Classic cornbread is tender, with crunchy edges, a brown crust, and a slightly gritty texture. It goes well with chili, soup, BBQ, or a pot of beans.
But what do you do when making cornbread and realizing you don’t have all the ingredients? Can you make cornbread without baking powder?
You can make cornbread without baking powder if you use an alternative rising agent, like homemade baking powder, self-raising flour, or baking soda combined with an acid (e.g., buttermilk, yogurt, molasses, vinegar, or lemon juice). Or make cornmeal spoonbread without baking powder.
Baking powder is a raising or leavening agent which helps baked goods rise, becoming soft and fluffy. Without baking powder, your cornbread won’t rise and will become dense and heavy, so you need to replace it with an alternative.
There are many substitute rising agents, so even if you don’t have baking powder, you can have your cornbread and eat it.
1 – Use Homemade Baking Powder
It’s straightforward to make your own baking powder as it requires some ordinary ingredients that you probably have in your pantry.
Homemade baking powder consists of two parts cornstarch, one part baking soda, and one part cream of tartar. Blend the three ingredients.
Use this mixture as a 1:1 replacement for baking powder. For instance, if your cornbread recipe requires two teaspoons of baking powder, use two teaspoons of your homemade blend instead.
2 – Use Self-Rising Flour
Self-rising flour is an excellent alternative if you don’t have any baking powder because this kind of flour combines cake flour, baking soda, and salt in a convenient package.
To use this alternative, replace the flour, baking powder, and salt in your recipe with the same amount of self-raising flour.
However, this substitute will only work if you make the more cake-like Northern-style cornbread. Southern cornbread doesn’t contain any flour.
Fortunately, you can now purchase self-rising cornmeal, the ideal substitute. You simply replace the cornmeal and baking powder in your recipe with an equal amount of self-rising cornmeal – it’s that simple.
3 – Use Baking Soda
Like baking powder, baking soda or sodium bicarbonate is a leavening agent. However, the two are not identical. Baking soda needs an acidic component to create a chemical reaction that stimulates a rising effect.
If you look back at the homemade baking powder recipe, you’ll see that it combines baking soda with cream of tartar or potassium hydrogen tartrate. Cream of tartar is an acidic white powder that is a by-product of winemaking. Commercial baking powder has cream of tartar as an ingredient.
What happens when you don’t have baking powder, and you don’t have cream of tartar? Combine baking soda with another common kitchen acid for the same leavening influence.
4 – Use Baking Soda and Buttermilk
Many cornbread recipes include buttermilk, which is tart and acidic enough to stimulate rising.
If you combine buttermilk with baking soda, you create a leavening agent to replace baking powder.
Your recipe needs to include buttermilk as an ingredient for this combination to work. If it doesn’t, replace ½ cup of milk or water in the recipe with buttermilk.
To use buttermilk and baking soda as a baking powder substitute, replace each teaspoon of baking powder with ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. If there is already baking soda in the ingredients, add it as usual.
5 – Use Baking Soda and Yogurt
Yogurt functions similarly to buttermilk, being an acidic dairy product. Like buttermilk, you can combine yogurt with baking soda to replace baking powder.
For this substitution to work, use plain or Greek yogurt, not flavored or sweetened yogurt.
Yogurt and baking soda can replace baking powder if you substitute ½ cup of liquid in the recipe with yogurt. Then, add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda for each teaspoon of baking powder. Add baking soda required by the recipe as well.
6 – Use Baking Soda and Molasses
Although molasses is sweet and syrupy, it contains enough acid to stimulate a leavening reaction when combined with baking soda.
To use this leavening method, you will need to add ¼ cup of molasses instead of ¼ cup of a wet ingredient. Depending on how sweet your molasses is, you may also want to leave the sugar out of the recipe as well.
For every teaspoon of baking powder you want to substitute, add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda to your dry ingredients. Add other baking soda the recipe requires as normal.
7 – Use Baking Soda and Vinegar
Vinegar is one of the most common acids we use in the kitchen. Combined with baking soda, it can replace baking powder in cornbread.
Although any vinegar will work, plain white vinegar will be best as it has the most neutral flavor and won’t affect the color of your cornbread, as balsamic vinegar would, for instance.
Vinegar is not a cornbread ingredient, but you need very little to achieve the leavening effect.
For every teaspoon of baking powder, substitute ¼ teaspoon of baking soda and ½ teaspoon of vinegar. Add required baking soda as usual.
8 – Use Baking Soda and Lemon Juice
Another highly acidic kitchen staple is lemon juice, which will react with baking soda to make your cornbread rise.
However, lemon juice has a characteristic flavor, so this replacement is best used if you only need to replace a little baking powder – lemon-flavored cornbread does exist but is more cake-like than bread-like.
To use lemon juice and baking soda to replace baking powder, add ½ teaspoon of lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda for every teaspoon of baking powder. Add regular baking soda as the recipe requires.
9 – Make Spoonbread
When the worst happens, and you have no self-rising flour, no baking soda, and no cream of tartar, use your cornmeal to make a delicious spoonbread to serve as a starch with your chicken or ham. Here’s a simple recipe:
Begin by preheating your oven to a moderate 375⁰F (190⁰C) and place a rack in the center. Grease a square ovenproof dish.
Using a heavy saucepan, bring 2 ½ cups of milk, two tablespoons of butter, and a teaspoon of salt to a simmer over low heat.
Slowly add a cup of fine cornmeal, whisking to prevent lumps.
Increase the heat to medium and simmer, constantly stirring for three to four minutes. The mixture will become thick and shiny. Remove from the heat to cool.
Meanwhile, separate three eggs.
Whisk the three egg yolks and half a cup of cream. Stir the mixture into the cornmeal.
Beat the egg whites until the stiff peaks stage.
Fold the egg whites into the cornmeal.
Pour the golden batter into the baking dish, spreading it evenly.
Bake until the spoonbread is golden brown and puffs up, which takes about 25 to 35 minutes.
Even if you’re out of baking powder, it is possible to make cornbread, so long as you replace it with another rising agent. Substitute leaving agents are homemade baking powder, self-rising flour, or c baking soda combined with an acid ingredient commonly found in your kitchen.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.