Ingredient Substitutions Every Baker Should Know

Baking ingredient substitutions

You know what my not-so-favorite part of baking in the mountains is? Being an hour from a grocery store and halfway through a recipe before you realize you’re completely out of cream of tartar.

Half finished cookie dough, anyone?

Before the era of supermarkets and convenience stores, though, a lot of bakers simply kept a few staples in the kitchen they could use to whip up whatever they needed. Get good at doing things the old-fashioned way, and you’ll never have that sinking moment of panic as you go to reach for an ingredient that hasn’t been there for months.


Per one egg:

3 tbsp all purpose flour + 3 tablespoons water


3 tbsp peanut butter


¼ cup unsweetened applesauce

Baking Powder

Cupcakes baking powder substitution

2 parts cream of tartar + 1 part baking soda

Baking Soda

Use 3x the amount of baking powder for baking soda

1 tsp baking soda = 3 tsp baking powder


Don’t have any buttermilk on hand? Don’t sweat it. Just use this quick and easy recipe to whip up just enough to cover your recipe — no need to stock it in your fridge just to bake.

Makes: 1 cup buttermilk


1 cup milk (preferably full fat)

1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar

Just pour your milk into a glass measuring cup, stir in the vinegar, and allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for about five minutes, or until lumpy.

Light Corn Syrup

Not keen on corn syrup? You’re not alone. Thankfully, it’s not a difficult ingredient to substitute for. The amount of syrup you substitute in for corn syrup can stay the exact same as the amount called for in the recipe, and you can use just about anything, from honey to maple syrup.

If you don’t keep those ingredients on hand, this recipe for simple syrup is easy to whip together, and works just fine.

Simple Syrup Recipe

Makes: About 1 ½ cups simple syrup


1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Heat the ingredients in a saucepan until dissolved. Just as it begins to simmer, remove the syrup from heat and allow it to cool before using.


Cornstarch is a tricky ingredient to substitute. It thickens mixtures while creating a nice glossy finish — something a lot of other ingredients can’t match.

That being said, if you’re in a pinch, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to BE. Here’s what you can substitute for cornstarch:

  1. Arrowroot powder: This powder thickens like a pro, but can create a weird, almost slimy texture to your food when used with dairy. That being said, it’s flavorless, highly effective at thickening, and works in a wide variety of dishes. Use arrowroot powder in the same amounts cornstarch is called for in recipes.

  2. All-purpose flour: Flour is something most people have on hand and can be a really effective thickener if used properly. However, it is prone to lumping, so be sure to dilute it in a liquid before mixing it into your recipe.  Use twice as much flour as cornstarch is called for in your recipe.

Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartar is a tricky one to substitute, so your best bet is to just ALWAYS keep some on hand. That being said, if you’re out, you’re out, and all hope isn’t lost.

In cookie and cake recipes, substitute enough baking powder to cover both the cream of tartar and baking soda amounts, and omit the baking soda along with the cream of tartar.

Heavy Cream

If you’re making homemade whipped cream, there isn’t really a good substitute for heavy cream, but if you’re working with a recipe that includes heavy cream heated up, you can use this substitution instead:

¾ cup milk + ⅓ cup melted butter

Sweetened Condensed Milk

There are actually a few ways to make sweetened condensed milk at home. Depending on what you have on hand, any of these recipes could be what suits you best.


You can substitute honey, corn syrup, or maple syrup in equal parts for molasses in just about any recipe pretty successfully. Molasses has a strong, unique flavor to it, though, so you might notice the substitution a bit more in recipes like gingerbread, in which molasses is a common staple.

Dark Brown Sugar

Dark brown sugar is just sugar with a bit of molasses added, so if you have one, you can generally make the other. Just add a tablespoon of molasses per cup of light brown sugar or tbsp per cup of white granulated sugar.

Active Dry Yeast

Per 1 tbsp yeast

½ tbsp lemon juice + ½ tbsp baking soda

Cake Flour

Pastry cake flour

Cake flour is essentially extremely fine flour with a thickening agent in it. Here’s how to make your own:

  1. Grab a cup of all-purpose flour.

  2. Remove two tablespoons of the flour, and replace it with two tablespoons of cornstarch.

  3. Sift the ingredients three to five times (the more, the better).

Powdered Sugar

Powdered sugar is kind of like cake flour — just an ultra-fine version of sugar, with a thickening agent added in.

To make it yourself requires a food processor or blender and a bit of patience, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

Powdered Sugar Recipe

Makes: 2 cups


1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Blend the ingredients in a food processor until the sugar becomes light and powdery.

Do you have any tried and true ingredient substitutes? Tell us on Facebook and tag us in the post! @WheatMT