder and how most contain aluminum, and that it's better to buy organic, or do without and just use soda and cream of tartar....did you run into anything like that when you were doing your research? You're right in that it's scary learning about what's really in our food!

    27. That tidbit about the bakeries using mixes does not surprise me one bit. There's one bakery here that everyone in town loves and I hate. They don't just use mixes for their doughnuts, they buy them frozen! That's just wrong IMO. Everybody talks about how awesome and wonderful their cakes are and I think they're dry and taste like cardboard. Their icing is nasty too.

      And this is a locally owned place that's been in business for nearly 40 years. Not some chain.

      The best donuts in town, IMO, are the ones at Super 1 Foods. It's a Louisiana only grocery store chain. I have no idea if they come from a mix, but they are so good! Their buttercream icing tastes like it's homemade and the chocolate filled donuts are stuffed to the gills with chocolate buttercream.

      Gah! Now I want one...

    28. I've recently been inspired by this blog. I want to thank you for taking the time in making a place that can be used as an 'escape route' from the modern world and all of its criteria. I've recently started my own blog entitled, "Retrospect: A place for Reprieve" found at This site includes information about retro influenced lifestyles as well as neat and bizarre information that have both inspired and intrigued me.

    29. I have come back to this site again and again. It helps me to get grounded and get back to work. I do appreciate all your hard work and I hope you will continue to blog!


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