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Baking Emergency: 13 Essential Ingredient Substitutions

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Dawn is a baker and former restaurant owner. Her years in the kitchen provide a wealth of experience to share.

What to substitute for ingredients in a baking emergency

What to substitute for ingredients in a baking emergency

Tried and True Baking Substitutions

Baking. It's a science, and it's ideal to have all the ingredients listed in a recipe before you actually begin to bake. Following a recipe's directions and using the ingredients it calls for is going to deliver the best results. However, some of these substitutions deliver results almost identical to the intended ingredient, some are a close second, and all of them are better than nothing.

These substitutions are widely known, tried, and true, and you can use them with confidence. While there are variations of these substitutions, I use and can vouch for the substitutions as they are presented below.

These common ingredients can be substituted easily in a pinch.

These common ingredients can be substituted easily in a pinch.

5 Dry Ingredient Substitutions

Baking soda

Baking soda is a leavening agent made from soda ash and is also called sodium bicarbonate. Baking soda is used to raise dough and batters. Baking soda needs an additional acidic ingredient to cause a chemical reaction that produces carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide forms bubbles, essentially inflating the dough or batter.

When a recipe calls for baking soda, it is generally the main leavening ingredient, making its use vital. Baking soda is 4x stronger than baking powder, meaning one cannot be equally substituted for the other. The following may be used as a baking soda substitute.

Substitution: 4 teaspoons baking powder is equal to 1 teaspoon (tsp) baking soda

Baking powder

Baking powder is a leavening agent. Leavening agents are used to make batters rise. Baking powder is typically a combination of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), tartaric acid, and cornstarch.

When baking powder is mixed with dry ingredients and introduced to wet ingredients, a chemical reaction occurs that causes the production of carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide gas causes the formation of bubbles within the batter. Thereby causing the batter to rise. In recipes that call for baking powder, the baking powder does most of the leavening, making it essential to the successful outcome of the recipe. If you do not have baking powder, the following substitute may be used.

Substitution: 1/2 teaspoon (tsp) baking soda + 1/2 teaspoon (tsp) cream of tartar is equal to 1 teaspoon baking powder

Active Dry Yeast

Active dry yeast is an all-natural leavening agent commonly used to make the dough rise. Active dry yeast is made of yeast cells. When introduced to warm liquid and sugar, the yeast cells begin to eat the sugar and release carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide creates bubbles in the dough, causing the dough to rise. In recipes that call for active dry yeast, yeast must be used. The following types of yeast may be used in substitution for active dry yeast.

Substitution: 1 tablespoon (Tbsp) dry yeast or 1 cake compressed yeast (crumbled) is equal to 1 package of Active Dry Yeast (ADY)

Cake Flour

Cake flour is a type of flour made from a softer variety of wheat that has a lower protein content than that of typical all-purpose (AP) flour. The protein in flour is what absorbs liquid. The more protein, the more liquid absorbed. The more liquid absorbed, the stiffer the dough.

Because of the low protein content in cake flour and the higher protein content in AP flour, the two do not deliver the same results when interchanged. However, the following cake flour substitute can be made from AP flour by replacing some of the flour with corn starch. Thereby reducing the protein in a measured portion.

Substitution: Sift together to ensure even distribution. 1 cup AP flour minus 2 tablespoons + 2 tbsp corn starch is equal to 1 cup of cake flour

Corn Starch

Corn starch is a natural thickening agent extracted from corn kernels. Corn starch requires heat to thicken and begins to thicken at 203 degrees Fahrenheit. In most recipes that call for corn starch, like pie filling, it is the main thickening agent and is necessary for the desired outcome. If corn starch is unavailable, flour may be used in substitution.

Substitution: 2 tablespoons (Tbsp) AP flour is equal to 1 tablespoon (Tbsp) cornstarch

Wet ingredients

Wet ingredients

8 Wet Ingredient Substitutions


Honey is often used as an alternative sweetener to sugar. There are many honey alternatives and substitutes on the market, from vegan to sugar-free. For the sake of an emergency substitution with ingredients generally on hand, the following may be used as a substitute.

Substitutions: Each is equal to 1 cup of honey:

  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 1/4 cup white sugar + 1/4 cup clear liquid like water or juice

Corn syrup

Corn syrup is an inverted sugar, a type of sweetener resistant to crystallization. Corn syrup is used in many frozen desserts where preventing ice crystals from forming is imperative. Corn syrup is used in baking to add moisture, shine, and a chewy texture and to extend shelf life. Reviled for being highly processed, many prefer a corn syrup alternative.

The following may be used in place of corn syrup. Although, variations in flavor and resistance to crystallization should be considered. If a recipe calls for boiling sugar syrup or cooking to temperatures over 230 degrees Fahrenheit, a corn syrup substitute is not recommended.

Substitution: 1 cup agave nectar, maple syrup, cane syrup, honey, or molasses or 1 cup granulated sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water is equal to 1 cup corn syrup


Eggs are essential in baking and are one of the most widely used ingredients in baking recipes. Eggs bind, leaven, and add flavor, color, and structure. Most recipes that call for eggs cannot be successfully made without them and require substitution. The following may be used.

Substitutions: Each equal to 1 large egg:

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce + 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup mashed banana + 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 vegetable oil (if replacing more than 1 egg this substitution is not recommended)

Whole milk

Whole milk is used in baked goods to bind together the dry ingredients. Whole milk, high in fat, is frequently used to add moisture and create tender baked goods. Skim milk, low in fat, does not produce the same moisture in baked goods that whole milk does. The following may be used as a whole milk substitute.

Substitutions: Each is equal to 1 cup of whole milk:

  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk + 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup nonfat milk + 2 tsp butter or oil
  • 1 cup reconstituted dry milk + 2 tsp butter or oil


Buttermilk is a slightly acidic dairy liquid used to make baked goods moist and tender by breaking down strands of gluten. Buttermilk also imparts a pleasant and slight tang. Although not as thick in consistency, the following may be used as a substitute for buttermilk.

Substitution: 1 Tbsp cider vinegar or lemon juice + enough milk to equal 1 cup is equal to 1 cup buttermilk

Sour Cream

Sour cream is used in baked goods similarly to buttermilk. Sour cream is an acidic dairy product and is often used to make baked goods with an especially light texture and exceptional moisture. The following is an effective substitute for sour cream.

Substitutions: Each is equal to 1 cup of sour cream:

  • 1 cup plain or Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup evaporated milk + 1 Tbsp vinegar
  • 1 cup cottage cheese + 2 Tbsp milk + 1 Tbsp lemon juice (30 seconds in a blender)

Half and Half

Half and half is made from equal parts milk and cream. With a much lower fat content than cream, half and half cannot be whipped into whipped cream. While half and half is not nearly as thick and heavy as cream, it imparts more flavor and richness than whole milk alone. Often half and half is substituted for cream as a lower-fat alternative. The following may be used as a half-and-half substitute in baking.

Substitutions: Each is equal to 1 cup half-and-half:

  • 7/8 cup milk + 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup evaporated milk


Oil is a fat commonly used in baking. Unlike butter, it contains no protein, no solids, no water and is plant-based. Oils help to ease tightness in the dough. As well as create and retain moisture. Oil also helps to extend the shelf life of baked goods. The following may be used as a substitution in lieu of oil. Although, varied flavors should be considered.

Substitutions: Each is equal to 1 cup of oil:

  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup apple sauce
  • 1/2 cup mashed banana
Baking emergencies can be solved.

Baking emergencies can be solved.

Need More Help?

Are you having a baking emergency of another kind? Did you forget to grease the pan? Is your cake stuck? Your dough didn't rise? Don't panic. We’ve got you covered. The article Baking Emergency - 5 Fixable Fails will help you fix five common baking mistakes most people make.

© 2018 Dawn M