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  • Mary Kay

Food Substitutions Save the Day - and the Recipe!

Don't let any missing ingredients slow your baking prowess!

Sometimes, I've been gathering ingredients for a specific recipe or to experiment with and create a new recipe, only to find out I'm out of something very important to the product. I'll proceed to check with some of my Mother's or Gram's memorable recipes to see what they may have used many years ago in certain situations. And, sometimes I'll find a qualifying substitutions online. But, sometimes I'd like something just a little different. Here are some substitutions that have made a difference for me in my baking. Sometimes I like them even better than the item I would normally have thought of first for the recipe.

Vanilla extract: I always think about what I'm making before I automatically use the called for vanilla extract in my recipes, especially cookies and cakes. I like to try different flavors, not just stick with the tried and true. If the recipe has chocolate in it, I like to use a good boozy chocolate liqueur to enhance and strengthen the chocolate flavor. Or, use coffee and espresso with it to deepen the chocolate flavor. Maybe I'd like an island flavor like coconut to enhance a vanilla flavored recipe. Or, a rum to go with a sweeter cake recipe.

For example, in the Boozy Kahlua Bundt pictured above, the chocolate in the recipe was just screaming for a boozy boost, so I added a boozy coffee liqueur. With just a little more in the icing drizzled on top, you get a gentle awakening with each forkful. And, it's been a hit at every event I take it to!

Many baking recipes automatically call for vanilla extract. I hardly use just vanilla alone. I usually add another extract along with the vanilla for a more interesting and fuller taste. Sometimes I even replace the vanilla extract completely with another extract.

NOTE: I NEVER use flavorings - I always use an extract which gives a much fuller flavor throughout your product.

Baking chocolate: This is something I never keep on hand. When I've purchased it to have on hand, I never seem to make a recipe calling for it. So, I'm quick to use semi-sweet chocolate chips in place of baking chocolate called for in a recipe. Or, I'll use a dark chocolate with a higher concentration of cocoa since it has a stronger flavor. Or, how would butterscotch or peanut butter chips taste in the recipe? To test this, try a little chunk of batter with the chips you are considering. I normally do not eat batter with raw flour, but a tidbit really shouldn't hurt anyone.

Espresso grounds and espresso coffee: I've never liked the espresso grounds sold in the store. They seem so bitter, and without a great flavor. So, what I do instead for espresso liquid, is to grind some of my own coffee beans, and brew in my coffee press. I use triple the amount of coffee grounds to make a nice thick espresso. If I want espresso grounds, I'll grind the beans three times to get them very fine to add as dry grounds to a recipe. And, since I usually have flavored beans on hand, that's what I use to add a unique flavor to my baking.

Dark Syrup

Usually I keep light corn syrup on hand, but that won't give the color needed for recipes calling for the dark version. So, here are some I have used with great success. Yes, you can find many of these substitutions online, but I would rather get a substitution from someone who has actually used the substitutions and find out how they worked.

Molasses: For a cup of dark corn syrup, I have used 3/4 cup of light corn syrup with 1/4 cup of Molasses. With a couple of cheesecake recipes I make on a regular basis, I actually prefer this combination to the plain dark corn syrup.

Flour: If I run short of plain old white flour in bread, muffin, cake or donut recipes, I'll try a small amount of rye or wheat flour, or even almond flour along with the white flour. They will each give a little different flavor, but in many cases it's a positive.

Yogurt: I don't have yogurt in my refrigerator much, but once in a while will need it for a recipe. I usually have sour cream and cream on hand, so I'll use a 1:1 ratio of sour cream to yogurt. If I only have heavy cream on hand I'll use 1:1 ratio, but add a little flour to make up for the thinness of the cream compared to yogurt. Heavy cream adds a richness that yogurt cannot.

Buttermilk: I never have buttermilk on hand, but this is what my Mom always used. This is one of my favorite memories. When I was very young she would let me mix the buttermilk and watch it change to a thicker liquid. It was like magic. She never had bought buttermilk to keep on hand. I use the same process as she did for decades, to produce buttermilk to this day. It's easy - pour regular milk in a one cup measure, not quite filling it up, leaving room for a large teaspoon of white vinegar. Add 1 teaspoon of regular milk (whole or 2%) and let it sit for 5 minutes. Within that time you'll have buttermilk, great for baking in cakes, cookies, or any other baking recipe calling for buttermilk.

Maple Syrup: I have substituted dark or light corn syrup for maple syrup, 1:1. Since it's missing the maple flavor, I'll add 1/2-1 t of maple extract. Actually, Mom used to do this all the time. She could not afford real maple syrup on her household budget, what with 5 kids to feed, so she would make her own maple syrup all the time. She would add maple extract to corn syrup and warm it up so we could have hot maple syrup on our pancakes.

Nuts: This substitution is easy. Nuts! I'm out of the nuts called for in a recipe. I have to say that I'm not afraid to substitute a different type of nuts in recipes calling for a type I don't have on hand. For example, I'll substitute walnuts for pecans and visa versa. I'll substitute salted mixed nuts in recipes calling for pecans or walnuts. Just remember, that some nuts will make a definite flavor difference in certain recipes. Take time to taste the nuts and compare their flavors. Walnuts will taste more earthy while pecans work very well with sweeter baked goods.

Almonds are usually a very safe substitution for other nuts because they do not have a real strong flavor. You can sub slivered, sliced or rough chopped in different situations without many problems. Just remember that they are a harder nut than walnuts and pecans, so they may need to be chopped finer than the others.

Although, I very seldom put peanuts in a recipe that calls for pecans or walnuts. To me the peanut flavor just don't equal that of walnuts or pecans.

Toasted nuts: Many recipes do not call for toasted nuts, but you can get much more flavor out of them if you toast them in the oven before you toss them in your recipe. Toast and cool them before you add them to the batter or dough. To toast them, spread the on a large cookie sheet and place them in the oven at 250 or higher to toast for a few minutes. Be sure to keep a close eye on them, since some varieties will toast faster or ever burn. (Never use burned nuts in a recipe. You will not enjoy the finished product.)

Don't forget to revisit this page. I'll be adding more substitutions as I succeed with them in various recipes. The tried and true substitutions are usually the best.

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