What do you do when you’re out of buttermilk, or yogourt or have more egg yolks than egg whites? This month on Kitchen Geekery, Dr. J. shares some common ingredient substitutions as well as some tips on how to figure out when substituting is appropriate and when it’s a no-no!
At some point, most food bloggers will develop a baking recipe or two, but there are some days where you may forget to buy that one ingredient for the recipe you’re going to work on, or you just ran out of it. Nobody likes to make a second trip to the store for that one forgotten item.
Or perhaps you don’t want to fill your pantry as full as a grocery store because it’s costly and wasteful (since ingredients can’t all be stored forever without affecting their quality). Also, there are a few ingredients that we might use only once or twice. Plus, who has that kind of storage space?
That’s when you should consider making an ingredient substitution. But substitute wisely — you have to consider the role and impact of the original ingredient on the recipe before proceeding.
Substituting For Buttermilk, Yogourt & Sour Cream (or Acidic Dairy)
You can’t just substitute straight milk in most recipes that call for buttermilk without thinking. Odds are that buttermilk has an impact on flavour, but it also plays an essential role as an acid, balancing out the baking soda, a chemical leavener, to generate carbon dioxide and make your cakes rise. If you don’t include an acid to balance out the baking soda, your cakes will end up flat and dense, and you will be sad.
The category of “acidic dairy” includes the obvious buttermilk, which is basically sour milk, but also yogourt, sour cream, and pretty much all those dairy products that have a little tang to them. Usually you can interchange them cup-for-cup without any trouble. I often have yogourt but rarely have sour cream on hand, so I often swap one for the other without a problem.
Here’s how to make buttermilk at home (instead of having to buy a whole litre just because you need a little): for every cup of buttermilk, place one tablespoon of vinegar (white or cider) in a measuring cup and then fill with milk. You could also use lemon juice instead of vinegar. Some bakers swear that buying buttermilk is better because commercially-available buttermilk has more body to it (though it’s practically fat-free). I personally haven’t noticed much of a difference, but I have yet to do a side-by-side test to compare baking a cake with store-bought buttermilk vs. homemade.
Just remember: use dairy that’s acidic or add an acid when making a substitution for buttermilk or other acidic dairy products.
You can’t just replace baking soda with baking powder, or vice versa, and when you do make these substitutions, it’s not a situation where one spoonful of baking powder is equivalent to one spoonful of baking soda.
Remember that baking powder is baking soda that’s already mixed with an acid. For every teaspoon of baking powder, you could instead use a quarter teaspoon baking soda mixed with a half teaspoon cream of tartar (which is a potassium salt of tartaric acid). If your recipe happens to call for baking powder and a liquid, like milk, you could make the following substitution: for every teaspoon of baking powder, use a quarter teaspoon of baking soda plus a half cup of buttermilk (or yogourt) and reduce the volume of liquid added by a half cup.
If you try out this substitution, you must make sure that the total amount of liquid you add to your recipe stays constant; otherwise your ratio of dry to wet will be off, and you will run into problems.
If you need a crash course on baking soda and baking powder, head over to this earlier post of Kitchen Geekery.
When it comes to eggs, you have options.
If you hate to use just yolks in a recipe and go through the hassle of separating out the egg whites, you can actually use a whole egg to replace two yolks. I have done this successfully. People will argue that the white and the yolk play different roles in a recipe, but let’s be honest: if you’re making cookies, they’ll still be yummy if you swap out the two yolks and replace them with a whole egg.
If you are hoping to “veganize” a recipe that contains eggs, consider making chia eggs or flax eggs.
- To make a chia egg: whisk 3 tablespoons of warm water with 1 tablespoon of ground chia seeds (use white or black chia). Let it sit a few minutes to gel.
- To make a flax egg: whisk 3 tablespoons of warm water with 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds. Let it sit a few minutes to gel.
There are other options for replacing eggs in baking recipes, like mashed banana, apple sauce, or even a nut butter, but these have to be tested. The success of these (and even chia/flax eggs) can vary from one recipe to another, especially when you’re not only transforming a recipe to one that is vegan but also gluten-free.
Some eggless recipes may call for a mix of baking soda and vinegar to replace the leavening power of eggs, and that does work in some cases but not all. Use this substitution carefully because eggs provide structure and a certain mouth feel to baked goods, not just leavening power.
Self-rising flour is most commonly used in the UK, but given that we now have access to a plethora of British recipes it’s possible you might stumble on one that calls for it (Nigella Lawson often uses this type of flour in her recipes).
Self-rising flour is exactly what you would think it is: an all-purpose mix that already contains the chemical leaveners and salt needed. Personally, I think it’s a bit ridiculous to go out and buy self-rising flour if you already have all-purpose flour and baking powder at home, which you probably do. To make self-rising flour from all-purpose, for every cup of all-purpose flour add one and a half teaspoons of baking powder and a quarter teaspoon of salt.
Replacing wheat-based flours (or other flours containing gluten) with gluten-free flours is probably one of the most challenging substitutions you can make. Gluten, as we have seen previously on Kitchen Geekery, is a very important component of most baking in that it’s a structural element that’s also elastic and able to expand, trapping air bubbles as cakes and breads rise.
Replacing gluten can be quite tricky because it’s so unique. Removing gluten means that you need to incorporate other structure builders in your gluten-free recipe, like more eggs, chia or flax. It’s also not as simple as replacing one cup of all-purpose flour with one cup of rice flour or one cup of almond flour. For beginners, I recommend trying out gluten-free all-purpose flour blends that are commercially available and can be substituted cup-for-cup. These blends combine a few different gluten-free flours (some higher in protein than others) and also include structural ingredients like xanthan gum.
Blending your own gluten-free flours can also be a fun experiment in the kitchen and a rewarding one because you can choose which flours/flavours you want to feature. These kinds of changes will require more experience and more time as it will probably take numerous tests before you can get the recipe right.
These are just a fraction of the substitutions you can make in the kitchen, but enough to get you started. I encourage everyone to experiment and play with recipes, but make sure that you consider and analyze the role of each ingredient carefully before making a change to your base recipe.
What ingredient substitutions do you make in the kitchen?
For more help with ingredient substitutions for some of your favourite recipes, be sure to check out FBC’s Allergy Friendly Recipe Remixes where Sondi Bruner (RHN) shows you how to sub out different ingredients in family favourite like potato salad, burgers, granola, ice cream and more!
Kitchen Geekery is written by Janice Lawandi. Janice is a PhD-chemist-turned-baker, which is why she loves to use science to understand and solve problems in the kitchen. She is currently working as a recipe tester and writer in Montreal, QC. Visit Janice’s blog, Kitchen Heals Soul, for more baking science and inspiration. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.