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Too much baking powder can make a cake taste bitter

Elyza asks: I’ve baked a cake today using this recipe:  Coffee and Walnut Layer Cake, and it tastes very bitter. The frosting is gorgeous, the cake itself looks beautiful, but it’s just not enjoyable to eat. I’m really quite sad! Can you offer any advice as to why this is the case?

I’ve checked on Google, and some answers have indicated that it might be the baking powder; however, any info you can give would be appreciated.

Baking S.O.S. says: I think your search results are correct: Too much baking powder will make a cake taste bitter.

Where it gets tricky is trying to determine just how much baking powder (and baking soda) should be in this recipe to make it rise sufficiently but without using so much that it makes the cake taste bitter.

In American measurements, the general rule is this:

Use 1 tsp. baking powder OR 1/4 tsp. baking soda for every 1 cup of flour.

I did a quick Google search myself to find a measurement conversion chart here. It looks as though the 200g of flour in this recipe would convert to a little less than 2 cups of flour.

So using the rule of thumb above, you would only need about 2 tsp. of baking powder (or less) to make this cake rise.  Since the recipe calls for 2 1/2 tsp. of baking powder PLUS 1/2 tsp. bicarbonate of soda (baking soda for Americans), I think you are correct in assuming that the culprit is too much leavener.

The purpose of baking soda (which is a base or alkaline ingredient) in a recipe is to create a chemical reaction with an acid ingredient.  That chemical reaction creates the leavening, making the cake rise.

In looking at the recipe you provided, the only acidic ingredient I can see would be the espresso powder, perhaps.

I would suggest that you try one of two options:

1) Eliminate the bicarbonate of soda all together and reduce the baking powder to 2 tsp. OR

2) Keep the 1/2 tsp. bicarbonate of soda and perhaps use just a small amount of baking powder to be certain the cake rises but without making it too bitter.  [If the baking soda does not have enough acid to react with, it will not be able to make the cake rise on its own–it will need assistance from baking powder, which contains both acid and base ingredients in it.] Try maybe just 1/4 or 1/2 tsp. baking powder with the bicarbonate of soda.

Unfortunately, baking is such an exact science that it could take many attempts to find just the right proportion of ingredients to achieve the results you are looking for.  Best of luck to you!

5 comments to Too much baking powder can make a cake taste bitter

  • Bethany

    Hi I need the chemical reaction for baking soda, baking powder and yeast when it makes cakes rise. Can you please let me know it is urgent.

    Thank You

  • This is an interesting question, but a scientist, I am not! So I had to do a little research of my own to try to come up with an answer for you. And actually, the answer varies depending on which ingredient you are talking about–the chemical reaction is not the same for baking soda and baking powder. And yeast is completely different because it is a living organism.

    I found a lot of interesting explanations here in this photo tutorial on Inquiry in Action from the ACS (American Chemical Society). I hope that can help answer your question for you!

  • Nidhi

    I had been baking cakes on gas stove using two pans over each other & the quantity of bicarbonate of soda i used is exactly the same that i am using for cakes that I now bake in convection oven. However, my cakes never tasted bitter on gas stove method… But tasting bitter in oven. What could be the reason?

  • Pat

    I find that if I use double acting baking powder I do not get the bitter taste in my muffins. Using regular baking powder does cause bitterness. Apparently regular acting baking powder reacts as soon as you put it in the ingredients whereas double acting baking powder reacts then also but continues to work when in the oven.

  • Thank you for sharing that helpful tip!

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