Food: When the cupboard is bare: Important kitchen substitutions

Baking powder
Image by Mel B. via Flickr

This article was written for another publication, but never appeared. I am including it here, as I think the information is useful for the cooks among you. — Douglas

In a dream world, when we reached for that important ingredient in our kitchen, it would miraculously be there. As the French say, our “mise-en-place” (or “everything in place”) would be perfect. We would never want for specialty items or run out of ingredients in the middle of a recipe. No, little kitchen elves would magically create everything in our pantry and restock it as needed…er…wait…uh…maybe that was just a dream I had last night. Sometimes, a bad day in the kitchen can lead me into a wonderland that I only wished existed.
If you are like me, there are always those little kitchen emergencies that crop up, usually at the worst time. Thankfully, there are some quick substitutions that can get you through the rough spots with only minimal fuss. They won’t produce the exact same results, but they can let you put tasty food on the table when you need it most.
One of my problem ingredients is buttermilk. It is critically important in baked goods like pancakes, biscuits, Irish Soda Bread and such, but I rarely keep it in my kitchen. If you wake up some morning and want to whip together a recipe that needs buttermilk you can make this serviceable substitution:
Buttermilk Substitute
1 cup milk
1 Tbl white vinegar or lemon juice
Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before using and then add it to your recipe as you normally would.
Baking powder is another of my problem ingredients.  If I have my butter and sugar creamed only to realize I’m missing the important leavening, I use this substitute:
Baking Powder Substitute

To make a replacement for 1 tsp of Baking Powder, mix:
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tarter

Include as noted in your recipe.

Baking Powder for Soda

If, instead, you are out of baking soda, you can use 2-3 times more baking powder as called for in the recipe. Some will omit the salt in the recipe when doing this, as the baking powder can effect the taste of whatever you are baking. This one seems a riskier substitution to me. I would probably shoot on the low side of the equation and stick with 2x the amount.
Brown Sugar Substitute

On the sweet side of kitchen substitutions, it is possible to replace different sugars with the inclusion of a few ingredients:
1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp molasses
This substitution makes sense as they are basically the components of commercial brown sugar.
Corn Syrup Substitute

If you are lacking corn syrup for the pecan pie your family wants for the weekend, you can make a serviceable substitute:
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
I probably wouldn’t try this substitute for dark corn syrup, as it would be lacking in the particular flavor that can bring to a recipe.
Substitute applesauce for oil in cake recipes

Finally, here is one substitute I use regularly to help reduce the fat content of baked goods. I find that it produces excellent results and, in some ways, can actually improve the flavor of the finished cake or quickbread.
Use applesauce in equal amounts to oil called for in the recipe. You can also substitute just a portion of the oil, if you want to try out the substitution before going “all in.”

As a general rule, don’t substitute more than one ingredient in a recipe, or you risk spoiling your dish. While you are always better off to use the ingredients called for in a recipe, these emergency substitutions come in handy when time and overwork place you in a bad situation. Think of them as your own, personal, kitchen elves bringing you whatever you need, whenever you need it.

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