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Kitchen Queries

Welcome to Kitchen Queries, where the nigella.com team will answer your cooking or food related questions.  We’d love you to submit some of your recipe problems, dilemmas or queries for us to get our teeth into!

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  • Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

    I tried this recipe for the first time today but missed out the bicarbonate of soda in error. I thought as it was only half a teaspoon it wouldn't have too much of an effect but the cake didn't rise and it was dense rather than fluffy so it went in the bin! Apart from missing the bicarb I did everything as per the recipe (all ingredients together in the food processor) so does the bicarb make the difference and if so why? 

    I wanted to make my brother's 21st birthday cake! I found the Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake on Nigella's website. I thought yes, this is exactly what I am looking for! I am just curious why the cake I made is as flat as a pancake? I made it in a moderately small cake tin, followed all the instructions and used all the right measurements. Is it because we have different ingredients here in New Zealand vs. the UK? Or is it because I used baking soda that expired in 2011? I would like to make this recipe again because it is just so simple. Thank you. S.T

    From the nigella team:

    In many baking recipes bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) is used as it reacts very quickly and very vigorously, when combined with acidic ingredients, to make bubbles of carbon dioxide gas. Nigella's Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake (from Feast) uses bicarbonate of soda with mildly acidic sour cream in the cake batter and this will give the cake an initial lift. Baking powder is also added as this tends to have a slower reaction and will give some extra lift as the cake bakes in the oven.

    The problem with omitting bicarbonate of soda, or using out of date products which will be less active, is that the cake will not get its initial lift from the gas bubbles produced by the bicarbonate of soda and the slower reaction of the baking powder isn't enough to offset. As the cake bakes and sets it lacks the necessary gas bubbles to give it a light texture and will be flatter and denser than one made with the correct ingredients.

    Cakes made with bicarbonate of soda should also be baked as soon as the batter is in the pans as the bicarbonate of soda acts very quickly but this also means that the reaction doesn't last that long.

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