You swear it was right there in the pantry. But that one ingredient is nowhere to be found and there you are, half of your recipe left to go. Before you run to the store, consider these substitutions:
|Missing this?||Replace with…|
|1c buttermilk||1c sweet milk mixed with 1 Tbs vinegar or lemon juice|
|1c honey||3/4c sugar plus 1/4c liquid|
|1 Tbs cornstarch||2 Tbs flour (thickening)|
|1oz unsweetened chocolate||3 Tbs cocoa plus 1/2 Tbs fat|
|1c cake flour||2 Tbs cornstarch plus enough flour to fill cup, sift mixture 3 times|
©JM Seymour 2006
The food science behind subbing? While a few recipes will tolerate ad hoc ingredient changes (Dad’s infamous, fridge-cleaning “hash” comes to mind), most require the right balance of ingredients to turn out a predictable product. Each ingredient added to a recipe should serve a specific purpose. The key to getting substitutions right is understanding ingredient function. So play away with your substitutions, but remember these guidelines.
- Sweeteners: sugar, honey, corn syrup, agave syrup, maple syrup, non-nutritive sweeteners, etc. Whether for caloric content or flavor, sweeteners ARE commonly substituted in recipes. When subbing sweets, think “solids.” For example, honey contains more moisture than granulated sugar. So, as listed above, if you replace sugar with honey, liquid must be adjusted elsewhere in the recipe. The sticky subs can be those non-nutritive sweeteners…for more info on why, click here.
- Leaveners: baking soda, baking powder, and yeast probably rise highest on the list of top leaveners for baked goods. Yeast requires sugar, and baking soda requires an acid to create the gas that causes rise in a bread, muffin, or cookie. This is where leaveners can get a little tricky. Say you’re making a quick bread recipe that calls for orange juice, but you have lemon juice to use instead. If you simply swapped lemon juice for orange juice, the acidity in your recipe would change. Your leavener ratio would be wrong and your resulting product might be flat-topped bread. So, the baking powder/baking soda ratio would require adjustment. Other acidic ingredients that would require leavener attention if adjusted: yogurt, buttermilk, chocolate, honey, and sour cream. (What’s the difference between baking soda and baking powder? Click here.) If it’s yeast that makes your recipe rise, the sugar ratio will be the key.
- Emulsifiers: molecules with a hydrophilic (water-loving) end, and a hydrophobic (water repelling) end. Bottom line: they help water and oil mix. Eggs (specifically the yolks) are great emulsifiers and function as such in many recipes. Use caution when removing eggs from recipes.
- Mouthfeel. Usually, if a product has great mouthfeel, the fat content is perfectly balanced. Sauces are probably the best example here. You can’t substitute skim milk for cream and expect the same result. (Sorry, skinny jeans.) But, get the fat right, and you’ll have the smoothest, silkiest, mother of all sauces.