Baking Substitutions: Quick Fixes When You’re Out of a Key Ingredient

My first experience with substituting ingredients in baking came around the age of 10 while baking cookies with a friend. We had already started measuring the other ingredients when we discovered that there was only a small amount of butter in her mother’s fridge. Undaunted, we made up the difference with the various nut butters her mother had on hand. The resulting cookies were not exactly appetizing and we promptly dubbed them “yucky cookies.” Not wanting to eat them ourselves, we set up a cookie stand and tried to foist them on unsuspecting passersby with only limited success. For some reason, no one else wanted to eat them either.

While it is probably best just to run out and get more butter if you are short, there are other ingredients that easily lend themselves to replacement if you discover you’re out at the last minute.

Baking powder. This recipe from Joy of Cooking has saved me on countless occasions: For every cup of flour in the recipe add 2 teaspoons cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and ½ teaspoon salt.

Eggs. In quick breads and cookies, each egg can be replaced by ¼ cup milk plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice, or ¼ cup yogurt. Add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda as well if the recipe does not already call for baking soda. For cakes you will also need 2 tablespoons of cornstarch per egg.

Milk. Milk can be replaced with non-dairy milk, or half buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream mixed with half water.

Buttermilk. Buttermilk can be replaced by sour milk. For each cup of buttermilk add enough milk to 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to make a cup. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before using.

Fun Substitutions

While substituting in baking often happens because you are short of a key ingredient, you can also substitute to be adventurous and create your own recipes. That’s when baking really gets fun.

Muffins especially lend themselves to experimenting with ingredients. Variations on the same basic recipe can yield blueberry muffins in the summer and pumpkin-spice muffins in the fall. The important thing is to maintain the ratio of liquid to dry ingredients and to keep the purpose of the ingredient in the recipe in mind when replacing it.

Any Kind of Muffin Recipe

Makes 1 dozen large muffins, 2 loaves of quick bread, or a 9×13 snack cake

3 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil or melted butter

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Grease muffin tins.

Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.

Mix together milk, eggs, and oil in a smaller bowl. Pour into the flour mixture and combine in 12 to 15 strokes. Do not over mix. Fill each muffin tin about three-quarters of the way full.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

For cake or quick bread: Use a 9×13 cake pan and increase baking time to 25-30 minutes. Or use 2 loaf pans, mix the batter longer to develop the gluten more, and bake at 350° F. for 45-60 minutes.

Additions and Substitutions:
• After you have mixed all of the other ingredients, stir in 1 cup fresh or frozen berries, mixed with 1/8 cup flour.

• Add 1-1/2 cups applesauce, or banana or pumpkin puree, to the liquid ingredients, reducing milk by 3/4 cup.

• Add 1 cup dried fruit  or 2/3 cup chopped nuts to the dry ingredients.

• Add any of these spices to the dry ingredients: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and/or ginger and 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, cloves, and/or cardamom.

• Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla or other flavor extract to the liquid ingredients.

• Add 1 to 2 tablespoons citrus zest to the liquid ingredients.

• Substitute whole wheat flour or cornmeal for half the white flour, or 1/3 cup of spelt, amaranth, or other flour for 1/3 cup of white flour.

• Replace half the milk with orange juice or 1/3 cup with lemon juice.

• Replace some or all of the milk with buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, sour milk, or nondairy milk.

•  Leave out the eggs and use buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, or sour milk instead of milk, adding an additional 1/3 cup of liquid.


Suggested Combinations:

• Lemon blueberry muffins with lemon juice, lemon zest, and fresh or frozen blueberries. Increase the sugar to 2/3 cup.

• Cornbread muffins. Replace half the flour with cornmeal.

• Pumpkin spice muffins. Add cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and chopped candied ginger.

• Banana muffins. Add mashed bananas and chopped dried apricots.