As a recipe developer and food writer, the most common question I get from my readers is, “How can I substitute x,y, or z ingredient?”
Sometimes, we run out of ingredients when we need them the most. Or you might be among the 40% of Americans who follow some nutrition rule, like low carb, gluten, or lactose-free diet. Or you might have guests to cater for.
There is a clear need for ingredient alternatives, so over the years, I have compiled a wealth of information on baking substitutes with reliable and accessible options.
First, check your pantry before panicking. You may already have suitable baking substitutes there.
Here are some ways to make swaps for the fundamental essentials and get you back on track, including a few creative replacements you probably wouldn’t ever think to use!
However, before playing Switcheroo with the ingredient list, remember baking is a science, and precision is critical for optimal results. Read the entire recipe, and then plan what to use as a substitute.
Taste, texture, fat content, and protein are just some of the many factors in baking; not all substitutes are created equal. When choosing a baking substitute, try to match the properties of the original ingredient and weigh everything using a digital scale to ensure you have the correct quantities.
Butter is a crucial ingredient in cake batters, pastry, and cookie dough, not to mention frostings and icings, but thankfully there are various butter alternatives if you’ve run out. Although the flavor isn’t as rich, margarine is the most common substitute.
You can also use oil, but not in a straight swap, as butter comprises roughly 80% fat and 20% water, whereas oil is 100% fat. Therefore, for every cup of butter, use 3/4 cup of oil (for example, vegetable oil, coconut oil, or olive oil) when baking cookies or cakes.
In equal quantities, you can use mashed avocado, nut butter, and Greek yogurt as butter alternatives.
Alternatively, as my favorite butter substitutes, you can easily churn some homemade butter yourself from heavy cream in no time! Whip the heavy cream in a stand mixer or use an electric hand whisk for 10 minutes. The butterfat will form a solid mass and separate from the buttermilk, which you can drain (or use in other ways). Before using, squeeze the excess liquid through a fine mesh sieve or muslin cloth.
First, consider what purpose eggs serve in your recipe before choosing egg substitutes. If you only require egg whites, aquafaba (the cooking liquid from chickpeas/garbanzo beans) is a proven substitute used extensively in vegan baking due to its protein content and unique behavior; it whips up just like egg white.
A ‘flax egg’ made from three tablespoons of water mixed with a tablespoon of ground flaxseed is a common whole egg substitute for baking.
Other vegan egg swaps include unflavored carbonated water, mashed banana, pumpkin puree, or applesauce.
Use non-dairy alternatives like oat, coconut, and cashew milk, all in equal measure. Or, if you have any evaporated milk, thin it down with water and use this. Heavy cream can be another alternative, but it will add significant richness and extra fat.
As a last resort, water will work as a milk substitute in baking, but consider the taste and feel of your baked goods will be thinner.
Heavy cream has a rich taste and decadent texture. You can create a heavy cream substitute by whisking together melted and cooled butter with half and half or whole milk. Or, replace a cup of heavy cream with equal amounts of evaporated milk or Greek yogurt, or use oat or coconut cream for plant-based alternatives. For frosting, mascarpone can be whipped up beautifully in place of heavy cream.
If you run out, you can make evaporated milk from whole milk; it is so easy! Cook whole milk in a saucepan over medium heat and reduce its volume by 60% until it has a thicker, creamier texture. Strain the evaporated milk through a sieve and chill for 6 hours before using.
Alternatively, use equal measures of half-and-half, heavy cream, or powdered milk mixed with hot water until it reaches the desired consistency, and add a small amount of butter for richness. You can replace evaporated milk with sweetened condensed milk, but you will need to adjust the quantity of sugar in the rest of the recipe.
Make DIY sour cream by mixing a cup of heavy cream with a 1/4 cup whole milk and a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Alternatively, swap a cup of sour cream for equal amounts of Greek yogurt or crème Fraîche. Coconut cream is a dairy-free alternative to sour cream.
Yogurt has both creaminess and acidity, so crème fraîche, coconut cream, or pureed cottage cheese are substitutes that will prove adequate replacements in the same quantities. Buttermilk also has similar acidic properties, but adjust the quantities–use 3/4 cup of buttermilk for every cup of plain yogurt required.
All-purpose flour can be used in place of other kinds of flour, including strong bread flour and as a cake flour substitute, although the texture of the bake may be softer or firmer, respectively. Add one teaspoon of baking powder for every cup of flour to substitute all-purpose flour for self-raising flour.
Finding the right protein level in gluten-free substitutes is essential, depending on what you are baking. Rice flour and cassava are the most similar to all-purpose flour in baking properties. You can also use almond flour instead of all-purpose flour in comfort foods like cakes, cookies, and brownies to lend a delicious nutty flavor and pleasantly dense texture.
Run out of baking powder? You can still get a perfect rise. Baking powder is a chemical leavening agent made from bicarbonate of soda (also known as baking soda), dry acid, and cornstarch, so the most like-for-like baking powder substitutes must include these components.
To make it yourself, combine 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda with 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar and 1/4 teaspoon of cornstarch.
You can also separate the existing eggs in the recipe and whip the egg whites before folding them back into the mixture to substitute baking powder and help give your baked goods a light and airy texture.
Also, you can use self-raising flour instead of the flour listed in your recipe and omit to add other leavening agents.
Baking powder contains baking soda and therefore works as a suitable alternative in a 3:1 ratio, so use three teaspoons of baking powder for every teaspoon of baking soda listed in the recipe. It works surprisingly well (for example, in banana bread) and provides a lovely moist texture and perfect rise.
Or, add 1/4 cup of club soda to your batter in a pinch, but omit 1/4 cup of another liquid in the recipe.
Carob powder and hot chocolate mix make adequate cocoa powder substitutes in equal measure. You can also use melted chocolate or even Nutella, but the liquid nature will impact the consistency of your baked goods, so use it with caution.
Adding a teaspoon of espresso powder is a handy tip to maximize chocolate flavor in treats like brownies when running low on cocoa powder.
Arrowroot powder, tapioca starch, and sweet rice flour are the most appropriate cornstarch substitutes regarding their chemical makeup, and you can use them in equal measures as a thickening agent. Alternatively, almond flour and all-purpose flour can mimic cornstarch and how it absorbs moisture in small quantities.
Gelatin is a setting agent used in jello and other desserts like mousse, gummy candies, or marshmallows. It is often derived from animals and unsuitable for those on a plant-based diet or with other dietary restrictions.
Agar agar powder, kudzu, and pectin are vegan gelatin substitutes you can use instead to get the same results as gelatin.
Brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses, so if a recipe calls for brown sugar and you don’t have any, you can easily approximate it yourself. Mix a cup of granulated sugar with a tablespoon of molasses (or any other syrup like honey, maple, or date syrup), and you can use it as a substitute.
You can substitute white sugar for brown sugar in a push, but the baked goods will be slightly drier and have fewer delicious caramel undertones.
If you have run out, you can make powdered sugar at home by pulsing granulated sugar (or even xylitol) in a food mixer until you reach the right consistency. Optionally, add a teaspoon of cornstarch per cup to prevent clumping.
Sometimes, confectioners’ sugar, powdered sugar, and icing sugar are dusted over cakes as a garnish, and cocoa powder can make a deliciously chocolatey alternative.
The easiest way to replace honey is to use the same amount of a different syrup. Date syrup, maple syrup, cane syrup, and agave syrup are plant-based alternatives to honey, golden syrup, or light molasses.
Alternatively, cook water and brown sugar in 1:1 portions until syrupy. This mixture can mimic the texture and sweetness of the honey.
Recipes with substitutions can simultaneously accommodate all your baking needs and suit your dietary requirements. And often, the best alternative is a homemade one!
There’s no need to abandon your baked goods, but remember, substituting ingredients should be done carefully. Consider their role and what they bring to a bake before planning clever shortcuts to compensate for your lack of any ingredient.