Top Ingredient Substitutions for Baking

BY HELEN S. FLETCHER, ON
COPYRIGHT, HELEN S. FLETCHER, 2020. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
ALL PHOTOS BY PASTRIES LIKE A PRO UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.

Ingredient SubstitutionThis Top Ingredient Substitutions for Baking article was posted several years ago. Due to the present circumstances, I updated it and thought it would be helpful if you find you are missing a key ingredient.  Hopefully, you will find it on this list.

I don’t keep every flour there is in the house.  But I do know how to make pastry flour, cake flour, and self-rising flour so I don’t have to.  As long as you have granulated sugar, there are easy fixes for other sugars you may not have.

When I first started the bakery, I had never heard of leaf or sheet gelatin.  I used granulated gelatin. Because there are so many different strengths of leaf gelatin, I stuck with granulated and use that to this day.

Cake flour is finer than all-purpose but there is a substitution if cake flour is not available.  Powder sugar can be made from granulated sugar. While there are many substitutions, realize that the end product may not be exactly the same.  Below are ingredient substitutions for some of the most popular baking ingredients.

All-Purpose Flour

All-purpose flour is just that – it is made to mix with everything and can be used almost anywhere.  While Bread flour is best for making yeasted products along with some cookies, all-purpose flour can be substituted.  The bread may not rise quite as high and the cookies may not be quite as chewy but they will both be good.

Other Flours

Flours such as rye, whole wheat, white whole wheat, or specialty flours have no substitutes due to their gluten content as well as taste.

Cake Flour

When cake flour is called for in a recipe and none is to be found in the pantry, remove 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour per cup and add 2 tablespoons cornstarch.  Whisk together to combine completely.  Use as called for.  While the cornstarch will lower the gluten count of the flour, it won’t replicate the fineness of the flour so the texture might be a bit different.

Self Rising Flour

Sometimes a recipe calls for self-rising flour.  I don’t stock it in my kitchen and I bake a lot.  It can easily be made by combining 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Whisk together completely and use the amount called for.  Multiply for the amount called for in a recipe.

I suggest making this as you need it instead of keeping a supply of it.  It’s difficult to mix the ingredients well enough to they are equally distributed throughout the whole.  By mixing as needed,  the accuracy is ensured.

Pastry Flour  

For 1 cup of pastry flour, combine 2/3 cup all-purpose flour and 1/3 cup cake flour.  Whisk well.

Whole Egg Substitute

This was interesting and I am quoting an article from the  Kitchn blog.  Several substitutions were tried making a plain vanilla muffin.  The following two were the favorites. I have not tried either one of these so if you do, let me know how it turns out

#2 Replacement per egg: 2 tablespoons water + 2 teaspoons baking powder + 1 teaspoon vegetable oil = 1 large egg

#1 Carbonated water (I find this difficult to believe because there is no fat to replicate the egg yolk.  I do know that substituting carbonated water for regular water in a  pancake mix makes a much fluffier pancake (thank you, Dirk). 1/4 cup carbonated water = 1 large egg.

Buttermilk or Sour Milk

To make a substitute for buttermilk or sour milk called for in a recipe, remove 1 tablespoon whole or 2% milk per cup and add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar.  It will probably curdle but that is fine.  Sour cream and Greek yogurt can be used by thinning it slightly with water to the consistency of the buttermilk which is somewhat thicker than milk.  Plain yogurt can also be used.

Heavy Cream

For 1 cup of heavy cream combine 3/4 cup whole milk plus 1/4 cup melted butter.  This can be used in baking and cooking but not for whipping.

Half and Half

I use equal parts of milk and heavy or light cream for this really easy ingredient substitutions.

Butter

Margarine, shortening such as Crisco, coconut oil, or if you have heavy cream,  just place it in the mixing bowl and beat it past the stiff stage and it will separate into butter and whey.  I once turned 16 quarts of cream into butter at work by simply overbeating it.  We used it in baking.  One article suggested putting heavy cream in a bottle and shaking it until it made butter.  The mixer is easier and faster.

While it’s true that butter is 20% water, most recipes substitute measure for measure with no discernable problem.

Milk

Whole milk and 2% milk are interchangeable but skim milk is not because it lacks any fat at all.  It acts more like water.

 Baking Powder  

For each teaspoon combine 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch.  Multiply the ingredients for the amount needed.  Again, I suggest making this for each recipe.

Brown  Sugar  

For each cup of light brown sugar, measure 1 cup granulated sugar.  Remove 1 tablespoon and substitute 1 tablespoon light or dark molasses.  For dark brown sugar, remove 2 tablespoons sugar and substitute 2 tablespoons molasses.

Powder Sugar   

Place 1 cup of granulated sugar in a blender (do not use a food processor, it won’t work).  Add 1 teaspoon cornstarch.  Blend until powdered.

Superfine Sugar 

This ingredient substitutions for superfine sugar is suggested when it is necessary to dissolve sugar quickly and completely.   Egg whites in particular, especially for meringues call for superfine sugar.  Place sugar in a processor bowl and process 10 to 20 seconds until very, very fine.

Gelatin

There are 4 strengths of gelatin sheets – Bronze, silver, gold, and platinum.  They require soaking the sheets in cold water at which point, they are lifted out and added to a hot liquid.  Because they are different strengths, which will set differently, I never used them.  I used powdered gelatin 250 bloom strength.

Knox gelatin sold in grocery stores is fine.  Each envelope contains 2 1/2 teaspoons, enough to jell 2 cups of liquid or 1 1/2 cups of solids.  It must always be softened or “bloomed” in cold water, then added to a hot mixture directly or heated to liquefy if the mixture it is being added to is cold.

There are different types of gelatin but no ingredient substitutions.

 Marshmallow Creme

 Into the top of a double boiler, combine 1 pound of marshmallows with 1/4 cup corn syrup.  Heat until the marshmallow melts, whisking occasionally.

Vanilla Extract 

Per 1 teaspoon extract use 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or powder. If a recipe calls for pure extract and you only have imitation, double the amount.

Yeast

There are different types of yeast on the market.  Most prevalent is active dry yeast and instant or bread machine yeast.  There are variations but these two are most used.

Active dry yeast is just that.  it is yeast that has been dried and needs to be reconstituted with water before it is added to the recipe.  I recently read an article stating that active dry yeast is unreliable because it contains dead yeast and the whole package can be dead.  While the outer shell of the yeast cells may be dead due to the high heat it is subjected to in processing the inner core still comes to life when reconstituted with water.

I have never had a fail in over  50 years of baking with it.  This comes in units of 3 packages.  Each package contains 2 1/4 teaspoons (7 grams or .25 ounces) of dry yeast.  It also comes in bottles from which it is measured.  After opening, the yeast should be kept in the refrigerator or, if used very infrequently, it can be frozen with no harm.

Instant yeast also called Bread Machine Yeast can be added to a recipe without reconstituting by simply including it in the dry ingredients.  This comes in bottles only.

There is some controversy over whether the two can be used interchangeably.  Some say that if substituting instant yeast for active dry yeast, the instant yeast should be reduced by 25%.  Conversely, if substituting the active dry yeast for instant yeast, 25% more should be used.

Then there is the camp that says it doesn’t matter and they can be used interchangeably.  I’m in this camp.  The biggest difference between the two is the active dry yeast will require a bit more rising time.  But since the rising time is always a suggestion, not a mandate, it really doesn’t matter in the long run.

I will be using only instant yeast in the future simply because I see no reason to keep both on hand.

While these ingredient substitutions will get you close to the original, remember they most likely may not be exactly the same.

Other articles that might be of interest:

Flour as Used in Baking
Getting the Most out of Baking Recipes
Ten Ways to Become a Better Baker

Pastry has not only been my profession, but my passion. If there is anything in particular you would like to see or any questions about baking or pastry, please let me know. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss a post!
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16 thoughts on “Top Ingredient Substitutions for Baking

  1. Tricia

    Thank you Helen, this is so useful, as always. I love your blogs and use your site as an automatic go to for queries, recipies and indeed anything baking related. Thank you very much

  2. Lynette Pruett

    Thanks, Helen, for helping bakers everywhere to know that baking is not only possible, but FUN, even when exact ingredients called for aren’t available. I’ve been somewhat surprised and very pleased to see substitution lists and suggestions all over the internet, since previous to this pandemic, it was common for recipe sites to present ingredient lists as if you MUST have every precise ingredient called for to have success. Like you said, substitutions may not give the exact results, but they will almost always give the baker a most satisfactory result.
    My mother had a WWII era “Better Homes and Gardens” cookbook, and I remember well reading and being fascinated by the chapters in it on substitutions and how to be frugal with baking during wartime. I think it is perhaps good for us as a culture to be reminded that much can be done with little, and that would be a valuable testimony to us if we continue to practice it once the pandemic is under control.
    Best to you and Mike. Continue to take care.

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Lynette – Thanks for your generous reply. I appreciate it. Things are going to be different when we come out of this and I think we will all have to make adjustments but that won’t necessarily be bad. Just different. Take care of yourself and those you love,

  3. MPaula

    I read another article on substitutions recently as I had no baking powder and could find none in stores. That article said you didn’t need cornstarch if you would be using it right away.Would you agree with that?

  4. Alicia

    I can’t wait to share this with my cooking class students. Be on the lookout for new blog followers!!

  5. Mary Soucy

    Bless your heart, Helen!! Such a treasure to have these all in one document I can print out, put in a sleeve and tack on the inside of my cupboard door!

    I am thrilled that I have discovered your site — I have learned so much. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks! Pastry always made me nervous, but you give me courage. Thanks. :)

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Mary: Thanks for the wonderful email. I collected a lot of this on scraps of paper, so this actually helps me clean. up. So glad you find the blog helpful. So many people are hesitant about pastry and actually it is just getting it in the right order. I think my husband’s pictures help a lot so I need to give him credit too.

  6. Sheila Norwood

    Thank you very much for the helpful information. I’m new to your website and I love it. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge.

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Sheila: It is so encouraging to get notes like yours. Thanks for taking the time. I think you will love Thursday’s blog.

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