We have all had it happen. You are baking something and halfway through realize you are missing an ingredient. You do not feel like going all the way to the supermarket. What do you do? Throw in the towel and cook something else? Just leave that ingredient out? No, it is time to improvise.
First, we need to understand that there is a certain amount of science in baking. Every ingredient in a recipe has a role, so just omitting something is not going to work. Ingredients like buttermilk and yogurt add moisture, cornstarch dries things out and makes them crispy, flour thickens the texture, and eggs, yeast, baking powder and baking soda add texture and help baked goods rise. When trying to craft substitutes, you want to use things that, in general, have the same flavor, texture and chemical properties.
20 Substitutions for Common Baking Ingredients
Here are some substitutes for common ingredients using things that you are likely to have around the kitchen:
Baking Powder – You can’t simply swap baking soda for baking powder, though it is easy to make that assumption. Baking soda helps leaven baked goods when mixed with an acid (like buttermilk or lemon juice), and baking powder already has the acidic component. If you're out of baking powder, you can replace it with baking soda and cream of tartar. The common ratio is 1 teaspoon of baking powder to 1/3 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar. Be sure to prepare per each use. Alternatively, you can add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and a 1/2 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk, but then any liquid ingredients need to be reduced by 1/2 a cup.
Cake Flour vs. All Purpose Flour – You can substitute a cup of cake flour with one cup minus two tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Or you can reverse engineer and use one cup plus two tablespoons of cake flour for a one cup substitution of all-purpose flour.
Heavy Cream – To substitute one cup of heavy cream, use 2/3 cup milk and 1/3 cup butter. For one cup of heavy cream that’s been whipped, use 2/3 cup well-chilled evaporated milk that’s been whipped.
Milk – This is an easy one to run out of. Especially if you drink it regularly. It is also one that most people wouldn’t think you could substitute for. If you have nonfat dry milk, just mix 1/4 cup with nearly a full cup of water (7/8 should do it) and add two teaspoons of butter, and you won't lose a thing. Or add 1 cup of buttermilk and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, but reduce baking powder in the recipe by 2 teaspoons.
Condensed Milk – While we are talking about milk, let's cover condensed milk as well. One cup of condensed milk can easily be created by gently heating 1/3 cup of evaporated milk together with 3/4 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of butter.
Half & Half – We gave you heavy cream and milk, so it seems like half and half would be next up. For a one cup substitution of half & half, mix one and a half tablespoons of butter or margarine plus enough milk to equal one cup.
Butter – Margarine can do the trick, but if you've run out of that as well, you probably have an old canister of vegetable shortening (Crisco) hiding in your cabinet. However, if the recipe calls for melted butter, substitute with a neutral oil like canola — not olive oil, as it will impart too much flavor. All of the substitutions are equal: 1 cup for 1 cup.
Buttermilk – Okay, we showed you how to replace milk and butter. Wouldn’t we be remiss if we didn’t show you how to replace buttermilk? And no, you don’t just add butter and milk. To replace one cup buttermilk, place one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice in a cup. Then stir in enough milk to equal one cup. Let it stand for at least 5 minutes to thicken.
Yogurt and Sour Cream – These two can be used interchangeably. Thick Greek yogurt has the same tart and tangy flavor as sour cream and it's just as creamy. The replacement is equal, one for one. If you are trying to create yogurt and have no sour cream in the house either, then turn to a cup of buttermilk or cottage cheese that is blended smooth.
Light Brown Sugar – This is popular in recipes. If you don’t have light brown sugar, substitute one cup granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon molasses. The other option would be to use dark brown sugar instead.
Allspice – This one is pretty straightforward. Just use 1 teaspoon 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon plus 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves.
Sugar – Use one cup of honey to substitute one cup of sugar, but also be sure to reduce the other liquid in your recipe by 1/4 cup. Reduce the baking temperature by 25 degrees as well.
Caramel – Make caramel from sweetened condensed milk. Place an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a crock-pot. Submerge the unopened can completely in water. Then cook on the crock-pot’s ‘low’ setting for 8 hours. Keep the pot’s lid on during this time. Cool down the unopened can in the fridge for at least 2 hours. This step is key. Voila, you’ve got caramel!
Cooking Spray – Out of cooking spray? Try coating your pan with melted butter. Cooking spray is something that’s easy to run out of because most people just expect it to be there. But when you’re out, don’t fret! You can grease up a pan easily with some melted butter. Some swear melted butter even creates superior results.
Vegetable Oil – This is often a key ingredient, and you probably should have checked before you started baking. But let’s not panic. Try applesauce. It works similarly to oil in baking and the ratios can remain the same. Be careful with this substitute though, it will change the texture of what you are baking. Try a test batch first.
Cornstarch – For one tablespoon of cornstarch, try using two tablespoons flour or 1/2 teaspoon quick cooking tapioca.
Breadcrumbs – This might be the easiest substitute. If you have day old bread just toss it into the food processor and, viola, breadcrumbs.
Honey – This is about trying to get the sweetness rather than the actual flavor. One cup of honey can easily be substituted with 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup of water.
Chocolate – For one square of missing chocolate, use three tablespoons of cocoa and one tablespoon of fat.
Melted Shortening: Shortening is another ingredient that’s easy to run out of. Try using one cup of salad oil if you are out. But know that this may not be substituted for solid shortening.
Solutions for Other Common Baking Problems
Sometimes it’s not a matter of finding a substitute for an ingredient you are missing. Sometimes the ingredients themselves aren’t quite right or you don’t have the right accessories. Here are a few ideas to help with these issues:
Ripening Bananas – Need ripe bananas for the recipe but yours are green? You can cheat mother nature. Simply preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, place your bananas on a baking sheet, and bake them for about five minutes, until they have browned.
Rolling Pin – if you don’t have a rolling pin try a wine bottle.
Baking Tin Too Big – No problem. Just use tinfoil to create a smaller barrier to keep the batter in place. Here is a video on how to fold the tin foil.
Storing Brown Sugar – Does your brown sugar turn into a solid lump in your cabinet? Try placing a slice of bread in an airtight container with the sugar. The bread will absorb the granules.
While it pays to improvise, you also have to be careful. Watch out for these common mistakes that people often make when cooking.
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