Fully in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of things about normal life have changed. One of the big ones is the way we shop and eat. Most or all of us have begun cooking and baking more, while stuck at home. The same applies to shopping–we limit trips to the store, and often encounter sold-out ingredients. Stores across the country are now continuously out of some staples like bread flour and yeast. Other times it can even be hard to get other baking supplies. And even if the store isn’t sold out, you may decide you want to make a particular recipe only to discover it uses a specific ingredient you don’t have but don’t want to trek to the store for. In this article, baking and cooking pros share their recommendations for ingredient swaps you can use in a bind.
First, the most challenging and disappointing. Yeast, particularly active dry yeast, is sold out almost everywhere. Unfortunately, yeast exists in a category of its own. It’s a leavening agent, but with totally unique properties from others. If you’re able to find a less traditional yeast variety like fresh yeast, pizza yeast, or quick yeast, those are good replacements. But otherwise, a recipe that needs yeast but doesn’t have it won’t turn out. If you’re still hankering for homemade bread, try a yeast-less variety, like Cheddar Beer Bread or Rosemary Focaccia.
Baking powder can be substituted with a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar, and sometimes cornstarch. There are lots of recipe substitutions online, so choose one that’s tailored to your elevation. Some home bakers always make their own baking powder because they know it’s fresher.
~Tracey Catarozoli, owner of Sally’s Sweet Shoppe and Sally’s Sweet Shoppe Too (WI)
If you are out of baking soda, you can substitute the amount called for with 3-4 times that amount of baking powder. The end product will vary slightly in texture, moistness, crumbliness, and so on, but it will work.
It says it all in the name…All-Purpose Flour! Your recipe might not come out exactly the same, but you should get pretty close. Keep in mind that because of the lower protein content in AP flour, you may have to adjust up or your batter/dough might have a wetter consistency.
~Jax Hart, owner of Hungry Heart Bakery (OR)
A great egg substitute is mashed banana. You can swap in about half a banana per egg. But note this is a good texture replacement, but it will obviously alter taste to an extent.
~John Kraus, owner of Rose Street Patisserie (MN)
A variety of alternatives will make good replacements for milk. Most recipes can use water in its place, with a less rich final result. Alternate milks like oat, almond, or soy will also work in most recipes. And milk powder is always readily available and does the trick too.
Milk and butter are the most common substitute for heavy cream when it’s unavailable, and they will work in most recipes. Greek yogurt and milk are also good alternatives if you are looking to keep the creamier consistency.
~Erik Pettersen, owner of Evo Italian (FL)
There are lots of ways to substitute buttermilk when you don’t have it. Basically you want to take a dairy liquid and add an acid to it (vinegar, lemon juice, etc.) so that when used in the recipe, the acid from the buttermilk replacement will activate/work with the leavener (baking soda, cream of tartar, etc.). In the bakery, we use 1% milk with vinegar in a pinch, because we always have those items on hand.
Brown sugar is typically made of white sugar and molasses, so combining these works. Otherwise you can also mix white sugar with maple syrup. Raw sugar is also a common substitute. If you have a spice grinder, you can grind up the raw sugar and then mix that with melted butter to get the desired texture.
With butter it really depends on whether you’re baking or cooking. As a baker, I always prefer a quality butter in almost all my recipes, but I also really love using blends of other fats! If I don’t have butter on hand, my go-to substitutes are GMO-free canola oil, coconut oil, or (lately) mashed avocado. Keep in mind that for certain cakes or quick breads the substitute could change the texture or leavening effects. You may want to consider increasing your leavener(s) or egg to achieve proper crumb.
Annie Burdick is a writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon, but transplanted from the Midwest. She also works as a community inclusion specialist for adults with disabilities. Previously she's edited and written for magazines, websites, books, and small businesses, on an absurdly wide range of topics. She spends the rest of her time reading, eating good food, and finding new adventures in the Pacific Northwest.