Mrs. Sell's Blog of Household Management

How long does leavening last?

I recently had a dinner snafu when the biscuits I made COMPLETELY failed to rise. They were as flat as when I cut them, and had a weird bitter aftertaste. I was using the basic Bisquick recipe: Bisquick mix, butter and milk. What I had failed to consider was that the biscuit mix had been in my cupboard for at least a year.

Things like biscuit/pancake mix and self-rising flour contain leavening like baking soda and baking powder, which do not stay good forever. They don’t turn bad like they’ll hurt you if you eat them, but they will lose their effectiveness. This seems to happen especially fast when they are in pre-packaged mixes.

The ‘best-by’ date on the package is a good start, but bear in mind that ‘best by’ doesn’t mean it’s not good past then, it’s just that the quality has declined past a certain point acceptable to the manufacturer. If it’s only a little past, you probably won’t notice that your pancakes are just a tiny bit flatter than normal.  Once opened, if kept air-tight (which you should always do, especially baking soda*), baking powder and baking soda are good anywhere from 6 to 18 months. If in doubt, you can try mixing a little bit with some white vinegar. If it fizzes (volcano!), it’s still good. Otherwise, time for a new box.

If you use a lot of Bisquick or self-rising flour, they are great time-savers. But if you are like me and don’t have enough people in your family to justify baking a lot of biscuits and muffins every week, you can save money by mixing up your own. If your little jar of baking powder stops working, it’s cheaper to replace that than a mostly-unused bag of self-rising flour.

For biscuit/pancake mix, combine:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. oil or melted butter

For a substitute for self-rising flour, combine:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

*Despite the cute little box the baking soda comes in, with its handy little scraper, baking soda should ALWAYS be put into an air-tight container. One of baking soda’s amazing features is that it absorbs odors: you can use it to take bad smells out of almost ANYTHING. What that also means is if you keep the baking soda in its cardboard box in either the cabinet or the fridge, it will sit there absorbing all the odors in its environment and take them into whatever you’re cooking.

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