As I’ve said, I’m not a follow-recipes-to-the-letter kind of gal. So if I’m missing ingredients for a recipe I often work around it – either leaving it out, upping a different ingredient already in the recipe, or substituting it with something else. In cooking this can be very simple– don’t have couscous? Use a different grain. No butternut squash? Use sweet potatoes.
However, especially when it comes to baking, you need to be smart about the substitutions you make, or it could lead to disaster. Case in point: many years ago, my brother(who is now a pastry chef) decided to make pancakes. There was no milk in the house, but he thought that water was close enough. He then discovered there was no flour either and substituted in powdered sugar. As you can probably imagine, this led to a blackened inedible mess when he attempted to cook them.
So remember! It’s not enough that your substitute have the same basic structure as the original, the substitute has to behave the same way as the original within the context of the recipe. Below I have a list of substitutions that I have used successfully.
1 tsp allspice = 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp cloves
1 tsp baking powder = 1/4 tsp baking soda + 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup brown sugar = 1 cup granulated sugar + 1 Tbsp molasses
1 cup buttermilk = 1 tablespoon lemon juice + enough milk to make 1 cup. Let stand for 5 minutes before use
1 Tbsp cornstarch = 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 eggwhite = 1 Tbsp water
In an egg-centric dish such as a scramble or frittata, you can partially (or completely ) replace the egg with tofu.
1 Tbsp fresh herbs = 1 tsp dry herbs
1 tsp mace = 1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup sour cream = 1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup superfine sugar = 1 cup granulated sugar whirled in a blender or food processor
Tomato Paste and Cooked Tomatoes
1/4 cup cooked tomato = 1/4 cup pumpkin or squash purée + 1 Tbsp umeboshi paste (more info on tomato replacements here)
Vegetable Oil (in baking)
1 cup vegetable oil = 1 cup apple sauce or other fruit purée (this will lead to a far denser dessert than using oil)