Culinary Sleight of Hand – Recipe Substitutions that Could Save Your Meal

Hand with tweezers beans

You know that feeling when you’re about to make a recipe – or worse, you’ve already started – and you realize you’re missing a vital ingredient? Maybe someone finished off the eggs even though there were some half an hour ago when you checked. Maybe, like me, estimating how much of something you have left isn’t your strong suit. Maybe something got knocked off the counter and exploded. No matter the reason, whether guests are on their way, the birthday cake needs to be in the oven, or a snowstorm has stranded you at home, don’t panic. There’s hope for your recipe. With this handy list of ingredient substitutions, you may be able to have your meal while avoiding a snow-soaked hike to the grocery store.

Dry Ingredients:
• Baking Powder- 1 tsp = ¼ tsp baking soda + 5/8 tsp cream of tartar, or ¼ tsp baking soda + ½ cup buttermilk (reduce liquid by ½ cup)
• Brown Sugar – 1 cup granulated sugar plus 1 tbsp molasses or dark corn syrup
• Cornstarch (for thickening) – 1 tbsp = 2 tbsp flour (simmer for around 3 minutes after thickening for prevent raw flour taste)
• Cream of Tartar – ½ tsp = 1 ½ tsp lemon juice or vinegar
• Flour, Cake – 1 cup = 1 cup minus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, sifted
• Flour, Self-Rising – 1 cup = 1 cup minus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour + 1 ½ tsp baking powder and ½ tsp salt
• Flour, Corn – 1:1 ratio all-purpose flour
• Flour, Pastry – 1 cup = 7/8 cup all-purpose flour
• Flour (for brownies) – 1 cup flour = 1 cup black bean puree
• Sugar (for baking) – 1:1 ratio unsweetened applesauce (reduce liquid by ¼ cup for every cup of applesauce)

Dairy:
• Butter – 1:1 ratio unsweetened applesauce (Works for sweet breads, muffins, and box mixes. Best as a partial substitution, if you’ve got some butter but not enough), or pureed avocado 1:1 ratio, or 1 tbsp chia seeds + 9 tbsp water (let sit combined for 15 minutes)
• Butter, Melted – Oil, 1:1 ratio (only for melted butter)
• Buttermilk – 1 cup = 1 tsp lemon juice or vinegar + enough milk to make a cup (let sit combined for five minutes before use)
• Cream, Half and Half – 1 cup = 7/8 cup milk plus 1 tbsp butter
• Cream, Heavy – 1 cup = 1 cup evaporated milk or 3/4 cup milk plus 1/3 cup butter
• Cream, Light – 1 cup = 1 cup evaporated milk or 3/4 cup milk plus 3 tbsp butter
• Eggs – 1 egg = 2 tbsp mayonnaise or, 1 tbsp chia seeds + 1 cup water (let sit for 15 minutes)
• Sour Cream – 1 cup = 1 cup plain yogurt, or 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar + enough cream to make 1 cup, or 3/4 cup buttermilk mixed with 1/3 cup butter

Assorted Ingredients:
• Bread Crumbs – 1:1 ratio finely crushed cracker crumbs, corn flakes or quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
• Corn Syrup – 1 cup = 1 ¼ cup sugar + 1/3 cup water, or 1 cup honey
• Dry Mustard – 1 tsp = 1 tbsp prepared mustard
• Ketchup – 1 cup = 1 cup tomato sauce + 1 tsp vinegar and 1 tsp sugar
• Lemon Juice – 1 tsp = ½ tsp vinegar, or 1 tsp white wine, or 1 tsp lime juice
• Mayonnaise – 1:1 ratio sour cream, or yogurt, or cottage cheese (pureed in blender)
• Oil (for baking) – 1:1 ratio unsweetened applesauce
• Saffron – 1:1 ratio Turmeric
• Tabasco Sauce – 4 drops = 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, or ¼ tsp black pepper
• Tomato paste – ½ cup = 1 cup tomato sauce cooked uncovered until reduced to 1/2 cup
• Tomato Sauce – 2 cups = 3/4 cup tomato paste plus 1 cup water
• Tomatoes, Canned – 1 can = 2 ½ cups chopped, peeled fresh tomatoes, simmered about 10 minutes
• Wine – 1 cup = 1 cup chicken or beef broth, or 1 cup juice + vinegar (use grape or cranberry for red, apple or white grape for white)
• Worchester Sauce – 1 tsp = 1 tsp bottled steak sauce or 1 tbsp soy sauce, 4 drops tabasco sauce, 1/8 tsp lemon juice, dash sugar

Whether you’re baking, cooking, frying, or even grilling, there are plenty of ways recipe substitutions can be a huge help in a pinch. The best part is substitutions can, at least theoretically, be combined Inception style. Need self-rising flour, but you’ve only got all-purpose? Substitute it. Don’t have the cream of tartar for that? Substitute that, too. I can’t promise about the outcome when substitutions get stacked since I haven’t tried it, but it works on paper. The possibilities are as vast as one’s bravery or desperation. If you’re still unsure about some of the substitutions above or how they may turn out, know that others have substituted weirder. Chia seeds instead of eggs may not be your thing, but I’ve heard from multiple sources that Richard the Lion Hearted’s chef substituted captured enemy for pork. Compared to the shutter and nausea inducing thought of (alleged) cannibalism, black beans in brownies sound pretty good. (Cannibalism is not good, but black bean brownies actually are).

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