Run out of baking powder or bread flour? You probably already have something you can use instead.

By Margaret Eby
April 17, 2020
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In the past month, I’ve been baking a lot—sourdough boules twice a week, the occasional focaccia, a banana snacking cake here and a caramel cake there. It’s a good way to occupy my time and decompress while the world is in the grips of a pandemic, with the handy side effect of producing something to stress-eat later. But the way things are, I’m not about to run out to the grocery store if I’m short on an ingredient for a big project.

Luckily, there are all kinds of clever shortcuts and substitutions to make up for what you lack, in a pinch, and continue forth with those salted caramel brownies. Baking is a craft of precision, but let’s be real: If you go to the trouble of making a cake or cookies, anyone who is lucky enough to get them is not going to complain, even if you had to make a few swaps here and there.

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A quick note on substitutions, though: Using what you have is about managing your expectations. Making a cake with bread flour because that’s what you have on hand will work to make a cake, but it won’t look or taste the same as if you had the original ingredients specified. That’s OK! If you’re worried about that and crave something specific, it might be worth gently redirecting your plan towards a recipe you have most of the ingredients for, rather than be disappointed when, say, your tahini brownies don’t taste great because you had neither tahini nor sugar. But a little swap here and there can be helpful in a pinch.

Another tip is to consider not just volume, but also the weight of something. If you have a scale on hand, that’s a valuable tool when making substitutions, because the weights of ingredients differ, and swapping out a cup of granulated sugar for a cup of powdered sugar actually means very different amounts by weight. If you don’t have a scale, that’s OK—do your best, but keep that in mind when you’re making swaps. For your pantry baking needs, here is a compilation of all the substitutions you can make in case you find yourself short.

FLOURS

Cake Flour Substitute

The best way to substitute cake flour is a pretty simple formula. For every cup of cake flour you need, take a cup of all-purpose flour. Remove two tablespoons of flour from the cup, and add in two tablespoons of cornstarch or arrowroot powder. The cornstarch will help inhibit the production of gluten, allowing for that delicate cake crumb that cake flour gives your baking project.

Bread Flour Substitute

It helps, when you’re making swaps, to be familiar with why specific ingredients are called for in certain recipes. Bread flour has a higher percentage of protein than all-purpose flour in it. That which strengthens dough, encourages gluten formation, and helps bread rise. But it’s not a huge percentage difference we’re talking about here—King Arthur bread flour has 12.7 percent protein, while their all- purpose flour has 11.7 percent protein. That means on most occasions, if you have bread flour and not all- purpose or vice versa, you can just make an easy one- to- one swap. The only caveat here is that bread flour is not terrific for recipes where you don’t want a lot of gluten formation, like biscuits or pie dough. But in most cases, it works fine.

LEAVENERS

Baking Soda Substitute

 Since baking powder is actually made from baking soda, if you’re out of baking powder but have baking soda on hand, you can actually use baking powder as a substitute for baking soda. You do need to adjust the proportions, though—use three times the amount of baking powder as a substitute for baking soda. So if a recipe calls for 1a teaspoon of baking soda and all you have is baking powder, add 3three teaspoons (aka 1 tablespoon) of baking powder instead. There’s usually a bit of salt in baking powder as well, so if you use this approach cut down slightly on whatever salt you’re adding to the recipe.

Baking Powder Substitute

For every teaspoon of baking powder you need, combine 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. If you don’t have cream of tartar on hand, you can use another acid you have on hand, like lemon juice or vinegar. In that case, you’d combine a 1/4 teaspoon baking soda with 1 teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice.

SWEETENERS

Brown Sugar Substitute

The easiest substitute for brown sugar is granulated sugar. If you happen have molasses, you can make an even closer substitute by adding the dark syrup to regular sugar. For every cup of brown sugar you need, add 2 tablespoons of molasses, ( or maple syrup or agave nectar) to 1 cup of granulated sugar and blend it briefly it in a food processor. That’s it!

Powdered Sugar Substitute

 No powdered sugar on hand? You can approximate some by grinding up granulated sugar in the food processor. For every cup of granulated sugar, add a teaspoon of cornstarch, and pulse until it's very finely ground.

Honey Substitute

If you need honey but don’t have it, you can replace it measure for measure with maple syrup, agave syrup, molasses (as long as it’s not blackstrap molasses), or corn syrup.

COOKING FATS

Butter Substitute

If you need butter in your baking but none is available, there are lots of butter substitutes you can use. If you have margarine, that works! If you don’t, vegetable oil or coconut oil make good butter substitutes. If you just need a little bit more to supplement what you already have, add a bit of Greek yogurt if available to help it stretch. Or you can take a page from the vegan cooking playbook, and swap in half a cup of applesauce for every cup of butter you need.

Vegetable Oil Substitute

You can swap out butter for vegetable oil, if you have it, at a one to one ratio. If you don’t have vegetable oil but you do have another neutral tasting oil, like avocado oil, coconut oil, or a milder olive oil, just replace the vegetable oil with the oil you have. You can also swap out the oil for an equal amount of mayonnaise (after all, it’s just oil with an egg yolk!) or yogurt.

DAIRY AND EGGS 

Milk Substitute

When you need milk for baking but don’t have it, you have a few options. If you have another dairy product in your fridge, like yogurt or sour cream, you can use those as a one to one substitute. If you don’t, but you do have a can of evaporated milk lying around, you can thin out a half cup of evaporated milk with a half cup of water to approximate milk. And in a pinch, just use water.

Heavy Cream Substitute, Half-and-Half Substitute

If you need heavy cream, there are a few ways to approximate it. You can whisk together a fourth cup of melted butter with three-fourths a cup of whole milk, or use an equal amount of coconut milk. If you have half-and-half, but no cream, use that as you would the cream (and vice versa).

Buttermilk Substitute

If you don’t have buttermilk or buttermilk powder and you need it for baking, swap in a cup of milk soured with a tablespoon of lemon or white vinegar for every cup of buttermilk you need. If you don’t have milk on hand, you can also use yogurt or sour cream thinned out with water until it’s pourable.

Sour Cream Substitute

If you need sour cream and you don’t have any, you can swap in an equal amount of yogurt, mayonnaise, or pureed cottage cheese.

CHOCOLATE

Unsweetened Chocolate Substitute 

If you’re in need of unsweetened baking chocolate but none is available, you can use cocoa powder as a swap. For every one ounce of unsweetened chocolate you need, mix three tablespoons of cocoa powder with one tablespoon of vegetable oil. If you need unsweetened chocolate but you have semisweet chocolate, use that, at a ratio of 1 ½ ounce of bittersweet or semisweet to every ounce of unsweetened chocolate, and omit one tablespoon of sugar from the recipe per ounce, as a well.

Semisweet Chocolate Substitute

You can replace or semisweet chocolate with unsweetened chocolate plus a little sugar. For every ounce of chocolate you need, swap in 2/3 ounce unsweetened chocolate and one tablespoon sugar. You can also sub in three tablespoons of cocoa powder mixed with a tablespoon of vegetable oil and three tablespoons sugar.

Chocolate Chips Substitute

If you don’t have chocolate chips but you do have bars of chocolate, just chop those up and use them as a one-to-one replacement. If you have neither, but you do have unsweetened chocolate, you can do the same ratio of chocolate and sugar per ounce as you would to replace semisweet chocolate. 

Egg Substitute

Here again it’s useful to take a page from the vegan baking cookbook, where no eggs are ever used and tasty baked goods result anyway. It’s helpful heere to know what you’re using the eeggs for in the recipe. In cases where you don’t need to whip eggs or separate yolks and whites, one easy trick is to substitute 1/4 cup of carbonated, unflavored water for every large egg you need. You can also add together 2 tablespoons of water, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil for every large egg. A 1/4 applesauce or mashed banana per egg needed can also work. If you have ground flaxseeds or chia seeds on hand, add 1 tablespoon of seeds to 3 tablespoons of water and stir to make a paste, which will also be the equivalent of one egg. If you need egg whites, use aquafaba, the cooking liquid in a can of chickpeas.