Baking substitutions: What to do if you run out of egg, baking soda or buttermilk

The bake sale is tomorrow morning and the grocery store is already closed. You signed up to bring the banana bread (no sweat) but there’s not a drop of buttermilk in the house.

Don’t abandon your mixing bowl — reach for one of these simple baking substitutions to keep your mixer humming.

Here’s what to use in a pinch, and how to make it all work:

What to use when you don’t have baking soda

Use baking powder. Use four times the amount of baking soda your recipe calls for and you’ll be set. While baking soda needs an acid to rise, baking powder already contains its own acid (cream of tartar), so you might want to reduce or swap out another acidic ingredient, such as lemon juice or buttermilk, in your recipe.

Use potassium bicarbonate. It’s less common in today’s pantry, but you can use it in a 1:1 ratio to baking soda. Since it doesn’t contain sodium, you may want to add an extra pinch of salt to your recipe.

Use self-rising flour. While it’s not appropriate for all recipes, this flour already contains baking powder and salt (about 1-1/2 teaspoon and 1/4 teaspoon, respectively, per cup of flour).

Baking can seem like an impossibly precise science, but there's a little wiggle room when you're missing a key ingredient.

Baking can seem like an impossibly precise science, but there's a little wiggle room when you're missing a key ingredient. (iStock)

What to use when you don’t have baking powder

Use cream of tartar. Baking powder is just a mixture of baking soda and cream of tartar. Use 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar and 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch as a substitute for 1 teaspoon baking powder.

Use lemon juice. Use 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for each 1 teaspoon baking powder your recipe calls for, and add 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice to the wet ingredients. The acid in the juice will create the reaction your goodies need to puff up.

Use club soda. No baking soda on hand, either? If your recipe doesn’t require a lot of rising (e.g. pancakes), replace the liquid in your recipe with club soda.

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What to use when you don’t have cake flour

Use cornstarch. Cake flour produces a tender crumb because its protein content (and therefore gluten development) is lower than all-purpose flour’s. Remove 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour per 1 cup and replace with 2 tablespoons cornstarch, sifting several times to combine.

Use less all-purpose flour. If you’re out of cornstarch, too, simply omit it. Just remove 2 tablespoons per 1 cup of all-purpose flour to reduce the protein (and chewy gluten!) in your recipe.

What to use when you don’t have bread flour

Use all-purpose. Bread flour has a higher protein content than all-purpose and cake flour, which results in a chewier texture that works well with a yeast rise. But all-purpose flour can accomplish similar results — no harm done.

Did you know an egg can be substituted with applesauce? Or a mashed banana?

Did you know an egg can be substituted with applesauce? Or a mashed banana? (iStock)

What to use when you don’t have buttermilk

Use white vinegar. The acidity of buttermilk not only adds tang to baked goods but also helps break down gluten, keeping your texture on point. For each cup of buttermilk, substitute 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice plus enough milk to measure 1 cup.

Use plain yogurt. Substitute in a 1:1 ratio. Simple!

Use powdered buttermilk. OK, it’s still like having buttermilk, but this ingenious product has a much longer fridge life than the liquid stuff. Just mix the powder in with your dry ingredients and water in place of liquid buttermilk in with your wet ingredients.

What to use when you don’t have corn syrup

Use maple-flavored syrup. Unlike pure maple syrup, these imitations are made of corn syrup, anyway. As long as the maple flavor won’t throw off your recipe, reach for this one first.

Use honey. In baked goods, honey’s flavor is subtle enough to barely notice.

Use agave nectar. This might be the mildest-tasting of them all, and you can use half as much agave as corn syrup.

What to use when you don’t have eggs

Use applesauce. Unsweetened applesauce works best, but if you only have the sweetened kind, consider reducing some of the sugar in your recipe — think 1/4 cup applesauce per egg.

Use bananas. If a little banana flavor won’t throw off your finished product, use 1/4 cup mashed banana per egg.

Use mayonnaiseIt’s loaded with eggs, so simply use 3 tablespoons of mayo for every egg.