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Baking Substitutions

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Baking Substitutions

Are you in search of simple baking substitutions for ingredients that you don’t have in your kitchen? Read on for some options to keep handy!

It’s happened to all of us- you’re in the midst of making your famous muffins to take to brunch in 2 hours, and you’re missing one crucial ingredient essential to the recipe. What’s a cook to do? Running to the market and picking up the missing ingredient is certainly one option, but if you’re tight on time, that’s not always possible. Isn’t there something you can do to make your favorite dessert healthier? Here are simple baking substitutions to save the day when you’re missing an ingredient or want healthy swaps. 

Benefits to Swapping Ingredients

Luckily, the answer is yes! Baking substitutions are becoming more and more popular among cooks, especially among those who have chronic diseases, like diabetes or high blood pressure, or just want to make a positive change to their diet. The best part is — many of these substitutions are already in your pantry or refrigerator!

It’s always handy to have a quick reference guide available to help you make substitutions (intentional or not) in your delicious homemade goodies. This particular guide breaks down baking ingredients by categories and lists healthier swaps. You’ll also find additional health benefits that can be gained by making the change.

Eggs, Butter, and Oil, Oh My!

Although eggs are protein-packed, the yolks also contain cholesterol and saturated fat. While the current dietary recommendations de-emphasize cholesterol as a concern, saturated fat is still linked to chronic disease. Talk to your dietitian or doctor to see how much saturated fat you should be eating. If egg intake is a concern, egg whites and substitutes are an excellent way to keep the protein high. A bonus- almost all of the egg’s protein can be found in the whites, which functions as a structure builder in the batter and adds moisture to the mixture.

Substitution Options
  • 1 Whole Egg:

    • 2 Egg Whites
    • ¼ cup Egg Substitute
    • 2 Tablespoons Mayonnaise (best in cake batter)
    • Reconstituted Powdered Eggs (amount determined on label)
    • 1 Tablespoon Ground Flaxseeds or Ground Chia Seeds, soaked in 3 Tablespoons Water
    • ¼ cup Applesauce (look for unsweetened)
    • 3 Tablespoons Aquafaba (this is the liquid in canned garbanzo beans– opt for ‘No Salt Added’ beans to reduce added sodium!)

Butter or Margarine?

Though one or the other is generally needed to act as a tenderizer and add flavor, which one is better for your health? Let’s look at the facts:

  • Butter is an animal-based product, which means that it contains dietary cholesterol as well as saturated fat (SF). One tablespoon of butter contains 7 grams of SF, which is one of the main contributors to high cholesterol levels.
  • Margarine comes in two forms, either in a stick or in a spreadable tub. Some margarine used to contain trans-fats, which the FDA has deemed as unsafe and now prohibits manufacturers from adding to foods.
  • When substituting, keep in mind that each recipe is different. You may want to split the ½ cup of butter called for in the recipe into ¼ cup butter and ¼ cup Earth Balance margarine.
Substitution Options
  • 1 Cup Butter:
    • 1 cup Margarine
    • ¾ cup Oil (substitute for melted butter only)
    • ½ cup Greek Yogurt and ½ cup Butter
    • 1 cup Coconut Oil (this will impart a coconut flavor, so use accordingly)
    • 1 cup Avocado (well mashed)
  • 1 Cup Vegetable Oil:
    • 1/2 cup Baby Food Plums or Applesauce + ½ cup oil

The Sweet Stuff

Sugar and chocolate are the reason that most of us love baked goods and this tends to draw us to the cookie jar. These ingredients are essential to baking, as they provide flavor and act as a tenderizer. However, sugar can pack a punch, adding 16 calories per teaspoon. That may not sound too bad, but considering most recipes call for a cup (or more!) of sugar, and with 48 teaspoons per cup, you’re looking at an extra 768 calories in the entire recipe! In most recipes, you can cut the sugar by at least ¼ and not even miss it.

Chocolate substitutions can be made by either using less chocolate in the recipe or by changing the formula. When compared to chocolate, cocoa has many of the health benefits, including improving cardiovascular health and blood pressure, with less of the fat — cocoa has 22% fat, versus 48-50% in chocolate.

Substitution Options
  • 1 Cup White Sugar:
    • 2/3 cup Agave Nectar + ¼ or 1/3 cup reduction of all other liquids
    • 1 cup Sugar Substitute (ex: Splenda. Check the label for exact substitution amounts)
  • 1 Cup Powdered or Confectioners Sugar:
    • 1 cup White Sugar + 1 tablespoon Cornstarch (blend in a food processor to create a more powdery texture)
  • 1 Ounce Unsweetened Chocolate:
    • 3 tablespoons Cocoa + 1 tablespoon butter, margarine, or vegetable oil
  • 1 Cup Chocolate Chips:
    • ½ cup Mini Chocolate Chips
    • If you’re looking to cut down on sugar, use dark chocolate.

Still taste too sweet for your liking? Try gradually decreasing the amount of sugar or sugar substitute called for in a recipe by halving the measurement.

Example: For 1.5 cup brown sugar, use ¾ cup brown sugar instead

Everything Nice about Spice

Spice substitution is different than other baking substitutions, as there aren’t as many health implications involved. It’s a simple matter of knowing what you have in your spice rack that you can interchange to complete your recipe. In addition to contributing a specific flavor to the batter, spices can also add a different texture.

Substitution Options
  • 1 teaspoon Allspice:
    • ½ teaspoon cinnamon + ½ teaspoon ground cloves + ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon Apple Pie Spice:
    • ½ teaspoon cinnamon + ¼ teaspoon nutmeg + 1/8 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice:
    • ½ teaspoon cinnamon + ¼ teaspoon ground ginger + 1/8 teaspoon allspice + 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Floury Fun

Flour is another ingredient that contributes to structure. Flour is classified by the way it is processed, which denotes the type. All flours have a different protein content, which is why all-purpose (AP) flour is used in pie crusts, waffles, and cookies, and why cake flour is primarily good for muffins and quick bread.

  • Self-rising flour has a lower protein content, which makes it perfect for biscuits and recipes that don’t include yeast.
  • Whole-wheat flour is a great way to incorporate whole grains and fiber into baked goods, but be cautious when substituting it into recipes. More than a 50% substitution yields a denser end product and can change the texture of the baked good.
  • Whole-wheat pastry flour is a great substitution for all-purpose—it’s lighter and has less protein than regular whole-wheat flour and be easily substituted in muffins, quick bread, cookies, and even pie crusts.
  • There are also non-wheat flour options, which will add in different nutrients and flavors.
Substitution Options
  • 1 Cup All Purpose (AP) White Flour:
    • ½ cup Whole-Wheat flour + ½ cup AP flour
  • 1 Cup Cake Flour:
    • 1 cup (minus 2 tablespoons) AP flour
  • 1 Cup Self-Rising Flour:
    • 1 cup (minus 2 tablespoons) AP flour + 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder + ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 Cup AP Flour:
    • ¼ cup Almond Flour and ¾ cup AP Flour
    • ¼ cup Oat Flour and ¾ cup AP Flour (to save money, you make your own by blending rolled oats!)
    • ½ cup Chickpea Flour and ½ cup AP Flour

Look in the flour section at your local health food store for other non-wheat flour options- some even have special flour combinations!

Milk & Cookies Really Do Go Together!

Most recipes that require liquids necessitate the use of a milk product in baked goods, which is a great way to incorporate calcium, vitamins D and B12, and protein. There are many forms the milk can take, which affects the nutritional properties and its function in the recipe.

  • Evaporated milk is milk that has been heated until half of the water evaporates, which yields a creamier texture and increased levels of certain nutrients.
  • Heavy cream is a dense cream perfect for whipping due to its high-fat content.
  • Sweetened condensed milk is a milk and sugar blend, which is primarily used to sweeten and thicken desserts.
  • Buttermilk is a high-protein, low-fat milk that is thicker and tarter than regular milk and is typically used to make scones and pancakes.

To slash calories and fat from the final product without sacrificing on moisture or taste, consider using a lower fat version of the product in your recipe. If you’re looking to swap out milk altogether, you can also try a milk alternative.

Substitution Options
  • 1 Cup Evaporated Milk:
    • 1 cup Low Fat Evaporated Milk
    • 1 cup Fat-Free Evaporated Milk
  • 1 Cup Heavy Cream:
    • 1 cup Light Cream
    • 1 cup Half & Half
    • 1 cup Evaporated Skim Milk
    • For a non-milk alternative, use 1 cup Canned Coconut Milk (note- this will impart a coconut flavor)
  • 1 Cup Sweetened Condensed Milk:
    • 1 cup Nonfat Sweetened Condensed milk
    • 1 cup Low Fat Sweetened Condensed milk
  • 1 Cup Buttermilk:
    • 1 cup Yogurt
    • 1 cup Milk + 1 tablespoon Vinegar/Lemon Juice
  • 1 Cup Milk:
    • 1 cup Milk Alternative (such as almond, coconut, rice, or soy milk– experiment to find one that you like best!)

High and Dry Ingredients

Baking powder and baking soda have similar names and purposes. Both ingredients function as leavening agents when used in baking, but react differently depending on the other ingredients they are combined with. For example, baking soda has no substitute because of its lack of acidity, while you can create a substitute for baking powder. Both baking soda and baking powder contribute to the shape, size, and volume of the baked good.

Substitution Options
  • 1 teaspoon of Double Acting Baking Powder:

    • 1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda + 5/8 teaspoon Cream of Tartar

Learn how to get your children involved in the kitchen.


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About the Author
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Alexandria is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian (RDN, LDN) employed by Lancaster General Health. She has been featured in the Lebanon Daily News, York Daily Record, Smart Magazine and blog, Fox 43, and on ABC 27. She has served as a panelist for the Giant Healthy Kids Summit and was featured as a guest on the television show "Medically Speaking". Her specialties include nutrition education, creation of health & wellness communications for print, development of nutrition focused programming, corporate wellness, weight management, sports nutrition, and type 2 diabetes.


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