5 February 2013

Ersatz Expat - Baking Without Self Raising Flour or Baking Powder

I truly enjoy baking but as an expat it can be a bit more of an adventure than baking at home.  In the UK or the Netherlands I just run down to the shops where I can buy... self-raising flour, caster sugar, muscovado sugar, chocolate chips, flavour extracts, shortening, ready chopped nuts... the list is endless.  In many other countries it can be more difficult to get the ingredients together.  Sometimes they are not all available and the ones that are may come in a different form and so need some work before they can be used in the recipe.

I have found that expat bakers fall into two categories – the ones that get frustrated by the substitutions and the ones that turn it into a bit of a treasure hunt.  I love experimenting with substitutes, and a lot of friends ask me how to swap ingredients.  It was the inspiration for my blog's name and I thought I would do a series of posts on how to substitute in baking and cooking.

How to make your own self raising flour.

One of the few things you really do need for baking is baking powder.  Self raising flour is quite difficult to source in most parts of the world so you have to add baking powder to the flour to make your own. 11/2 teaspoons per 125g of flour.  

When I first arrived in Astana a fellow expat told me that baking powder could not be bought in Kazakhstan and had to be brought from home.   I did not believe her; after all it is possible to buy cakes here so there must be baking powder. That said, I could not find any translations in my dictionary and there were no tubs of anything that looked like it in the supermarket so I did start to think that my confidence had been misplaced. 

I decided to ask a lady in the cake section what I needed to add to flour to make the cakes.  She must have laughed herself crazy at my gesticulating and at my pigeon Russian.  Nevertheless she very kindly took me over to the baking section and handed me a small packet of baking powder which is called  Разрыхлитель Теста in Russian, problem solved.  I had been looking for the large tubs that are common in the UK and last for years.  Here the baking powder comes in small 7-10g packets.  When you think about it this is a much more sensible way to package it as it means that the powder will be used before it goes old.

Baking Powder from the Kazakh Supermarkets
Baking Powder, the name can be confusing on some packets because the lower case t is written m in Cyrillic
If you can't find baking powder you can make your own - just add Baking Soda and Cream of Tartar in a 1:2 ratio.  Baking powder is a mix of alkali (baking soda) and acid so if you are really stuck you can use lemon-juice or white vinegar instead of cream of tartar in a 1:5 ratio with baking soda instead of 1:2.  You need to be really careful with this though as you may need to adjust the amount of liquid in the mixture and you will almost certainly have to add a little more sugar.  Add the substituted soda/acid mix to the cake batter just before putting it in the oven.  With commercial powder the chemical reaction works in two stages, the first on the bench and the second in the oven.  With a home-made substitute the chemical reaction will start straight away.
Ingredients to make your own baking powder
Ingredients for emergency baking powder, 1 tsp soda to 5 tsp lemon juice.
Quick reaction from home made raising agent
Baking Soda and Lemonade starts to work quickly so use it immediately.
Be prepared for your cake to fail if you use this method, my success rate has only been about 50% but it is worth a try.  I find cupcakes work quite well because there is less work for the raising agent; if you use lemon juice instead of vinegar you have a lovely base for a lemon drizzle cupcake.
No baking powder - you can still bake
Cupcake made using baking soda and lemon juice instead of baking powder.
Ersatz Expat


  1. Hi, thanks for your post. Your suggestion about using a mixture of lemon juice and baking soda as a baking powder substitute saved the pineapple upside down cake I was making. I'd the batter made and about to pour over the fruit before I realised I'd used plain flour instead of self-raising. With no baking powder or cream of tartar in the house, your post saved the day. And the cake, which came out grand. Thanks a million. :)

  2. Hi, I never thought it would be so difficult to find self raising flour in Russia. Thanks for confirming that it doesn't exist.
    I just finished baking a cake for my little boy and the end result is not what I expected.
    Just googled to see whether anyone else had a similar experience with baking in Russia and came a across your post!
    Wish I saw your post before I experimented without the usual ingredients I use at home for baking.