Plse Help Me Understand Leavening Choices in Baking

I have never found a cheese cornbread that I like as much as the one I created long ago. It is very heavy and moist and the large amounts of x sharp cheddar and chopped green chiles help to balance its sweetness. I no longer remember its creation and I have, over the years, wondered how it would change if I made some changes in the leavening. Its key ingreds are: 6 c. combined equal parts cornmeal and flour, 1 c. sugar, 1/4 c. bak.powder, salt, 4 lg. eggs, 12 T. melted unsalted butter. 2 c. buttermilk, 1 c. heavy cream, 3 c. grated cheese, 1 can chopped whole green chiles.
This Epicurious piece is helpful but I am actually still confused:
The Epicurious Blog

Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda, an acid, and cornstarch. In other words, that essential neutralizing acid is built in, so there's no need to include an additional acidic ingredient in the recipe. If you're experimenting and decide to add an acidic ingredient to a baking powder recipe, you'll need to add baking soda to neutralize the acid. Baking soda is about 4 times as powerful as baking powder so using 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for every teaspoon baking powder is a good estimate.

As you've probably noticed, some recipes contain both baking soda and baking powder. In this case the baking powder is doing most the actual leavening, while the baking soda is there to neutralize the acid in the recipe as well as contribute to the rise.>

I searched through MANY cornbread recipes and they almost all called for buttermilk(acid), bak. powder and bak soda.(usually, not always, a 4 to 1 ratio of the last 2). When i compared leavening ratios between all those recipes and mine, they called for more eggs and sometimes more buttermilk/liquid. I am confused because I am trying to understand too many things at once perhaps. i.e. What will likely happen if I:
-- change from 4 T. bak. powder to 3T. bak powder+ 1/2 T. bak soda
or
-- add eggs
or
-- add buttermilk
(is butter considered a liquid in this discussion because it can be substituted for oil?)
It's holiday time and there are many more pressing questions out there, but I am in the midst of a cornbread jag, so whenever you can respond, it is much appreciated!


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Shuna L. December 25, 2015
This cornbread you speak of sounds so good, my mouth is watering. We used to make something like this, as a muffin, as Mesa Grill many many moons ago, and it was always my snack of choice!

I personally have an aversion to eating baked goods whose primary leavening agent is baking powder. I find it to be harshly sharp and bitter. A lot of American South recipes rely on baking powder, but I always change it to 50:50 baking soda, if not more heavily relying on baking soda.

Although I bake professionally, and I know why some recipes call for more or less of one or the other of these chemical leaveners, I use my instinct as the force, and explain it thus:

Baking Powder is the Superhero of chemical leaveners. It exhales a powerful wind, and makes baked goods rise, grow, expand, and gain color. It is the power behind an impressively tall biscuit and an aerated coffee cake. It can lift heavy fats and liquids in cakes so impressively, that it's no wonder Americans (who tend to like their baked goods big and fluffy) rely heavily on it.

Baking Soda is the kid sister to BP. She appears to be the shy wall flower, until you're stuck between a dense oatmeal cookie and an obstinate lemon juice & buttermilk cake, and with slow, patient precision, she will magically save your nervous baking touchas, painting your face with a brow softening glow. Baking soda is the magic in baked goods high in acid.

Baking powder stales baked goods faster. Baking powder swoops in and gets the cat out of the tree, but has no answers for you four hours later. Baking soda may not leap tall cake in a single bound, but our beloved chocolate chip cookies would be lost without it (brown sugars are higher in acid than their white sugar counterpart.)

Your recipe calls for both learners because in plain cornbread, one need only baking soda. But once you start adding fillings, especially super fatty/heavy ones, baking soda is not strong enough to lift up all that weight.

Also, depending on the grind of cornmeal you use, it needs more or less hydration to make it palatable, and then heavier, etc.

This is how I make cornbread a lot of the time -
medium cornmeal+scant sugar+eggs+buttermilk+melted butter until wet & sludgy. sift in baking soda and add salt to taste. I tend to bake in a cast iron skillet, so I don't need or want it to rise much. If I add a bunch of other things, I would increase my leavening, but I also would not expect it to rise much. My basic rule of thumb - always add more buttermilk than looks reasonable. Cornmeal is INCREDIBLY THIRSTY. And dry cornbread is not a lot of fun, unless it's meant to soak up pot likker.

I hope this helps? Merry Xmassukah!
 
Nancy December 25, 2015
What a wonderful comment! Both scientific and poetic/dramatic.
 
Susan W. December 25, 2015
This is such a great explanation. I love it.
 
Nancy December 25, 2015
This article from Britannica may help clarify some basic terms (egg, yeast, b soda and b powder).
http://www.britannica.com/topic/leavening-agent
Note b powder has both b soda and acid, while b soda is used in a batter with acid is provided by another ingredient in the batter.
Last, butter is primarily a fat (about 87%, with the rest being water or liquid).
 
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