Do You Know These Common Baking Substitutions?

Maria Trimarchi

Lemon juice or white vinegar can be used in baked goods instead of which powdery white substance?

Cream of tartar can make your cookies soft, your frostings creamy, and your meringue peaks high. In baked goods, you can substitute 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or white vinegar for 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar.

You're out of unsalted butter, but that's what the recipe calls for. One cup of unsalted butter is equivalent to 1 cup of what other fat?

The difference between 1 cup of unsalted butter versus 1 cup of lard, salted butter, or vegetable shortening? These fats are interchangeable -- except for the sodium content. You may want to reduce the salt from the recipe to accommodate the substitution.

You need powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk to make icing for cookies, but you're out of powdered sugar. What can you blend with sugar to make it yourself?

While you can substitute 1 cup of granulated sugar for every 1 3/4 cups of powdered sugar you need, you can make your own powdered sugar pretty easily. One cup of granulated sugar blended with 1 teaspoon cornstarch -- until the mixture is a fine powder -- is equal to 1 cup of powdered sugar.

Out of fresh herbs? Substitute 1 teaspoon of what for 1 tablespoon of finely cut fresh?

Because dried leaf herbs and ground dried herbs have a more concentrated flavor, you need less of them compared to fresh. Use about three times the amount of fresh herbs as dry, for good measure.

No kosher salt on hand? What type of salt is a one-to-one swap?

There are lots of salts to choose from, but not all of them are interchangeable. It's the size of the grain that matters. Because coarse sea salt and kosher salt have similarly sized grains, they are easily -- and equally -- substituted for the other.

What seaweed-derived thickener can be used instead of gelatin as a vegetarian-friendly way to make moldable dishes?

Agar-agar is a natural gelatin derived from seaweed. Agar powder has powerful thickening and gelling properties, and -- unlike traditional gelatin -- it can set at room temperature. You can substitute agar powder (but not flakes) for gelatin in equal amounts. For instance, either 1 teaspoon of agar powder or 1 teaspoon of gelatin will set 1 cup of liquid.

What should you substitute when the recipe calls for 1 cup whole milk, but you only have a carton of nonfat?

Out of whole milk? Substitute nonfat milk plus 2 tablespoons of melted butter or margarine, to make up for the fat difference between the two.

Which dairy product is a simple substitution for sour cream?

Whether you're looking to cut calories and fat, to add protein to your recipes, or you're just out of sour cream, adding yogurt is an easy one-to-one substitute. Unlike other sour cream substitutes, plain yogurt can be used in baked goods as well as in savory dishes, dips, and sauces.

You decide to make your favorite buttermilk pancakes -- but you're out of buttermilk. What can you substitute for 1 cup of the tangy liquid?

Buttermilk is what creates light and tender baked goods, often with a slightly tangy flavor. You can curdle your own milk with lemon juice (or white vinegar), without having to buy the whole carton. Alternatively, 1 cup of plain yogurt will also deliver the right results.

Don't keep cake flour on hand? What can you add to all-purpose flour to get the same results?

Cake flour is a finely-milled, delicate flour with a low protein content when compared to other types of flours. Because of these qualities, it's used to produce cakes that are tender, have a fine crumb, and have a good rise. To make it at home, sift together 2 tablespoons of cornstarch for every 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour.

Blending 1 cup of granulated sugar with 2 tablespoons of molasses can be used as a substitute for what type of sweetener?

If you don't have brown sugar on hand for your chocolate chip cookies, try blending 1 cup of granulated sugar with 2 tablespoons of molasses as a substitute. Use just one tablespoon of molasses for light brown sugar.

Which of these sweetening combinations is the best substitute for 1 cup of honey?

While it doesn't have the same phytonutrient and antioxidant benefits of raw honey, you can get similar results by using a blend of 1 1/4 cups of sugar mixed with 1/4 cup water. Alternatively, 1 cup of light corn syrup can substitute for 1 cup of honey.

The one egg you have for your recipe turns out to be unusable. What everyday food can you use in its place in baked goods?

No eggs? No problem. There are several ways to substitute for 1 egg, including 1/4 cup applesauce, 1/2 mashed banana (plus 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder for lift), or with 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise. A ground flaxseed and water mixture or 1/4 cup of pureed silken tofu are also options.

You don't keep arrowroot on hand, but you're in the middle of a recipe that calls for it. Which is not a good substitute?

All-purpose flour, cornstarch, potato starch, and even rice starch can all be used as substitutes for arrowroot powder, which is a thickener. Baking soda, on the other hand, is a leavening agent.

What's the best way to measure out 1/4 cup of water when you can't find the 1/4 measuring cup?

There are several ways to calculate 1/4 cup without a 1/4 measuring cup. Have a tablespoon on hand? Four tablespoons is equivalent to 1/4 cup. Similarly, if you have a 1/3 measuring cup around: fill it, then remove 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of water to equal 1/4 cup. Finally, if you have no measuring utensils at all, you can always weigh it -- 1/4 cup is equivalent to 2 ounces.

You don't keep vanilla beans on hand but want to make a vanilla custard. What type of boozy liquid can be used as a substitute?

One of the best things to do with leftover vanilla bean pods is to make vanilla extract. So if you don't have beans on hand, a little extract can fill in. For each single bean, use 2 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract in its place.

Which is a good substitute for crème fraîche, in either dressings or desserts?

Crème fraiche is used in sauces as well as in salad dressings and soups, as well as in pastries, desserts, and to make caramels. It can also be used interchangeably with yogurt, mayonnaise, and sour cream, as a one-to-one ratio.

You're out of unsweetened chocolate. Instead, mix cocoa powder with what fat for a good substitute?

Butter contains up to 80% butterfat. For every ounce of unsweetened chocolate, you'll need 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder plus 1 tablespoon butter -- or another fat, like vegetable oil or shortening.

Whether you don't keep fresh citrus on hand or you've just run out, what's a good swap for lemon juice when you don't have any?

Short on lemons? You could substitute lemon juice with another citrus juice, like lime or orange, in a 1:1 ratio. But without any juice, try vinegar -- or white wine -- in a 1/2: 1 ratio (the smaller ratio will keep your food from becoming too acidic).

Which thickening agent can be used in place of cornstarch?

Cornstarch is a thickening agent used in cooking and baking. But either cornstarch or flour can be used to thicken pie fillings and sauces, as well as to change (or "soften") the texture of baked goods. Use 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour in place of 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.

Don't keep evaporated milk in the pantry? Substitute it with which common dairy ingredient?

Light cream is made from whole milk and cream, and contains about 20 percent milkfat. One cup of evaporated milk is equivalent to 1 cup of light cream -- or, a mixture of whole milk and half-and-half.

What's the best substitute when you don't keep instant espresso powder in your kitchen?

While you don't have any instant espresso powder on hand, you do have coffee. How much should you brew? For every 2 tablespoons of instant espresso powder (dissolved in 3 tablespoons of water), use 1/4 cup of strong coffee.

One cup of old-fashioned oats is equal to how many cups of the quick-cooking type?

Whether you eat them rolled or steel-cut, all oatmeal is a whole grain -- although some of it is processed more than other types. Old-fashioned oats, for instance, are less processed than quick-cooking oats, which are cut smaller for a fast, "instant," cook.

Cornstarch, cream of tartar, and what third ingredient can be combined and used in place of baking powder?

No baking powder? You can make your own at home if you have the following ingredients: ¼ teaspoon baking soda plus ½ teaspoon cream of tartar and ¼ teaspoon cornstarch combined is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of baking powder. On the flip side, ½ teaspoon baking soda can be used in place of 2 teaspoons of baking powder.

Replace sweetened chocolate with cocoa powder, sugar, and what other ingredient?

Mixing together cocoa powder and sugar isn't enough to replace a square or two of sweetened chocolate -- you're missing out on the added fat, which, in chocolate, is cocoa butter. Mix together 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder with 1 tablespoon of sugar plus 1 tablespoon of butter, shortening, or vegetable oil for one ounce of sweetened chocolate.

Adding which grain to all-purpose flour is a good substitute for whole wheat flour?

You need one cup of whole wheat flour, but only have the all-purpose kind? Add wheat germ -- 2 tablespoons for every 7/8 of a cup of AP flour. Wheat germ is part of the wheat kernel, and it brings a nutty flavor and crunchy texture with it.

A mixture of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg -- maybe with a little pepper -- can be substituted for which single spice?

The dried, unripe berries, which resemble dark brown peppercorns, are the seeds of the pimento tree. Allspice has a flavor similar to cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. To create a substitute, combine 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon cloves for every teaspoon of allspice you need.

What should you mix with ground dried ginger to make it a suitable substitute for fresh ginger?

Caught without fresh ginger on hand? One teaspoon of ground dried ginger is the equivalent of 2 teaspoons of the chopped fresh stuff. Alternatively, replace fresh ginger with a mixture of ground dried ginger and lemon juice.

How much fresh mint should you chop to replace 1 tablespoon of dried mint leaves in your recipe?

Because dried herbs are more concentrated, the general rule when cooking with fresh and dried herbs is, you'll need more fresh herbs than dried when making substitutions -- usually three times the amount of fresh to dried. For example, 1 tablespoon of fresh herb is equal to 1 teaspoon of the same dried herb.

You're out of maple syrup, down to the last drop. What sticky liquid can you use in its place?

Finish off your bottle of maple syrup with your last round of pancakes? Bake your goods with corn syrup, instead. For example, for 1 cup of maple syrup, use 1 cup of dark corn syrup or 3/4 cup of light corn syrup and 1/4 cup of light molasses, in its place.

One slice of dry bread is equal to how many breadcrumbs?

The best breadcrumbs are made with stale bread. One slice of dry bread is equal to just 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs, so plan ahead.

Self-rising flour has a leavening agent pre-mixed into it. What can you mix into regular flour to make a substitution?

Self-rising flour has a leavening agent added to it. To make your own rather than keeping multiple types of flours in your pantry, sift 1 cup of all-purpose flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

What do you need to remove from your recipe when you replace cocoa powder with unsweetened chocolate?

One ounce of unsweetened chocolate is equal to 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder. But if you make the substitution, you also need to remove something: fat -- and that's because chocolate contains cocoa butter, while cocoa powder doesn't.

One packet of active dry yeast is equal to how much rapid rise?

One packet of active dry yeast contains approximately 1/4 ounce, or 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast. It's equal to the same amount of rapid rise yeast, whereas three packets is the equivalent of 1 two-ounce cake of yeast.

Without lemons on hand, what's a good substitute for lemon zest?

Without fresh lemon skin to peel or dried lemon zest, lemon juice can be used in its place. When used in baking, substitute 2 tablespoons of lemon juice for every teaspoon of zest needed. Alternatively, 1/2 teaspoon of lemon extract could also replace 1 teaspoon of zest.

Explore More Quizzes

Image: Floortje/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

The more you know your way around the kitchen, the likelier it is you know how to put together common substitutions, like swapping oil for butter or margarine. 

But what about substitutions that don't come around as much, or happen at times when you've accidentally run out of a key ingredient, like sugar? What can you do, for instance, when your guest of honor is allergic to eggs? Can brown sugar and table sugar be used interchangeably? And from all-purpose to whole wheat and everything in between, do all flours give the same result in your favorite pastries and cakes?

Substitutions can change not only the flavor of your baked goods, but the texture and overall outcome, too. Stray too much from the recipe when you're baking and you risk ending up with split cookies, overdone brownies, and collapsed cakes. But smart swaps, like these, will safely update your baked goods to handle food allergies, healthier ingredients, or a less-than-full pantry. See how many of these simple exchanges you know!

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!