Baking Substitutes: What to Use When You Run Out of Ingredients
Let’s say you have decided to make some brownies for a birthday party the next day. You bought the necessary ingredients from the supermarket and are getting ready to start mixing and baking. But something isn’t right. You sense that you have left something out of your shopping, and true enough, you have forgotten to buy the milk that your brownie recipe needs. Frankly, nobody wants to make a special trip down to the supermarket just to get some eggs or milk. So what can we use around the kitchen that are viable substitutes for common baking ingredients that will not make a noticeable difference in the end result? Let’s have a look at what can be substituted, what can’t, and what possible replacements there are.


Most baked goods require flour, and different recipes call for different types of flour. For instance, bread flour has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour, as bread requires gluten for its open, airy crumb and its shape. Cake flour has lower gluten levels, so you can’t use it to make bread. If your recipe requires cake flour, it is possible to add two tablespoons of cornstarch to a cup (128 grams) of all-purpose flour, to make the cake denser. It is also possible to use all-purpose flour to replace bread flour, but your bread may end up less chewy. If this is your first few times baking, it is best to stick to what the recipe requires.


Baking requires full concentration and when we’re tired or moody, mistakes can happen. I forgot to add milk to my marble cake batter just last week. Luckily, nobody could taste the difference in the end result. Forgetting the milk does not turn out bland and lifeless cakes. It could taste a little dry but to most people, the wonderful aromas of a cake in the oven will mask the lack of milk. You could use any type of nut milk, coconut milk or even soy milk. You could also use heavy cream, sour cream or yoghurt – just dilute it with a little water before using it as these replacements are much heavier than milk. And if you don’t have any of those in your kitchen, you could just use water.


If you are making some vegan cakes or cookies, you can use vegetable oil or margarine as butter substitutes. Baked goods that don’t use butter tend to lack the richness and the melt-in-your-mouth feeling you get when you bite into a decadent slice of cake. Substitute butter with oil or margarine only if it’s absolutely necessary.

Baking powder

Beginner bakers often confuse baking powder with baking soda. Oftentimes, we think that they are the same thing. They are closely related, but they fulfil different baking purposes. Baking powder is derived from baking soda, but with added cream of tartar, which is an acidic agent that gives baked goods its rise. Baking soda is simply bicarbonate of soda and requires acid and water to be activated. Therefore, baked goods require baking powder to rise. They can’t do so with just baking soda unless you add an acidic ingredient to the mix. To substitute baking powder with baking soda, combine 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda with 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder. It is more tricky to replace baking soda with baking powder – the general rule of thumb is that baking powder is four times more powerful than baking soda when it comes to giving cakes their rise. But with that much more acidic agent involved, you may not want to risk it.


Buttermilk is a slightly tangy byproduct of the cheese-making process. If your recipe calls for buttermilk, you could add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to 1 cup, or 250 ml of milk.


If you are making something vegan and need to find a substitute for eggs, you could use flaxseeds sitting in water as a replacement. Spoon 2 tablespoons of flaxseed into 3 tablespoons of cold water to replace 1 egg, and let it sit for 30 minutes before using it. Unfortunately, if you require egg whites to make meringues and you have forgotten to pick eggs up at the grocery store, it is impossible to use flaxseed substitute to make stiff peaks. Flaxseed acts as a simple binder and lacks the protein needed for structure. If that’s the case, it’s probably a better idea to get some eggs instead of trying to hack the recipe.

Heavy cream

Melt 57 grams of unsalted butter and whisk it gently into 188 ml of whole milk to make 250 ml of heavy cream. Note that it can’t be whipped up into frosting as it lacks the creaminess needed for the frosting’s dense and stiff structure. You could use coconut milk instead, but it may lend a coconut taste to your frosting, which may not complement the cake’s flavour.

Semisweet chocolate

True story: my neighbourhood baking supplies shop ran out of semisweet chocolate chips during the circuit breaker. It was as though everyone wanted to make chocolate chip cookies at the same time, as they were homebound and confined to domestic hobbies. But semisweet chocolate chips were easy to replace – I simply bought a bar of dark chocolate, chilled it in the refrigerator until it was hard, and chopped it finely with a sharp knife. If you are using the bar of dark chocolate for chocolate cake, add a little more sugar in the batter to make up for the lack of sweetness.

Icing sugar

If you are like me and you love doughnuts, you know that powdered or icing sugar is an absolute must in a doughnut recipe. But it doesn’t make sense to buy a packet of icing sugar just for dusting purposes. You could use a blender to chop up granulated or caster sugar more finely if you don’t want to waste money or storage space just for a kilogram of icing sugar.