I knew there was a difference between baking powder and soda, but this pumpkin gingerbread really hammered it home. Before trying two different versions, I just trusted recipes. Baking soda? Yes sir. Now powder? All right, you’re the experts. But good food is chemistry, and that means open to all kinds of experiments. Once you understand the basics, the possibilities explode.
I made one version of pumpkin gingerbread for my cousin’s visit last weekend. Unfortunately, we gobbled it up before I could get the Nikon to it, so it’s not featured here. I used a recipe in Prevention magazine, which I’d picked up at a talk given by the magazine’s fitness editor just days before. I was surprised by the breadth of the little magazine. In flipping through its pages for the first time, I found two recipes that looked worthy of a shot.
A fall dessert with only 1/4 cup of oil that uses pumpkin for sweetness and moisture? Sign me up. Not to mention the health benefits of the humble orange squash: beta carotene, potassium, vitamins A, C, B6, B3 and fiber.
The first round of this cake was dense and moist, with the warming flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg. It was popular, but I wondered if it would be better with a little more lift. Really I just wanted so badly to incorporate kefir, my new best friend. I went searching for a recipe that included an acid ingredient, and began to experiment.
Because I had this huge can of pumpkin puree to use up, I went at it a second time. I was amazed, it yielded an entirely different species of dessert. I used a muffin recipe that otherwise looked almost exactly the same, and adapted it to the baking pan. What I got was something resembling a gingercake more than a traditional gingerbread.
I’m no chemist, but according to Mark Bittman, when you’re working with acidic ingredients (yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, lemon juice) you use baking soda as your leavener. The acid reacts with the baking soda and causes the cake to rise. Baking powder is used when there is no acid–just liquid, eggs, and heat causing the leavening. By playing around with ingredients, you can create your own custom texture.
Because, you know, all of us just have tons of time to sit around doing this.
I leave you with the two experiments while I scheme about ways to finish off that still leftover pumpkin puree. My ideal for this particular gingerbread would lay somewhere in between. Until then, both, I assure you, are delightful with coffee on a day full of woodsmoke and crunching leaves.